Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Matos/Massai) Ask!

The Torah takes vows and oaths very seriously, thus a person is bound by his words and commitments.

The Torah allows one to be released from his vow if he verbally regrets his vow in the presence of three men who can revoke the vow. This is the process that transpires at the Kol Nidrei service.

One can also go to a Sage and explain the vow and if the Sage can find a gap or pretext in the essence of the vow he can be released from the vow.

A few weeks ago we read a Haftorah taken from the Book of Judges (chapter 11) which relates an episode where Yiftach expressed a vow.

For certain reasons, the powerful Yiftach was abandoned by his family and he settled in a land where he became the leader of ill-mannered people.

Before Israel went to war with the mighty nation of Amon the elders of Israel contacted Yiftach asking him to rejoin them and help defeat Amon. Yiftach at first demurred but the elders promised Yiftach that he would become their leader if he came back.

Yiftach returned and began by sending a message of peace to Amon. Amon couldn't get past their deep issues with Israel and war broke out.

As Yiftach went out to war he made a vow to G-d that when he would return successfully from battle, he would offer the first thing to emerge from the doors of his house as a sacrifice.

When Yiftach returned after the victory, his daughter, an only child, emerged from the house playing a musical instrument to greet her father.

Yiftach, upon realizing that to fulfill his vow, he would have to offer his daughter as a sacrifice, grew glum and mournful. He explained to his daughter why he was downcast and not in sync with her merry tone.

His daughter asked for a two month reprieve to spend with her friends. After the two months were up Yiftach fulfilled his vow. It is unclear whether Yiftach actually brought her as a sacrifice or she was placed in solitude for the rest of her life without marrying or leaving offspring.

There is a discussion concerning the validity of Yiftach's vow. Some say that his vow was never considered valid since it concerned a human being and human beings are not classified as sacrifices, and some say that Yiftach should have redeemed his daughter's value and use the money to offer a valid animal sacrifice to G-d.

The Talmud relates that Yiftach was not a very learned person and he acted on the basis on his own faulty assessment in thinking the vow could not be annulled. G-d orchestrated these events so that people will learn from this heartrending story the importance of seeking the guidance of a reputable Sage when it comes to Halachic matters and thus no heartache will come about through one's marginal understanding of the laws.

The Talmud further relates that there was a Sage, Pinchos, who lived at that time and was aware of Yiftach's vow. He could have easily released him from the vow because Yiftach would have never made the vow in the first place if he knew his daughter would emerge. However, Pinchos felt it below his dignity to go to Yiftach. And neither did Yiftach go to Pinchos to release himself from the vow for he felt that it was below his dignity as the leader to go to the Sage to ask for a release of his vow.
Both Pinchos and Yiftach were punished for their stubbornness.

It emerges that because of ignorance and principled stubbornness, a daughter and another link to the family of Israel was eliminated.

Yiftach's daughter tried reasoning with her father that his vow was unprecedented in Jewish history and brought proof that it was an invalid vow. However, Yiftach wouldn't hear of it, and held strongly to his vow. Surprisingly, she did not run away to avoid her father's horrific actions. Possibly, she was a sad product of her environment. Her father felt that his leadership position and his physical strength also afforded him high levels of Torah knowledge, and she believed this as well.

Often, people share their false perceptions about Judaism and relate certain aspects have bothered them for a very long time. After clarifying the issue, I make a point of telling them that King Solomon states, 'the ways of Torah are sweet', and if something they come across presents Torah in a bad light, they should seek a true Torah perspective, for it will undoubtedly reveal the beauty and splendor of the Torah and will provide a sense of understanding and clarity of the matter.

Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks

The Nine Days:
Beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av (Friday) our expression of mourning for the destruction of our two Temples in Jerusalem intensifies until after Tisha B'Av. We do not eat meat, drink wine, (except for Shabbos) launder or bathe for our enjoyment. These days are called the "Nine days."
One should be careful not to involve himself in potentially dangerous activities during this time, since these days have been wrought with tragedies in our long history.