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Weekly Thought - Matos - Masei

Friday, 9 July, 2010 - 2:20 am

This week's parsha begins with the laws of nedarim - vows. The Torah describes how one must uphold the commitment of a vow, and how to annul a vow. Also explained is the power invested in a Rav to release an individual from a vow. We need to understand the following: (a) why does a person makes a vow and; (b) how does a Rav have the power to annul a vow once it has been made?

Concerning a vow we find two opposing sentiments. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:13) states; "vows are a fence for abstinence". This expression describes a vow as a helpful positive concept. A person can make a neder and thereby separate himself from worldly matters that may be disturbing him in his service to Hashem. On the other hand, the Gemorah Yerushalmi says "Isn't it enough what Torah already prohibits? Is it necessary to willingly add to them by vowing to prohibit other things? This second source implies that a vow is a negative thing, and should be avoided.

The Rebbe explains that we can answer these questions with a better understanding the concept of a vow and its real purpose. The world is divided into three discreet categories. The first category is things that are prohibited for use. They are prohibited because they are derived from klipos. Klipos are not able to be elevated and therefore need to be rejected, pushed away. This is the meaning of asur meaning tied. These items are tied into the power of tumah and are therefore not able to be elevated or changed. These items are forbidden, and will only transform after Moshiach comes.

The second category is thing which an individual is bound and obligated to perform. Examples are, eating matzo on Pesach or making Kiddush on wine. Through utilizing the physical object one elevates its life-force which is connected to Hashem.

In these two categories everyone is equal. The things which are prohibited no one can elevate, even the Tzadik. The things with which we are obligated, mitzvos, every can and must elevate, even the simple Jew.

The third category is a thing which is permitted, but is neither prohibited nor a mitzvah. It is permitted to be used, and it is up to each individual to deal with it accordingly. If one uses it and it helps him or her in serving Hashem, then its life-force is elevated. If however it is for one's own pleasure, without consideration of why it was created, one destroys its life-force and brings it down into klipa, as is explained in Tanya, chapter 7.

When I eat something I must ask myself if I am going to elevate its spiritual source or lower it into klipa. This is what people struggle with. We ask ourselves: "This is something that is permitted, but how much of it may I use?" There is someone who is in control of himself and he uses those things which are permitted within reasonable limits. He knows when to say yes and when to say no and he fulfills the mitzvah to sanctify himself from things which are permitted. This is a fulfillment of what the Previous Rebbe mentioned in Sichos about the choices of a Chosid. "What is prohibited is prohibited until the end, and what is permitted he doesn't need". He knows his limits. Unfortunately there are individuals who can't control themselves and something which is permitted becomes an indulgence. It can be kosher l'mehadrin, but he is eating it for his own lust and taivos.

When I was in Yeshiva, Rabbi Greenglas told the following story at a farbrengen.
A certain Bachur who was learning in Yeshiva was told by his Mashgiach Ruchni that iskafia means; that we cannot do everything we desire. Later, the bochur was walking the Mashgiach home and they passed a melon stand. The Mashgiach was checking each melon to see which would be the best. The Bochur asked him: "You just taught us about iskafia, so why should you look for the best and sweetest fruit to eat?" "Fool!" responded the Mashgiach, "Who should have the best melon, a Jew or a gentile?" Everything which we see was created for Jews and we can use it in the service of Hashem. We feel we are fulfilling the purpose for which this was created.

If a person realizes truly that he is out of control, and he has to put the brakes on, he makes a vow and prohibits himself. He has made a fence that he shouldn't fall through. After indulging himself in those things which are permitted, one may want to go further to things which are not permitted, whatever the eye sees and the heart desires. The only way to get control is to make a vow. For him the vow is the right thing to do.

Then we have someone else who is in control of himself and he could utilize the permitted things in serving Hashem. But it is easier to abstain and so he makes a vow. It's the easy way out. To him we say, Hashem created you in this world to elevate these things. Why did you prohibit yourself from utilizing them?

How does the Chacham undo the vow? If the vow is undone, what happens to this person who needs a restriction? The person had to make a vow because he couldn't control himself, how does the Chacham help him?

The Rebbe explains that according to Chassidus there are three types of people. One is a person who had evaluated himself poorly, and felt he couldn't deal with the "permitted" things. To him the Chacham explains that he has the tools and can cope with the problem. He doesn't need the neder. The neder was made under a false perception. He does have the power to control himself but he miscalculated himself. The Chacham reveals this power he has. The second person seems to evaluate himself properly and makes a neder. Indeed, in the revealed powers of his intellect and emotions of the neshama this is true, but the concealed powers, the heart of the neshama, deep down he does have the power to deal with the "permitted" things. So again, the Rav shows him the inner strength that the person didn't realize he had. This is different than the first person. It wasn't a mistaken evaluation, but he looked as far as he could, and did not realize his hidden potential. The Chacham exposes the hidden powers of the neshama that the person never tapped into before. The
Rav opens this blockage of the hidden parts of the neshama to help the revealed powers of the neshama.

The third type of person is helped by the Rav because Hashem gives the Rav the means to infuse powers into the individual that he had not had before to deal with his weaknesses. Originally the person doesn't have the power to control himself but the Rav infuses him with new power through Torah and uplifts him to a different level that he had not been able to achieve before.

Based on Lekutei Sichos, Vol. 33.

The following two stories illustrate the ideas mentioned above.

Reb Nissin Nemenov, the Mashpia in France, once attended his grandson's Bar Mitzva. After the meal they served ice cream. During the farbrengen he screamed; "Is this what's missing after eating an entire meal you also need ice cream? Where is the personal restraint?"

This is a story about my father which I heard from Rabbi Leibel Groner when he was still a bochur in 770. My father wasn't yet married and davened until the late afternoon in the cheder sheini upstairs in 770. When he finally finished, he walked into the Bais Medrash just in time for lunch. He saw a bochur eating an ice cream and shouted in shock "Ice cream in Tomchei Tmimim?!"

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