SALT - Wednesday, 21 Tammuz 5779 - July 24, 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 Keli Yakar’s analysis (beginning of Parashat Matot) of the concept of nedarim (vows) and the possibility of having them annulled (hatarat nedarim).  Citing the Gemara’s sharp condemnation of those who take vows (Masekhet Nedarim 22a), Keli Yakar explained that ordinarily, vows bespeak a degree of arrogance and condescension, as one seeks to create his own mode of religious practice and set himself apart from everybody else.  However, vows are occasionally made in a fit of anger, and not as a reasoned, calculated decision to withdraw and distinguish oneself from his community and his nation, and so the option of hatarat nedarim serves as a kind of test determining whether one’s vow results from deep-seated arrogance, or a temporary emotional eruption, in which case the individual will seek to annul his vow upon regaining his composure. 
We suggested, in light of Keli Yakar’s comments, that the institution of hatarat nedarim perhaps signifies the need to repair the harm inflicted by anger.  One who takes a vow in a fit of rage is urged to seek its annulment – signifying the importance of seeking to contain the damage we may have caused through inappropriate words spoken in moments of tension and frustration.
We might add that the institution of hatarat nedarim conveys a vitally important message not only to the person who uttered the “vow,” who made hurtful remarks in a condition of anger, but also for those around him. 
One view in the Gemara (Chagiga 10a) finds a Biblical allusion to the notion of hatarat nedarim in the command in Parashat Matot (30:3) that if one utters a vow, “lo yacheil devaro” – “he shall not defile his word.”  The Gemara cites Shmuel as interpreting this to mean, “He may not defile, but others may defile for him.”  The Torah requires the individual to abide by his vow taken impulsively in a state of anger, in order to discourage making rash commitments, but it empowers others to annul the vow, to declare that as it was taken without a sound, rational consideration of all its implications, it is void.  This perhaps teaches that when a person speaks improperly in a fleeting moment of rage, the people around him are called upon to accord less importance to the inappropriate words than the individual himself.  Very often, the precise opposite occurs – the individual dismisses his remarks as the unfortunate result of his temporarily compromised emotional condition, whereas others take the comments very seriously, remember them for years to come, and are forever aggrieved by what the person said.  The person insists, “I didn’t mean it,” but the others refuse to forgive, keeping the wrongful remarks alive in their memories where it continually festers fuels harsh feelings of resentment.  But the Torah instructs us to respond in a precise opposite manner.  The person who spoke improperly in a fit of anger must assume responsibility for his remarks, acknowledge the harm they caused, and seek to repair the damage to whatever extent possible.  And the others, for their part, are to facilitate the “annulment” of the person’s words by not according them great importance, by understanding the context, by recognizing human weaknesses, and by being prepared to forget and forgive hurtful words spoken in moments of tension. 
Underlying the halakhic mechanism of “hatarat nedarim” is the concept of “acheirim meichalin lo” – “others may defile for him,” which may be read as an imperative – that others should “defile” the person’s inappropriate words.  While he must himself take responsibility for his rash remarks, others should be forgiving and understanding, recognizing that words spoken in a moment of stress and tension can and should be overlooked, and should not be turned into a permanent stain on the individual’s record.