Today’s daf (Nazir 26a) informs us that if someone set aside funds for a chatat (sin) and olah (burnt) bird sacrifice, then that money can be used for an ‘upgraded’ animal (chatat) sacrifice. Additionally, we are also taught that if that person dies, the money should be used for voluntary (נְדָבָה – ‘nedava’) communal sacrifices. What this suggests is that once someone sets aside certain funds for a sacrifice, then they must be used for that overall purpose but they need not be used for the specific type of sacrifice that was in their mind when they did so.
The Gemara then asks what it means to ‘set aside funds’. For example, must someone specify the exact sacrifice for which the funds have been set aside? It answers by stating that even if someone states אֵלּוּ לְחוֹבָתִי – ‘these [funds] are a fulfilment of my obligation’ then it suffices and these funds are now ‘set aside’ and can only be used for consecrated purposes.
In terms of a modern-day application of these rules, we are taught in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 247:3) that when someone commits themselves to give tzedakah – whether or not they use any vow-like terminology – then their very commitment is considered to be a vow which they are required to fulfil.
But what if they wish to change their mind about who they wish to give their money to?
When it comes to someone who makes an explicit pledge to a particular charity, the answer to this question is a matter of debate amongst later poskim (halachic decisors). However, if someone merely made a private pledge to give some money to one charity, and then changed their mind and decided to give it to another, then they may do so.
Either way, whether we physically or mentally ‘set aside’ funds, or verbally or privately pledge funds, we should take our obligations seriously and use this money for the overall purpose for which it was intended.