Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's commentary Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
OATHS & VOWS
A person who makes a vow, or neder, in effect creates a new Torah prohibition for himself. The food or other item which was previously permissible is now forbidden; breaking the vow by obtaining benefit from the forbidden item makes a person carries the penalty of lashes, just as breaking an existing Torah prohibition does.
In a previous column (Miketz 5761), we related to the question of how the individual making the vow has the power to create such a prohibition. We explained how HaShem gives us the ability to use the awesome power of His name to extend the authority of His word.
But the conundrum of vows also has a flip side: how is it that the food or other item itself becomes forbidden? What exactly is wrong with it? This aspect was explained by Rav Nachman of Breslav, and elaborated by his student Rav Natan.
Rav Natan points out that there is a profound parallel between the laws of vows and the laws of blessings. Even without a vow, our Sages tell us that all worldly enjoyments are forbidden to us until we make a special blessing (Berakhot 38a). The food has both a permissible and a forbidden aspect; the difference between them is determined by our power of speech.
The explanation for this duality,
according to Chasidic thought, is rooted in the original fall of matter
known as the "shattering of the vessels", which is connected both to the sin
of Adam and Chava and also to the curse of the earth. Originally all matter
was blessed and its enjoyment was holy, but after the fall some earthly
enjoyments acquired a dual nature: they have the ability either to elevate
us, by creating a feeling of appreciation for G-d's loving kindness, or
contrarily to degrade us by drawing us to animal pleasures.
This power to resolve the duality of the food by our faculty of holy speech works in both directions. On the one hand, we are able to make the food permissible by determining to enjoy it in a holy way. On the other hand, when we fear that the food will tend to draw us in a negative, bestial direction we are able to make the food utterly impermissible by making a vow. (Likutei Halakhot Breslav, Nedarim 1)
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