Parshat Matos 5771: Vows and the Importance of Clarification in Learning

by Moshe Burt

Parshat Matos opens:

“And Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes and to the B’nai Yisrael saying: This is the thing which Hashem has commanded. When a man vows a vow unto Hashem, or swears an oath to bind with a bond (upon) his soul, he shall not break his word; according to that proceeded out of his mouth he shall do.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 30, posukim 1-3)

From there, our Parsha informs us about the specific laws concerning vow, oaths, nedarim.

R’ Zelig Pliskin, in “Growth Through Torah” (page 366) brings a lesson regarding silence from our Parsha citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 30, posuk 15:

“If her husband will remain silent for a complete day, then she must fulfill all of her vows or all of the bans which are upon her. He has established them because he remained silent on the day that he heard them.”

R’ Pliskin cites Sforno on this posuk:

Sforno comments: When a person has the ability to protest and remains silent, his silence is similar to verbal consent. When you do not say something to disagree, it is as if you agree with what was said or done.

Pliskin then adds:

Whenever your silence can be understood by others as agreement with what was said, you have an obligation to speak the truth. This way no one will mistakenly think that you agree with what was said…. A person who is not very assertive might find this difficult. But learn from the person who says things that shouold not be said. If he is able to say something that he shouldn’t, you certainly have a right to say those things which should be said. He is not afraid to say something improper, you should have the courage to speak up out of idealism.

It is this point which would seem to have importance for both Rabbanim and Talmidim regarding the learning of Torah texts, be they Chumash, Tanach, Mishnayot, Gemora, Shulchan Aruch, Mishne Breurer, etc. And, if this author understands correctly, this point may well pertain, for example, to the laws concerning vows, oaths, nedarim as applied to Mishnayot Terumah Perek 4, Mishnayot 3 and 4.

This author ponders; at what point of repetition does a land owner’s Terumah, i.e. 1/30th, 1/40th, 1/50th, 1/60th take on the strength of a vow or nedar?

Mishnayot Terumah Perek 4, Mishnayot 3 and 4 basically indicate that, if such landlowner has normally given say 1/30th and, in this year his agent goofs, or there’s a lack of communication, or the owner was encumbered with a multitude of difficulties and did not properly communicate intent with his agent such that the agent designated 1/50th or 1/60th as Terumah — that even the agent or owner’s designation of the 1/50th or 1/60th constitutes valid Terumah.

This author’s point, and where there is disagreement with the way Mishnayot is taught, is that Mishnayot can’t be taught in a vacuum in places where intent is involved. As this author understands, a vow or nedar constitutes Intent – kavanah, which seems to be Judaism 101.

For we see that if we learn Gemora Bava Metzia 22a-2 thru 22-a3 (Artscroll, Shottenstein edition, Gemora) that note #20 further clarifies Mishnayot Terumah Perek 4, Mishnayot 3 and 4. Footnote 20 states:

When a person separates Terumah, his act is only valid if he is aware of what he is doing. Thus, it may be derived from the scriptual source… that the agent’s acts are valid only if the principal is aware of what he [the agent] is doing having appointed him beforehand. (Rashi)

That would seem to indicate that where the actual alottment of Terumah is not in keeping with the land owner’s kavanah — intent, but still within what constitutes a valid Terumah according to Mishna, that the Terumah could be withdrawn and resubmitted in accordance with the owner’s true intent.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel, by Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, the Sochaczever Rebbe and translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski (Pasha Matos, page 364) adds this profound statement:

Thorugh a mere declaration, a Jew may dedicate an item to the Beit HaMikdash or prohibit its use for himself or others. Violation of this vow is considered a grave offense…. The power of speech is sufficient to alter the nature of an object entirely, changing it from something ordinary into a mitzvah item.

It would seem that in areas such as this, one teaching Mishnayot, no matter what the time schedule, needs to refer to pertinent Gemoras, or other sources, or at least indicate to those learning the Mishayot, that there are sources, i.e. Gemora, etc. which come to further clarify in situations where simply learning Mishnayot could contradict or mislead regarding issues of intent. For by its very designation, the alottment for Terumah is elevated from the ordinary to Kedusha. Thus, the importance of specificity and clarification cannot, and ought not to be understated or dismissed.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to stand up to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.