Making Vows

There is some question concerning Yakov Avinu’s prayer to Hashem, before leaving Israel to find a wife. He chose to make a נדר, or a vow.

We learn from the Book of Kohelet that it is better not to make a vow, rather than to vow, and not fulfill it. One of the most sacred prayers of Yom Kippur is Kol Nidrei. We begin the holiest day of the year, with an attempt to clean the slate. We cannot ask for atonement knowing that we have made vows that we did not fulfill.

Apparently, the exception to the rule against making vows, is עת צרה, during times of trouble. Turning to Hashem at that time, with a resolve to take on a certain commitment, is acceptable. Yakov promised to give Maa’ser, a tenth of his income to Hashem if he would be given “bread to eat, and clothing to wear.”

There is also a book written as to how to conquer anger. The book is called, ארך אפים.” The book recommends that making a vow to overcome this negative character trait, is acceptable.

We see that we must always be careful to guard what comes out of our mouths. But we must be extremely careful not to make vows, or promises that we don’t keep. Only in very exceptional situations, is one able to make vows.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.