Parshat Ki Tetze' - Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10 - 25:19
by Shmuel ben Shlomi
This week’s parsha covers a lot of territory. Much of it, in light of today’s standard of mores may seem quite strange, foreign, even antiquated and barbaric on some levels. However, keeping in mind the times, events, and from where the Israelites had spent the last two-hundred plus years in Egypt — these commands would have seemed quite liberating to most of the Israeli men and women since it was left up to them to decide to follow them without the coercion of a taskmaster’s rod.
One that is covered, however, is still very relevant for all of us today, be we Jew or non-Jew; that being - making vows before HaShem. In Chapter 23 verses 22 through 24 we read the following:
“When you make a vow to Adonai Eloheynu, do not put off fulfilling it, for Adonai Eloheynu will require it of you, and you will have incurred guilt; whereas you incur not guilt if you refrain from vowing. You must fulfill what has crossed your lips and perform what you have voluntarily vowed to Adonai Eloheynu, having made the promise with your mouth.” (Deuteronomy 23:22-24) [Also SEE: Numbers 30:3]
The Torah gives two specific examples of this kind of vow made by a person to HaShem. One is made by a fool and the other made in wisdom.
The foolish vow was made by one of Israel’s early judges by the name of Jephthah. His story is found in the Book of Judges Chapter 11 where it states:
”And Jephthah made the following vow to Adonai: ‘If You deliver the Ammonites into my hands, then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return shall be offered by me as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30)
For a full understanding of why this was a hasty vow made by a foolish man see my teaching on it HERE.
The other vow, the one made in wisdom, was vowed by the patriarch Ya’akov after HaShem appeared to him during his trip to Haran when escaping the wrath of of brother Esav. While asleep HaShem gave him the dream of the ladder with His messengers going up and down it to the place where Ya’akov slept. It was here that HaShem renewed with Ya’akov the covenant promise He had made with his grandfather Avraham and his father Yitzhak that all the land promised to his fathers would now pass on to him and his offspring forever. HaShem then closes with this:
"Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done what I have spoken about you.” (Genesis 28:15)
After waking from the heaven sent dream Ya’akov exclaims “Surely HaShem is present in this place and I did not know!” It is at this point that he sets up a pillar stone and makes his vow to HaShem stating:
“If El Shaddai will be with me, will guard me on this way that I am going; will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear; and return in peace to my father’s house, and HaShem will be YHVH to me — then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a house of Adonai, and whatever You will give me, I shall repeatedly tithe it to You.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
In these two examples of vow taking before HaShem we learn the importance of not making vows before Him in vain. May we learn from our father Ya’akov the wisdom of proper vow taking; and from Japheth the cursory tale of the dangers of making hasty, unthoughtful and foolish vows. They both have their consequences of a blessing or a curse. Perhaps it is best to adhere to the advice of HaShem and to refrain from vow taking altogether and thereby incur no guilt at all.
Until next time — Shabbat Shalom!