Parashat Mattot

Holy Words

The laws of vows and the rabbinic cautions against making them teach the holiness and power of the spoken word.

Print this page Print this page

To break a pledge is to take something that is sacred and make it secular, or even profane. We are to guard our words carefully, always being aware of their power. If we are to be holy, then we must keep our words holy. One way to do that, our tradition suggests, is to avoid making vows.

Davar Aher

To swear is a serious sin, even if one intends to uphold what one has sworn. King Yannai had one thousand cities, and all were destroyed because their inhabitants continually swore, even on true things. This occurred because they mentioned God's name for no reason. How much worse, then, is it when one swears falsely; he shall most certainly be punished!

But if a person makes a vow because he is afraid lest his evil inclination dissuade him from a righteous action, that is permitted. In fact, God ordered that one should make a vow in the case where a person went on an evil path, and a vow will rein him in, to ensure that he no longer returns to that way. As King David said: "I have sworn, and shall fulfill, to heed Your righteous judgments" (Psalm 199:106). We see from this that it is permissible to swear in order to fulfill the commandments. (Tze'enah Ur'enah)

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.