"When a man shall make a vow or swear an oath, to make a prohibition upon
himself, he shall not profane his word; he shall do in accordance with all
that leaves his mouth." [30:3]
What is the objective? As Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) explains, "he
should not make his words 'Chulin.'" We translate 'chulin' as profane, but
really the word simply means 'ordinary.' The days of the week, compared to
Shabbos, are called 'chol.' The Talmudic tractate which discusses the
slaughter of kosher animals for food, rather than those slaughtered for
various Temple sacrifices, is called 'Chulin.'
Thus what we have is not a denigration of the words - this is hardly what
we would refer to in English as 'profanity' - but, to the contrary, a
recognition of how high and holy words can be. One who fails to meet the
obligations set out in his oath has failed to preserve the lofty level of
his speech when first uttered - by comparison, the words now seem profane.
The lowliness of an oath unfulfilled is in the comparison.
The Chazon Ish, Rabbi Abraham Y. Karelitz, was one of the leading Rabbis in
Israel during and after the founding of the modern State. One Shabbos
afternoon in his later years, when he was elderly and not able to go to
pray with ease, he realized that nine other men were in the room with him -
and he asked them if they could remain and pray Mincha, the Afternoon
Service, before they left.
He noticed that one guest looked uncomfortable, and asked him why. The
latter, somewhat embarrassed that his discomfort had been noticed,
responded that he had agreed to meet someone else within ten minutes - but
he could surely be a few minutes late in order to "make the minyan" for one
of Israel's great Rabbis!
The Chazon Ish responded, "Heaven forbid! You told someone you would meet
him? Go fulfill your word!"
Making a commitment, especially to do a mitzvah, is a great and holy thing.
But it cannot be treated lightly: "Lo Yachel Devaro" - "He shall not
profane his word!" The holiness of our words is only preserved when we
keep our word; when we meet our commitments.