Which difference between a vow and an oath is the posuk alluding to?
(30,2) “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Yisrael, saying: …If a man makes a vow to Hashem or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth he shall do.”
Why is it that concerning a vow it says “if a man makes a vow to Hashem”, but concerning an oath it just says “makes an oath”, and does not say that it is “to Hashem”. Alternatively, it could have said “if a man makes a vow or makes an oath to Hashem”, in which case the “to Hashem” would have referred to both of them, and the posuk could then have continued “to prohibit himself”.
It seems to me that all this is coming to allude to that which we hold by vows and oaths, that it is a mitzvah to ask to be released from a vow, but by oaths we hold that one should not asked to be released except in pressing circumstances. Indeed, we find in the gemora Kesubos 77b, that when R. Yehoshua ben Levi refused to return the sword to the Angel of Death, Hashem said that if he had never asked to be released from an oath then he would be allowed to keep it. So we see that this is a good thing with oaths, but with vows it is more of a mitzvah to ask to be released.
However, in the case of an vow concerning a mitzvah, one should also not ask to be released except in pressing need. Thus, with oaths there is no difference whether he made an oath for the needs of Hashem or to distress himself. But with vows, if it was made to distress himself then it is a mitzvah to ask, but if it was made for Hashem then there is no mitzvah to ask.
This is what our posuk is saying: “If a man makes a vow to Hashem” - specifically if he intended for a mitzvah, for the sake of Hashem, “or makes an oath” - even not for a mitzvah, but rather “to prohibit himself”, to distress himself, even not for the sake of Hashem, in these two cases it is proper that “he shall not to violate his word”, but rather “according to whatever came out of his mouth he shall do”, and not change his word by being released from his vow or oath.
Who are permitted to make a vow?
(30,2) “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Yisrael, saying…If a man makes a vow to Hashem or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth he shall do.”
The Midrash writes that this posuk is explained by (Yirmeyohu 2,4) “And you will swear, ‘as Hashem lives’, in truth and in justice and in righteousness” - Hashem said to Yisrael: Do not think that it is permissible for you to swear by My name. You are not permitted to swear by My name even in truth unless you have all of these traits - (Devarim 10:20) “You shall fear Hashem, your G-d, serve Him, and cling to Him, and swear by His name”. What problem did the Midrash have that required it to bring this posuk?
Behold, the simple reading of the posuk implies that Moshe only told this law to the heads of the tribes, and so we need to explain why he did not tell it to all of Klal Yisrael. But it seems clear from the Midrash that one is not permitted to swear even in truth, except someone who has all those good traits. Thus it was not necessary to say to the general populace of Klal Yisrael that when they swear they should keep everything which came out of their mouths, because it is in any case forbidden for them to swear. But to the heads of the tribes it was necessary to say that they should keep what they swear, because they were great tzaddikim - and for this reason they were chosen to be the heads - and so they certainly had all these good traits and thus were indeed permitted to swear. Moreover, if he would have said this to all of Klal Yisrael, they would have mistakenly thought that they were indeed permitted to swear. Therefore, he only told this law to the heads of the tribes.
Thus, the difficulty of the Midrash was why Moshe spoke specifically to the heads of the tribes. It answered with the posukim in Yirmeyohu and Devarim, that only someone who has all those good traits is permitted to swear, and therefore he spoke only to the heads of the tribes to whom these laws were applicable in general, and also in order not to cause a misunderstanding amongst the general populace. This is the correct explanation of the Midrash.
Why does a woman who had her vow annulled by her husband need Hashem to forgive her?
(30,6) “But if her father annuls her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has prohibited on herself shall not stand. And Hashem will forgive her because her father has annulled her.”
One would have thought that the reason that is given at the end of the posuk - because her father has annulled her - should have been stated immediately after the words “shall not stand”. Why, instead, was it given as the reason why Hashem will forgive her.
But behold, Rashi asked why she needs forgiveness? It seems to me that we can answer this with that which Chazal said in the gemora Nedarim, that when one makes a vow it is as if he has built an altar outside the Beis Hamikdash, and when he fulfills it, it is as if he has offered a sacrifice on it, which is strictly forbidden. The sefer Nezer HaKodesh asked that they should have said that at the time he made the vow it is as if he has offered a sacrifice - why did they depend the matter on his fulfilling the vow?
But it seems to me, in my humble opinion, that at the time he made the vow it is not appropriate to say that it is as if he offered a sacrifice, because it is possible that he will have himself released from the vow, and when a Rabbi uproots a vow, it is uprooted retroactively, and so it is as if the vow had never been made. But it is like the beginning of bringing a sacrifice, like building an altar, because maybe he will not have it released. But when he fulfills the vow, at which point releasing him from the vow is ineffective, as is clear from the Shulchan Aruch, then it is as if he had offered a sacrifice retroactively at the time of the vow.
But all this is only true when a Rabbi annuls a vow, because he uproots it from the very beginning. But when a father or a husband annul a daughter’s/wife’s vow, they do not uproot it from the beginning, but rather they cut off the vow from then onwards, and it is possible that at that point releasing her from the vow by a Rabbi would be ineffective, as it is after a person fulfills a vow. Thus, also at that point it is as if she offered a sacrifice retroactively at the time of the vow, and therefore she needs forgiveness for her vow.
Therefore, the posuk says that “Hashem will forgive her”, because even though her vow has been annulled, it is as if she had offered a sacrifice. Why? “Because her father annulled her” - he only cut off the vow, and did not uproot the vow from the beginning.
Why did Moshe send someone else to wage war against Midian and not do so himself?
(31,2) “Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Yisrael from the Midianites, after you will gathered to your people.”
Why does it say “after you will be gathered to your people”, and not “and after you will be gathered to your people”?
It seems to me that the meaning of the posuk is according to the teaching of Chazal in the gemora Rosh Hashanah 25b: “the Torah equated three less important leaders with three more important leaders, to teach you that Yeruba’al (Gideon) in his generation was like Moshe in his generation, Bedan (Shimshon) in his generation was like Aharon in his generation, Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation.”
According to this we can say that Gideon was from the root of the soul of Moshe, but his personage was in accordance with the level of the generation in which he lived. In Moshe’s generation the people were very great and therefore it was fitting that Moshe should be in the form that he was at that time, and it was fitting that they should merit the level of greatness that Moshe achieved. As Chazal taught in Berachos 32a, the posuk “Hashem said to Moshe: Go, descend! (Shemos 32:7)” means that Hashem said to Moshe: Descend from your greatness - I only gave you greatness because of Yisrael, but now that they have sinned (with the golden calf) why do I need you? But the generation of Gideon did not merit such a great level as this.
Now, concerning Gideon it says that he said to the Children of Yisrael “Arise, for Hashem has given the camp of Midian into your hands (Shoftim 7:15)”, meaning that Hashem had already given the camp of Midian into their hands - from the time of Moshe.
The reason for this was because Hashem had already promised Moshe that He would give Midian into his hands, because Moshe had very much wanted to avenge the vengeance of the Children of Yisrael from the Midianites, but Hashem told him that the vengeance had to be executed by someone else, because it was not possible at that time for Moshe himself to take vengeance from Midian. But He promised him that he will do so after his death, in the days of Gideon, because Gideon was from the root of the soul of Moshe.
With this explanation we have answered the difficulty raised by the Midrash - why did Moshe say only “arm from among yourselves men for the army”, but not go himself to take vengeance from the Midianites? The Midrash answered that the reason was because Moshe was raised in Midian, but this is an unconvincing answer. But our explanation provides a very good answer - the reason was because Hashem told him that he himself could not take vengeance at that time, and so it could only be done by someone else. But after he dies and his soul subsequently becomes clothed in the form of Gideon, he can then take vengeance himself.
This is what the posuk means: “Avenge the vengeance of the Children of Yisrael after you will be gathered to your people” - after your death you yourself will be able to avenge the Children of Yisrael from the Midianites, in the days of Gideon, but right now it is not possible to do it through your hands but by the hands of another, and consequently Moshe sent Pinchos. Examine this explanation well, for it is a very pleasing explanation!
(Many years after I wrote this, I was told that the great Rav Shimshon from Ostropoli said a similar explanation, and I rejoiced to hear this.)