Today’s daf (Nedarim 68a) discusses the laws of הפרת נדרים as they apply to an engaged young woman (נערה המאורסה) whose vows can only be revoked by the interventions of both her father and husband. But how does this concept differ from the laws of התרת נדרים that we’ve been discussing in the past few dapim of Massechet Nedarim?
To answer this question we must note how the laws and the mechanics of הפרת נדרים (the revocation of vows) radically differ from those of התרת נדרים (the annulling of vows). In terms of התרת נדרים, this is a process involving a Sage who is able to uproot a vow entirely. In contrast, הפרת נדרים – which is done by a father (for a single woman), by a husband (after marriage), and by a father and husband (in the case of a נערה המאורסה) – only relates to the present and future validity of a vow.
Interestingly, Rav Kook (in Orot HaTeshuvah 11:1) draws a parallel between the laws of vows and the concept of teshuvah. In terms of הפרת נדרים – this relates to תשובה מבינה (repentance from understanding) which some would describe as תשובה מיראה (repentance from fear), while התרת נדרים – which relates to תשובה מחכמה (repentance from knowledge), may be described as תשובה מאהבה (repentance from love).
In the case of someone who wishes to annul their vow (התרת נדרים), they do this themselves, with the assistance of a Sage, and in most cases, for a constructive purpose. In contrast, the laws of revocation of vows (הפרת נדרים) are done by others based on their own concerns and worries. What this means is that התרת נדרים is positively proactive (אהבה), while הפרת נדרים is decidedly reactive (יראה).
Explained this way, while the Torah informs us of the laws of הפרת נדרים, it is essential that we do not confuse these with the laws of התרת נדרים, because fear and love are not the same thing, and reactive interventions from fear are very different from positively choices from love.