Volume 32, No. 38
2 Av 5778
July 14, 2018
We read at the beginning of our parashah (30:3), “If a man takes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not profane his word.” Our Sages interpret this verse: “He shall not profane his word, but others may profane his word”–teaching that a person who took a vow may, under certain circumstances, have the vow annulled by a Torah scholar. The Rambam counts annulling vows as one of the 613 mitzvot.
R’ Moshe Shick z”l (1807-1879; rabbi of Huszt, Hungary) writes that there is a profound lesson to be learned from this mitzvah. It teaches that human speech is not a physical characteristic of man. Rather, it is a spiritual characteristic. On the verse (Bereishit 2:7), “Hashem Elokim formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being,” the Aramaic translation and commentary Onkelos states: “He blew into him a spirit that speaks.” Speech is the connection between the intellect/soul and the body. Therefore, only thoughtful speech is worthy of being called human speech. Speech should be used for prayer and Torah study, because speech is the outward expression of the soul.
How do we know this? From the fact that it is possible to annul vows. When a Torah scholar annuls a vow, he is able to do so because the person who made the vow presents evidence that he took the vow without proper forethought. He declares that, had he thought of such-and-such or known this-or-that, he never would have taken the vow. Speech without proper thought is not human speech, and that is why the Torah scholar may declare it null and void, as if it never existed. Proper speech, on the other hand, is thoughtful speech. (Maharam Shick Al Taryag Mitzvot)
“Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael, saying, ‘This is the thing that Hashem has commanded’.” (30:2)
R’ Yaakov Dovid Kalish z”l (1814–1878; first Amshinover Rebbe) writes: This verse is answering a question that one might ask about the verses that follow, in which the Torah teaches the laws of Nedarim / vows. That question is: how can a person make a vow to treat as forbidden something that is otherwise permitted–for example, vowing to have no enjoyment from apples in the future–when the Torah commands (Devarim 4:2), “You shall not add to the word that I command you”? In response to that unasked question, the Torah says, “This is the thing that Hashem has commanded.” This means: “This thing”–the vow–is equivalent to what Hashem commanded! The Mitzvah that is created by a Jew’s vow will have the same holiness as a Mitzvah commanded by Hashem. Why? Because Hashem turned the world and all of its pleasures over to mankind to rule with its free will, and He gave man the ability to pursue eternal life by restraining his enjoyment of permitted pleasures.
Alternatively, writes the Amshinover Rebbe, the verse can be interpreted: “This”–not something else–“is the thing that Hashem has commanded.” He explains: there are two types of Nedarim. There are “good” Nedarim–those a person makes when he is going through a difficult period in life and seeks extra merits to protect him or because he feels that he needs an extra push to perform a Mitzvah. [An example of the latter would be a vow to attend Minyan or a Torah lecture.] There also are “bad” Nedarim–those a person makes in anger. Our verse is hinting that only one of these categories–the “good” vows–is “the thing that Hashem has commanded.” (Ohel Yitzchak)
Rashi z”l comments: Moshe prophesied with the words (Shmot 11:4), “Koh amar Hashem / Thus said Hashem,” and other prophets also prophesied with the words, “Ko amar Hashem / Thus said Hashem.” Moshe’s prophecy, however, was superior in that he prophesied also with the words, “Zeh ha’davar / This is the thing that Hashem commanded.”
R’ Yitzchak Arieli z”l (1896-1974; co-founder and Mashgiach of Yeshivat Merkaz Ha’rav; author of the Talmud commentary Einayim La’mishpat) explains: Only Moshe saw his prophecies completely clearly. Therefore, only Moshe could say, “Zeh” / “This” is what Hashem commanded.”
However, Moshe did not always prophesy on that level. Before Moshe had loyally shepherded Bnei Yisrael, he prophesied on a lower level, like all other prophets. Now, the verse points out, he was speaking “to the heads of the tribes of Bnei Yisrael,” Now that he was their leader. Therefore, he prophesied on a higher level and he could say, ‘This is the thing that Hashem has commanded.” (Midrash Ariel)
“These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael . . .” (33:1)
On the verse (Vayikra 6:6), “An eternal flame shall burn on the altar, it shall not be extinguished,” the Talmud Yerushalmi comments: “Even during the travels.” What does this teach us?
R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (the “Reisha Rav”; killed in the Holocaust in 1941) writes: There is an awesome ethical lesson here. When a person is at home, he is less likely to sin. Even if the Yetzer Ha’ra tempts him, he will overcome the Yetzer Ha’ra because he knows that whatever he does will come to the attention of his friends and neighbors. Not so when a person is traveling. When he is away, he can act with impunity and it will not become known at home. This fact is alluded to in the verse (Bereishit 4:7), “Sin lurks at the door.” When one leaves the door of his house, he is more likely to sin.
However, “Fortunate is one who fears Hashem, who goes in his ways” (Tehilim 128:1). Even when he goes on his way, he fears Hashem. [Note that most commentaries translate: “His ways,” referring to G-d.]
This, writes R’ Lewin, is the message of the Yerushalmi: The eternal flame of love of G-d should burn on the altar in a person’s heart even when he travels. As Tehilim (119:1) says, “Fortunate are those who are perfect on the road, who go with the Torah of G-d.” (Ha’drash V’Ha’iyun II p.91)
“Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, ‘Ki you are crossing the Jordan to the land of Canaan – you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the Land before you; and you shall destroy all their prostration stones; all their molten images shall you destroy; and all your high places shall you demolish’.” (33:51-52)
The word “ki” in this verse usually is translated “when,” so that the verse would say, “When you cross the Jordan . . . .” However, writes R’ Yosef Chaim David Azulai z”l (1724-1806; Eretz Yisrael and Italy), it also can be translated “because.” He explains:
Our Sages say that if Moshe Rabbeinu had entered Eretz Yisrael, he would have destroyed the Yetzer Ha’ra for idolatry. Furthermore, Bnei Yisrael would have entered a Garden of Eden-like existence.
However, this was not to be; Moshe Rabbeinu was not going to enter the Holy Land. Therefore, Hashem commanded him to say, “Because you – but not I – are crossing the Jordan,” therefore I must caution you to destroy all vestiges of idolatry. (Nachal Kedumim)
A Torah Tour of the Holy Land
R’ Yosef Karo z”l (1488-1575; Salonika and Eretz Yisrael) writes: When one sees [the site of] the Bet Hamikdash, he says (based on Yeshayah 64:10), “The Temple of our holiness and our splendor, where our fathers praised you, has become a fiery conflagration, and all that we desired has become a ruin.” Then he tears his garment. (Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 561:2)
R’ Yoel Sirkes z”l (1561-1640; Poland; known as the “Bach,” after the initials of his work Bayit Chadash) writes: One must prostrate himself, tear his clothes, cry, moan, and mourn over the destruction of the Temple. He mournfully recites Mizmor L’Asaf [Tehilim 79 – “A psalm of Asaf: G-d! The nations have entered into Your inheritance . . .”]. When he tears his garment, he recites, “Baruch Dayan Emet / Blessed is the Truthful Judge (without saying G-d’s Name), for all His judgments are righteous and truthful. ‘The Rock! — His work is perfect, for all His paths are justice; a Kel of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He’ (Devarim 32:4). ‘You are righteous in all that has come upon us, etc.’ (Nechemiah 9:33).” (Mishnah Berurah 561:6)
R’ Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky z”l (1872-1956; Yerushalayim; author of Gesher Ha’chaim on the laws of mourning, and other works) writes: At first, I believed that one should not recite [the above] until he sees the floor of the courtyard of the Temple (which is possible from the Mount of Olives and certain place north and west of the Temple Mount), but not when one sees the dome of one of the mosques on the Temple Mount. However, I then saw that the Bach writes that one recites the above upon seeing the ‘kaaba,’ which, writes R’ Tukachinsky, refers to the dome of the Mosque of Omar. This is logical because the mere existence of the dome is a reminder of the Churban / destruction of the Temple. (Ir Ha’kodesh Ve’ha’mikdash 17:3)
One who enters the Temple site today incurs the punishment of Kareit, because we are all tamei from contact with the dead. (M.B. 561:5)
Halachic authorities disagree whether sticking one’s finger into a crack in the Kotel Ha’ma’aravi / Western Wall is considered “entering” the Temple Mount, and therefore would be prohibited. R’ Shmuel Rabinovitch shlita (Chief Rabbi of the Kotel Ha’ma’aravi and the Holy Sites) quotes R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l (1910-1995), a native and life-long resident of Yerushalayim, as saying that he never heard of anyone being stringent about this. (She’eilot U’teshuvot Sha’arei Tziyon p.24)