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Thought for the Day: Taking an Oath to Fulfill a Mitzvah

I wanted to give my granddaughter a treat and my daughter -- be very understanding of a grandparent's need to give treats to grandchildren -- agreed.  I told my granddaughter that before I gave her the treat, she needed to finish he meal.  "I'm full," she announced (very) shortly.  "If you are full, I guess you don't have room for the treat, then."  I wasn't born yesterday, and I have also been a grandchild (and a child, and a parent), so I knew her game.  "I have a hole for sweets," she replied.  Even my daughter agreed that she could have the treat after that answer.

The Torah provides us the opportunity to add on our own mitzvos -- both positive and negative.  A person, for example, can take a neder (vow) to give a certain amount of money to tzedaka.  That neder has the force of any other d'oraisa.  We can also take a shavu'ah (oath) either to do something -- "I will definitely eat a hard boiled egg tomorrow before noon.", or "I will eat no blueberry muffins on Tuesdays this year."  You cannot, however, take a shavu'ah to eat bacon.  (Not the fake bacon, but the real deal.)  You can forbid something to yourself that the Torah permits and you can require yourself to do something that the Torah does not forbid, but you cannot permit yourself something that the Torah forbids.  The logic is simple: you already took an oath at Har Sinai when the Torah was given to accept the restrictions that the Torah mandates.  You cannot now take another oath to reverse the original oath; all sales are final.

What you can do, however, is to take an oath to forbid something to yourself that the Torah already forbids.  Why in the world would you do that?  The Steipler explains that when we really want to do something, we tend find heterim; in my granddaughter's mashal, we all have a hole for sweet.  At that point, the issur d'oraisa magically becomes permissible.  Not that is is permissible, our shavu'ah kicks in, since you are certainly allowed to make an oath to forbid something to yourself that the Torah -- that is, the Torah with all your holes -- permits.  Neat, huh?  That also answers the question of why one would want to forbid something to himself that that Torah permits.  After all, doesn't the Torah forbid enough; do you really want to take on more?  No, you don't want to take on more, but you are adding a safety belt where you know you have a weakness.

The Yerushalmi says that you will be taken to task for every permitted pleasure to which you did not avail yourself.  As any parent (and all the more so, grandparent) can tell you, there is no greater pleasure than a child enjoying a treat you have provided.  Forbidding something to yourself that the Torah permits is tantamount to telling your Bubby-Who-Art-In-Heaven, "No thank you.  I don't want your fresh baked cookies."  Taking a shavu'ah to keep yourself from issurim, on the other hand, is saying, "I don't want to spoil my appetite for your delicious cookies, Bubby!"

Ah... that's nachas!

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