The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses the section of parashat Matot on oaths and how they are nullified. Traditionally, an oath would be a vow to not partake of some physical object or activity; for example, a person would vow not to drink wine for an allotted amount of time. According to Judaism, an oath is a means to come closer to G‑d, something positive. But here's the question: isn't it enough what G‑d, in His wisdom, has forbidden us to do? Why do we have to add more?

The purpose of the Torah is to sanctify our lives….

Let us look a bit deeper. The purpose of the Torah is to sanctify our lives. When a person benefits from something in the world (like eating) for the sake of Heaven, that object is transformed from mundane to holy. This is the purpose of the Creation: "To make a dwelling place for Him (G‑d) in the lower worlds" (Tanchuma, Naso 16). From this perspective, how can we deny ourselves anything that the Torah permits? If we are permitted to use something for the purpose of elevating it to holiness, why would someone take a vow and flee from this goal?

We find the answer in the question. When a person is on the proper spiritual level, making oaths is not for him. His job is to elevate the physical; he has the ability, and it is inappropriate for him to run away from this G‑d given purpose. For this reason we have found in Jewish tradition great righteous people who possessed material luxuries because they knew exactly how to elevate them to holiness and rescue them for divine service.

If you find that one TV show leads to ten more, try none….

On the other hand, a person who was seduced from the straight path, who is not certain that each and every action will be for the sake of Heaven, knows that he is not always capable of elevating the physical to it spiritual source. Even worse, there is a distinct risk that those very actions will lower him deeper into the malaise of the world. Not only is it permissible, it is recommended to use oaths as a weapon to protect his spiritual level. If you find that one TV show leads to ten more, try none.

This principle also explains the prohibitions and fences that the Rabbis placed on the Jewish people through out all of the generations. While the Temple stood and broadcast its light of spiritual power, such additional fences were not required. With this elevated consciousness, the Jewish people were able to overcome all obstacles between them and the Almighty and to imbue the physical with holiness. However, with the destruction of the Temple, the darkness of exile shadowed the world. No more did the Jews have an extra boost to protect their high spiritual status. The Rabbis of that time stepped in with additional prohibitions and fences.

From all of this, we see that use of oaths suggests that the person is on a lower than required spiritual level. If such were not the case, he or she would not need this extra protection. This is the reason that only one who is on a higher level than the person who took the oath (like a parent in certain cases, or a qualified rabbi) has the power to nullify the oath. Additionally, they are even able to assist this person on a lower level to no longer need the oath. This will help that individual to live in the world without the crutch of vows and elevate physicality to holiness.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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