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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 shall he do (Bemidbar 30:3).

In other places, the Torah discusses not lying and keeping a distance from falsehood. However, here the Torah commands us to do according to all that comes forth from our mouths. The difference is clear. When the Torah refers to actual lying, our brains begin working overtime to rationalize "white lies" and promises of other sorts. But when the Torah commands us to do all that we say, it is commanding us to consider every statement a vow unless specifically defined as not being one.

We usually do not take our statements that seriously and do not consider them binding. But the "Man of Truth," Reb Ya'akov Kaminetsky zt"l, was extremely careful never to violate his words, no matter what.

Reb Ya'akov was a Litvack (a person of Lithuanian descent). Consequently, it was odd to find him practicing two Chassidic customs: 1) he would not eat gebrucks (food made of flour dipped into liquids) on Passover and he wore a second pair of tefillin, according to the school of Rabbeinu Tam. Both were because of what he said: once intentionally and the second time perhaps not deliberately.

When Reb Ya'akov was young, he visited a relative in Russia during Pesach. He did not want to rely on their level of kashrus but did not want to slight them either. So he decided to get out of it by telling them that he had accepted upon himself the custom of not eating gebrucks. However, since it was not true, he couldn't say it. To solve the problem, he first actually committed himself to the custom and then he made his declaration. From then on, he never ate gebrucks during the holiday.

When he was the head of Yeshivah Torah VaDaas, Reb Ya'akov was asked by Rabbi Mendelowitz zt"l why he didn't wear Tefillin according to the Rabbeinu Tam, since the Chofetz Chaim ztvk"l did in spite of the fact that he was a Litvack too.

Reb Ya'akov responded that the Chofetz Chaim was 90 years old when he accepted that custom upon himself. He then added casually, "When I'll be 90, I'll wear them too."

I don't know how serious he was at the time, and I don't know if he really expected to live as long as he did, but I remember that as he approached his 90th birthday, Reb Ya'akov began making preparations to purchase a pair of Rabbeinu Tam's tefillin which he then put on every day of the rest of his life.

I once brought my little son Yussie, on his third birthday, to Reb Ya'akov's house to receive his blessing. I mentioned that at twelve o'clock I would be taking him to New York to receive blessings from other great Rabbis too. In the meantime, we talked a while. Suddenly, Reb Ya'akov jumped as if a snake had bitten him. "Oh my," he said, a bit startled. "It's already 3 minutes after twelve and you said you would be going at twelve."

I quickly took my son and left; having witnessed greatness in a great man.


You shall designate cities for yourselves, cities of refuge shall they be for you, and a murderer shall flee there -- one who takes a life unintentionally (Bemidbar 35:11).

Even one who kills unintentionally deserves some sort of punishment and so he must flee to the cities of refuge and remain there until the Kohain Gadol dies.

"Killing" a person does not only mean ending his physical life. Sometimes one can "kill" another in a spiritual sense. He, too, needs forgiveness; even if it is done unintentionally.

In his new book, Borechi Nafshi, Rabbi Zilberstein shlita tells a story of a Rosh Yeshiva who went to the bank to make a deposit, since his administrator was not feeing well. The teller stared at the Rosh Yeshiva, who was a stranger in the bank, and asked if he learned in a certain yeshiva, 30 years before. The Rabbi was surprised and answered in the affirmative; expecting to hear of some pleasant reminisce. To his amazement, the fellow shouted at him, "I will never forgive you in this world or in the World-to-Come!"

The Rosh Yeshiva was shocked, and, remembering what a good student he had been, thought that this must be a mistake. "What did I ever do to you that you won't forgive me for?" he asked.

"I still remember that day very well," replied the teller. An organization had brought a group of us youngsters from France to visit your yeshiva in Israel. The hope was that we would be impressed with the kind of life a yeshiva bachur lives and we would choose to remain. I happened to be very positive to the idea - until we arrived. We were all dressed like kids from Europe, with French caps on our heads, and you and your friends were standing outside when we showed up. Apparently, our appearance tickled your funny bone and you did not hesitate for a moment to break out in great laughter at our expense. It didn't bother you in the least that you were embarrassing us in front of everyone around.

"I was so shocked at your behavior that I decided then and there that if this is the way a yeshiva student behaves then it's not for me!

"Now that I'm living in Israel and everyone around me is learning Torah daily, I regret my decision and I realize that because of you, 30 years of my life have been wasted. So, I repeat, I will not forgive you in this world or the World-to-Come."

The Rosh Yeshiva's head was reeling as he begged forgiveness from the teller but he would not relent. Only when the Rabbi persisted to ask how he could possibly make it up to him, the fellow replied that there may be a way.

"Perhaps if you were to personally learn with me for an hour each day, it would help me catch up somewhat on the time that I lost because of you."

The Rosh Yeshiva readily agreed and from that day on, the students in his yeshiva were surprised to see an unknown, simple looking person learning privately with the Rabbi every single day; rain or shine.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel