Parshas Matos.


The laws of vows and swearing.


1. One should always avoid swearing and making vows. Moreover, any promise to do a mitzva of any kind can be considered a vow, therefore the one promising something should say “Bli Neder” – “without vow”. Similarly if one is going to start doing a non-obligatory mitzva, he should say in the beginning that he is not accepting on himself to do it all his life, but will be doing it “Bli Neder” while he can. For instance, if one decided to pray at the sunrise, or follow some strict opinion on some law, while others follow a lenient one, he should say that he is not taking on the vow but will do it “Bli Neder”.


2. It happens sometimes that in a dangerous situation people swear to Almighty, that they will take on an additional mitzva or will give a considerable sum to tzedoko if they get out safely. We should be very careful to keep our oaths for the punishment for not keeping them is very strict. There was a story about a Polish Jew, who happened to be in Siberia during the World War II. His living conditions were rather tough and he had to exchange his gold and jewelry for potatoes, to keep surviving. Once he had been on the way with another portion of goods to exchange, and suddenly he was stopped by nine Jews, who needed to gather a minyon, asking him to join them. But as he’d decided that he needed potatoes to survive, which meant much more than praying, he declined their invitation. A little while later he was taken to prison right on the spot because such an exchange had been considered illegal at that time.  While being in prison the Jew swore that if he could just get out alive he would never ever decline an invitation to join a minyon. This man had survived the war and moved to America, where he lived a long peaceful life. Once in his old age, he had been on the way to his grandson’s wedding. He was out of his door when he heard his telephone ringing, it happened to be an invitation to a minyon. He was in doubt, for a second... “I am sorry, I am right on my way to my grandson’s wedding”. “It’s all right”, he was told. “We’ll find someone else...”  And this happened to be the last day of his life – during the wedding he felt ill, was taken to the hospital and died there.


3. In most Torah laws, a boy of thirteen is considered a grown-up man, and a twelve year old girl – an adult woman (according to Talmud, the woman was given a greater understanding). As for the laws of oaths, if the child understands whom he is swearing, his vow will be counted, even if he is a year younger from the grown-up age.


4. Some vows could be cancelled with the help of three men (Jewish court), if one regrets having made the vow.  The laws of such cancellation and about which vows can be canceled, are rather complex, and one should always consult a Rabbi. Some of his young daughter’s vows can be cancelled by her father, and some of the wife’s – by her husband, but only on the day when they have been heard. If you are not sure, if a particular vow can be cancelled, cancel it just in case by saying: “This vow is annulled”, and later on you can consult your Rabbi to find out, if this particular vow could be cancelled. If one heard about the oath on Shabbos, he should annul the oath in his mind and indicate to his wife (or daughter) that the oath was annulled. For example, if the oath was regarding some food he can say: “Take it and eat”.


The laws of immersing non-Jewish dishes in the Mikvah.


1. Every time we buy dishes produced by a non-Jewish maker, or when the dishes have been produced by Jews but are sold by a non-Jew, we need to immerse them in the Mikvah (or in a lake, sea or ocean). These laws concern only those dishes made from metal or glass and used for eating or cooking. If a wooden dish contains some metallic parts or partially covered with a glass layer, one should consult a Rabbi. Also, in cases of electrical appliances, having direct contact with food (i.e. toasters), one should consult a Rabbi about the way to immerse them without spoiling.


2. If we buy foods or drinks in disposable packs (i.e. milk bottles, coffee glass cans), and are going to be using the can after the product has been finished, we need to then immerse the package. If one is eating in a house of a non-religious Jew, even though the food served is kosher, he can’t use the dishes that have not been immersed. On the other hand, one can eat uncooked fruit from a clean dish belonging to a non-Jew because the non-Jew is not required to immerse his dishes.


3. Before immersing the dish one should remove all tags and labels that prevent the water from coming in contact with the whole surface of the dish (the law is the same as with a woman in the Mikvah). One recites the blessing and immerses the whole dish in the water. The hand holding the vessel needs to be wet from the Mikvah water, so that the water will come in contact with the dish even between our fingers.


Parshas Massei.


The laws of the prohibition against inflicting accidents and the mitzvah of taking care of one’s own health.


1. One of fundamental Torah mitzvos is to take a special care not to damage or bring on a danger to someone else or to himself. He, who doesn’t follow the safety rules and relies upon the Creator to save him, if emergency should happen, breaks the Torah command. The Almighty created the world full of laws and rules, and He wishes us to follow those laws and not to rely on miracles. One of the most common examples is the mitzvah to build a fence around one’s roof or porch to prevent someone from falling off (to find out whether this command concerns your house you need to ask a knowledgeable Rabbi). Our sages forbade a number of things that can be dangerous either for physical or spiritual reasons. Let us describe some of them briefly.


- One shouldn’t eat meat and fish together. That is why, after eating fish, we rinse our mouth or eat a different food, and only afterwards we can eat meat.

- When moving out of a house, if the new tenant will also be Jewish, one shouldn’t take his Mezuzahs.

- One is forbidden to cut a fruit tree.

- One shouldn’t marry a woman, who has the same name as his mother.

- When someone dies in a house, all the water that was in that house and the houses next to it, up to the third house from each side, is spilled out. This does not apply to soup or juices – only to water.

- One is not allowed to place food under a bed. If this accidentally happens, according to some opinions the food should be thrown away.

- Sweat should not enter one’s mouth, although it doesn’t concern the sweat of one’s forehead.

- One shouldn’t sleep wearing shoes.

- One shouldn’t get up at once after a meal, a drink, sleep or relations. He should wait a little before getting up.

- One is forbidden to eat food that smells badly or food eaten by mice.

- One is forbidden to place money in his mouth.

- In the morning we need to wash our hands three times, one should try not touch anything until this is done.

- One shouldn’t walk near an unstable wall that looks dangerous, or cross an unsteady bridge.

- One shouldn’t cut food with one hand holding it in the other hand.

- One shouldn’t cross a brook, if the water reaches his thighs. (If the tourists from Israel had followed the rule, so many unnecessary deaths would have been avoided).

- One shouldn’t mention unlucky things, giving examples, like: “If your father died...” One shouldn’t frighten children with unclean animals (“a cat or a dog will come and take you if you do this...”)

- One shouldn’t read when there is not enough light.


2. Any decision to eat on Yom Kippur or to break Shabbos for someone in danger is made according to the doctor. How much more so, any decision about one’s health and taking care of it should be made according to the up-to-date doctors. For instance, if our doctor says that smoking is dangerous, one should try to quit smoking. Certainly, for those who are addicted, it is not a simple step, but thinking: “I don’t care what my doctor says” is inappropriate. One should try hard and at least, cut down a number of cigarettes a day. Our sages require from a righteous man some discipline in eating. One should eat not what is tasty, but what is healthy and avoid harmful types of food. Our sages advise us to refrain from overeating, on the contrary, they advise us on eating about one third of our fill. Because the satiation impulses reach our brain a little later, when we eat only a third, in the end it will turn out that this was enough. Stationary way of life is harmful to one’s health, one should be physically active. Before the meal one should move a little, but during the meal one should sit down. Right after eating, one shouldn’t do any strenuous physical labor, go bathing, go to sleep or have relations with his wife. If one feels he needs to go to the bathroom, he shouldn’t hold it. All the more so one should not eat when he needs to go to the bathroom. Mountain air is healthy, and that is why those who can afford it spend summer vacations in the mountains.


3. All safety rules, like fastening seat belts in a car, having safety exits from one’s house, etc, imposed by the state, are compulsory for us from the point of view of the Torah. He, who breaks those rules, breaks the law of Torah as well.