The beginning of our parsha talks about the laws of vows and oaths. “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the thing that Hashem has commanded: If a man takes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth he shall do.” (Chapter 30, Verses 2-3) What can we learn from this parsha for our lives today?
Reb Noson teaches that we can learn from this parsha the incredible power of speech, because immediately when a person expresses a vow or an oath he is obligated to fulfill what he just said. This mitzvah of making a vow is something lofty and wondrous. We learn from this parsha the great power that a person has to create new mitzvahs which he was not commanded to do! For example, a person can prohibit himself from eating or doing something which is permitted by the Torah, and immediately this object is prohibited to him as a Torah prohibition (until he nullifies his vow). This is amazing. Reb Noson emphasizes that we see from this special mitzvah of vows and oaths the power of a person’s choice, and the main aspect of his power of choice is through his speech and his heart. When someone desires in their heart to make themselves holier or to distance themselves from something negative and they express their desire with their words, this expression becomes a law of the Torah (vows). He forbids himself from something and it becomes a Torah prohibition. The main aspect of vows and oaths is helping oneself become holier and to distance a person from negative desires, as the sages taught in Pirkei Avot- vows are a protection for abstinence. The vow is fulfilled when a person expresses it with their mouths. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Morning Blessings, 5th teaching)
We have begun this week a three week time period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, culminating with the fast of Tisha B’Av. Rebbe Nachman teaches in the 7th teaching of Likutei Moharan, Part One, that the main reason for our being in a state of galut (exile) is a lack of emuna (faith). Therefore the redemption, the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple will come when true faith spreads in the world. What is a practical way that we can work on increasing our faith during this special time period of the Three Weeks? Prayer. Prayer is the most powerful expression of our faith in Hashem. I can’t see Hashem, I can’t hear Him speaking to me, yet I turn to Him in prayer and converse with Him, because I believe that He hears and answers my prayers. Rebbe Nachman teaches in another lesson, the 44th teaching in Part Two that our faith depends on our mouths. When we speak words of faith with our mouths, this in itself is faith, and also through the words of prayer and faith which we express, we will merit to increase our faith.
He teaches as well regarding the custom of saying a special order of prayers called Tikun Chatzot, which are psalms and lamentations about the exile and the destruction of the Temple, that a person can express themselves and whatever difficulties they might be going through currently through the words of Tikun Chatzot, as if they were their own words. Rebbe Nachman says further in this teaching that the main advice and the most fundamental advice to come closer to Hashem is only through reading psalms and other supplications, and speaking to Hashem in our own words in personal prayer. Only by way of prayer can a person win the battle with the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Don’t rest and don’t give up until you see that Hashem answers your prayers! Reb Noson adds that prayer is something which the Sages said always needs strengthening, as it says in Tehillim (Psalms): “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.” (Chapter 27, Verse 14) Reb Noson concludes that even though we have spoken about prayer several times before in our teachings, nevertheless we need to speak about it again and again, to remember it every day, in order to strengthen ourselves against all the different types of confusion and weakness which try to stop us from praying. (Likutei Moharan, Torah 101, Part Two)
When I read the teaching above on the parsha above about the power of speech, I asked myself maybe I shouldn’t write again about prayer and the power of speech, since I’ve already written about the same subject recently in these articles. Look for something else to share, I heard a voice inside saying. Nevertheless, as Reb Noson emphasized, prayer is something which we always need to strengthen, and these three weeks of mourning are a special time of prayer, longing and reflection. Even though this is a spiritually and emotionally difficult time of the year when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people, it is also a very powerful time for connecting in a deeper way to our faith and to longing for what we are still lacking as individuals and as a people. When we lament what we are lacking during this time of the year, we will also merit the joy of the redemption to come, speedily in our days.
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)