SALT - Friday, 23 Tammuz 5779 - July 26, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 25
            Yesterday, we noted the question addressed by several commentators regarding the opening verse in Parashat Matot, which tells that Moshe presented the laws of nedarim (vows) specifically to the “rashei ha-matot” – the leadership of Benei Yisrael.  These laws, of course, apply to all members of the nation, and the question thus arises as to why they were given specifically to the leaders.
            Chatam Sofer suggests that particular emphasis is placed on the responsibilities of leaders in this regard because the consequences of a leader’s broken promise is especially grave.  An example, as Chatam Sofer references, is the story told in Sefer Yehoshua (9) of the Givonim, a tribe that was among the Canaanite peoples against whom Benei Yisrael were commanded to wage war, but that managed to deceive Benei Yisrael’s leaders into making a truce.  They posed as foreign nomads, and persuaded Benei Yisrael to enter into a truce whereby the two sides vowed peaceful relations.  The Gemara in Masekhet Gittin (46a) comments that although Benei Yisrael’s leaders vowed peace on the basis of false claims, which technically rendered the vow null and void, they nevertheless upheld their oath, and treated the Givonim peacefully, to avoid a chilul Hashem (defamation of God).  When a prominent leader makes a solemn oath which he then breaks, the consequences for the reputation of the Jewish People are especially grave, and so Benei Yisrael honored their commitment to the Givonim even though it was not legally binding.
            Accordingly, Chatam Sofer writes, we might perhaps understand why the obligation to obey one’s vows is presented especially to the nation’s leaders.  This was done to emphasize the particular importance of honesty and integrity on the part of leaders, to the point where even vows which may be ignored in the case of an ordinary citizen must be fulfilled when they are made by leaders.  A leader’s violation of commitments reflects badly upon the entire nation, and upon our faith, and thus people in positions of leadership bear an especially strict obligation to fulfill their pledges and follow through on their promises.