Much of today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 6a) explores the laws of נדרים (vows), and it is here that a Beraita explains the words of Devarim 23:24 of: מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֶיךָ – ‘what emerges from your mouth’, תִּשְׁמֹר – ‘you shall observe’, וְעָשִׂיתָ כַּאֲשֶׁר נָדַרְתָּ לַה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ – ‘and you shall do just as you vowed to Hashem your God’. However, while the emphasis in our daf is all about fulfilling vows, we actually find conflicting views in the Tanach and in Chazal about the making of vows.
Kohelet 5:4 teaches us: טוֹב אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִדֹּר מִשֶּׁתִּדּוֹר וְלֹא תְשַׁלֵּם – ‘it is better that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay’ which leads Rabbi Meir (as quoted in a Beraita in Chullin 2a) to assert that ‘better than someone who vows who doesn’t ‘pay’ their vow, and better than someone who vows who does ‘pay’ their vow, is someone who doesn’t vow at all.’
Yet in contrast to this, Rabbi Yehuda argues that ‘better than someone who vows who does ‘pay’ their vow, and better than someone who doesn’t vow at all, is someone who vows who does ‘pay’ their vow.’
Considering this debate, a lovely insight is quoted by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Zilberson (as printed in שו”ת חשבה לטבה סימן כו) from his father-in-law Rabbi David Dov Ber Taub (author of the בנין דוד) in seeking to explain the view that there is something improper about making and paying a vow. As Rabbi Taub asks, ‘What is not good if someone vows and pays? Surely he has fulfilled the entire mitzvah?!’.
He then answers by explaining that ‘there are some people who, at the time when they make a vow, they wish to do so with all their heart. However, in the situations when they do not pay their vow immediately, and when the gabbai comes to collect their vow, their enthusiasm has cooled and though they do pay the vow, they don’t do so with the heartful desire and enthusiasm that they felt when making the vow. This is why they do not fulfil the mitzvah completely, because the mitzvah needs to be – from beginning to end – with the same desire and will, and this is the reasoning that even someone who vows and pays hasn’t acted properly.’
In terms of our own lives, we often are quick to commit (either in terms of making a financial donation, a learning donation – eg. committing to learn Mishnayos in honour of someone, or a chessed donation – eg. committing to help someone in need). Yet while some of us are slow to fulfil our verbal commitments, even when we do fulfil them it is often not with the same measure of desire and enthusiasm as the commitment was originally made.
Thus Rabbi Taub explains מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֶיךָ – ‘what emerges from your mouth’ ie. not only the words but also the desire and enthusiasm of those words, תִּשְׁמֹר – ‘you shall observe’, וְעָשִׂיתָ כַּאֲשֶׁר נָדַרְתָּ לַה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ – ‘and you shall do just as you vowed to Hashem your God’ – meaning that you should do what you committed to do with the same desire and enthusiasm as they were originally said.