Friday, October 15, 2010

When do I need to say bli neder?


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When do I need to say bli neder?

During the Yomim Tovim I was unable to print a Halacha Q&A several times.  I would finish the column with “next week’s” question but the question would either be published two weeks later or not at all.  I feel honored that people read the column and care enough to ask why it wasn’t written that week.  They even told me that they were looking forward “next week’s” question and were disappointed in having to wait for two weeks.  Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised (shocked, I mean, pleasantly shocked) at the reaction, and will endeavor to have a new HQ&A every week and the schedule published early Friday morning.  That brings me to my topic.  While I was feeling guilty that I skipped a column, I wondered if I am required to ask for hataras nedarim (release of vows) for my saying that I would do something and then not coming through. In the end, I was not sure and did so anyway, but I would like to say publicly that the weekly publication of Halacha Q&A is bli neder.

It has become part of our Jewish culture that we finish our commitments with bli neder, or bezras Hashem to shield ourselves from the possibility of taking a vow that we would be obligated to keep from Torah law.  A person who has fear of heaven will make sure to do this even when it is obvious that he has no intention to make a vow.  However, according to the Torah one can never be bound by a vow that he did not intend to make, this would make statements of non-commitment unnecessary.  Unfortunately, the Gemorah does say that if one habitually does Mitzvah that is not specifically required from the Torah, that habit has the status of a vow not to stop doing the Mitzvah.  So if every day I give tzedaka before davening, even though I have never taken a vow to do so, I am still bound by an implicit vow not to lower my level of religious commitment. Even though this vow is implicit, it is none the less binding.  The Gemorah believes that when a person does an action three times it is habitual.  It is for this reason that one should be sure to say bli neder before beginning a new mitzvah

Verbally committing to do a mitzvah that is not specifically required is also viewed as a vow. Therefore one should verbally stipulate that he is doing the mitzvah without accepting it as a neder (vow).  Or one should explain that while binding the commitment is conditional not absolute. He could say “I give tzedaka every morning before davening provided I have change and I remember.” Or just tack on “beezras Hashem” (with Hashem’s help) which makes it clear that you are only committing to try to do the mitzvah, not committing to actually doing the mitzvah. 

The lesson we can glean from these Halachos, in addition to when we should say “bezras Hashem,“ and when its appropriate, is that the Torah demands that we always move upward in our journey towards perfection.  Ever closer, everyone can reach for it at his own pace but backsliding is not allowed.

Bezras Hashem next time: My chulent splashed on my urn; may I use the water for coffee with milk?