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What rishonim ruled on the oaths?

03/12/07

Dear Rabbi,

You noted a number of poskim
who ruled on the oaths. I see they are all achoronim, and certainly great
scholars, all of them. However, do you know of any rishonim who ruled
halachically the same way?

We will begin with the earliest of the Rishonim, the paytanim. Since we read the scroll of Shir Hashirim on Pesach, the paytanim chose the days of Pesach to incorporate the oaths into the prayers.

Rabbi Shlomo ben Yehuda writes in the piyut “Ohr Yesha” for the first day of Pesach: “He inscribed a prohibition on your hosts, with His name, which causes the deer and the cedars to shake (see Tehillim 29:9), not to distance and not to force the end, with the words ‘I adjure you.’”

In the piyut “Shechorah Venavah” for the first day of Pesach we read: “Bring soon the end of exile when you will cleanse our sins, for we cannot bring it ourselves, since you have forbidden us to do so with three oaths, saying, ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem.’”

Rabbi Meshulam ben Kalonymus, in his piyut for the second day of Pesach, writes: “I have adjured you to bear the yoke of your exile, not to push for your redemption, to hurry the salvation in your time.”

In his piyut “Odcha Ki Anisani,” Rabbi Meshulam writes further: “The end, when My kind love will be expressed – your people may not arouse its time, for I have adjured you. For I promised that the nation that is crushed by strangers and poisoned, will one day walk upright and go higher and higher, and the nations will say with amazement, “Who is this who goes up?”

Rabbi Elazar Hakalir, who actually lived before the period of the Rishonim, wrote in the Kinos of Tisha B’av (Kinah 14), “The generation planned to learn the secret and they knocked on it, but then they heard the warning ‘I adjure you’ and they shut their mouths. When they heard their oath all together, their hearts melted, and they slapped their hands in grief.”

Rashi in his commentary on Hoshanos (printed in Siddur Otzar Hatefilos, as well as in Siddur Beis Yaakov) explains the words “G-d of salvations, in the four oaths” as a reference to the oaths of Shir Hashirim. We ask Hashem: Grant us salvation, for You have made us swear not to rebel against the nations, and we are keeping your oath in exile and bearing the yoke of exile. And You said, “Until it is desired.” Now may it be Your will and Your desire to save us from the hands of the nations.

The Rambam writes at the end of Iggeres Teiman: “And when Shlomo, peace be upon him, made known with his holy inspiration, that this nation when it is sunk into exile will try to arouse itself not at its proper time, and they will die because of this and travails will come upon them – he warned against this, and made an oath against this in an allegorical way, and said, ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem…’ And you, our brethren, our beloved – keep his oath and do not arouse the love before it is desired!” We mentioned this yesterday (p. ??).

The Rambam uses the word "allegorical" because the entire Shir Hashirim is an allegory, in which G-d and the Jewish people are portrayed as a groom and bride.

The Baalei Tosafos (printed in Tosafos Hashalem) find an allusion to the oaths in Hashem’s warning (Shemos 19:12) not to come too close to Mount Sinai during the Giving of the Torah: “And you shall make a boundary for the people all around, saying, be careful not to go up on the mountain or touch any part of it…" Metaphorically this meant: make a boundary for the Jewish people in exile around Jerusalem and around Eretz Yisroel. Be careful not to go up on the mountain – this hints to the oath that Hashem made Israel swear not to force the End and not to go up to Eretz Yisroel before the time, as it is written, "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, why do you arouse…" (Shir Hashirim 8:4) "Or touch any part of it" – this is a hint that they must not touch the building of the Temple before its time.

The Torah continues, "Anyone who touches the mountain shall surely die. No hand shall touch it, for he will surely be stoned and cast down; man or beast, he shall not live; at the sounding of the yovel they will ascend the mountain." The Baalei Hatosafos comment: Anyone who speeds up the redemption will surely be stoned; anyone who ascends before the end of the subjugation of the nations will not live. "The yovel" – means the shofar of redemption, referred to in the verse (Yishaya 27:13), "A great shofar will be blown and those lost in the land of Ashur and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come, and they will bow down to Hashem in the holy mountain, in Jerusalem."

The Rokeach (Rabbi Elazar Rokeach of Worms, 1176-1238), in his commentary on Shir Hashirim speaks about the oaths and offers two new explanations of the word “bitzvaos.” 1) It means that Hashem made the Jewish people swear by Tzevaos, one of His holy names. 2) It means the legions of the Jewish people (as in Shemos 12:41).

Then he offers an entirely new explanation of the verse, “I adjure you…” The word “hishbati” (I adjure you) can also be read “hisbati” (I sated you). “When the proper time comes, I will sate you with the nations, who are like gazelles and deer.” In other words, the Jews will dominate the other nations. We find that the Torah uses the word “eating” in the sense of dominating: “And you will eat all the nations that Hashem your G-d gives you” (7:16). According to this interpretation, says the Rokeach, we can understand the second half of the verse as a warning not to do things too early: “That time will come. Do not hurry to dominate the nations before the time. Do not arouse or awaken the love before it is desired – until moshiach comes.”

Rabbi Yishaya ben Eliyahu di Trani (c. 1300) codifies the halachos of living in Eretz Yisroel as follows: "A man should rather live in Eretz Yisroel, even in a city of mostly gentiles, than outside the Land, even in a city of mostly Jews, for whoever lives in Eretz Yisroel is similar to one who has a G-d, and whoever lives outside the Land is similar to one who has no G-d, as Scripture says, 'For they expelled me today from basking in the property of Hashem, saying, go worship other gods' (Shmuel 26:19). Nevertheless, Israel must not all go up together with a strong hand, in an act similar to the ingathering of the exiles, for they are not permitted to hasten the end, until the Creator hastens our redemption, as Scripture says (Shir Hashirim 2:7), 'Do not arouse or awake the love before it is desired.'" (Piskei Riaz, Kesubos 13:8)

Ishtori Haparchi (1280-1366) in his sefer Kaftor Vaferach, written in 1322, details the geography of Eretz Yisroel and discusses the great mitzvah to live there: "It was taught in the name of Rabbi Meir: Whoever establishes his residence in Eretz Yisroel, speaks the Holy Tongue, eats only ritually clean food and recites Shema morning and evening is guaranteed the World to Come (Yerushalmi Shkalim 14b). However, they must not go up with the intent of conquering until the end arrives, as it states in the end of tractate Kesubos: Do not arouse or awaken... Rabbi Zeira says: This teaches that Israel must not go up as a wall." (Kaftor Vaferach chapter 10, p. 197)

Rabbi Yehuda ben Maharam Chalava comments on Yaakov Avinu’s three preparations for meeting Esav: “What happened to Yaakov with Esav will happen to us in all generations, and we must prepare ourselves with prayer and gifts, but not with war. Scripture has prohibited this under oath, as it says, ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and deer of the field.’” (Imrei Shefer on Vayishlach)

Similarly, Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher writes at the beginning of Vayishlach: We must follow in the footsteps of the Avos and prepare ourselves to approach the gentiles with gifts, with soft speech and with prayer before Hashem. But war is impossible, for it is written (Shir Hashirim 2:7), "I adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem…" Hashem made the Jewish people swear not to wage wars against the nations.

The Ramban, in his introduction to Parshas Vayishlach, also implies that war does not apply to us, although he does not mention the oaths: "All that happened to our father with his brother Esav happens to us constantly with Esav’s children. We must adopt the methods of that tzaddik, to make the three preparations that he made: prayer, a gift, and escape through war, that is, to flee and take refuge."

Later Esav proposed to Yaakov, “Let us travel and go, and I will go by your side” (Bereishis 33:12), and Yaakov declined. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that Esav wanted to split this world with Yaakov. Yaakov, however, said, “My master knows that the children are weak” - the Jewish people will be weak in mitzvos – “and if they pressure them in one day all the sheep will die” - without the atonement of exile they will be sent to Gehinom on the day of judgment and they will not be able to bear the suffering. Therefore, said Yaakov, “Let my master pass before his servant” – you take this world first – “and I will travel in my lowliness” - I will stay in my exile and lowliness. I will not wage any war and I will not rise up in exile at all, but rather “according to the work that is before me” - I will bear the yoke of subjugation. And until when will the subjugation last? “Until I come to master, to Seir.”

Rabbi Yitzchak ben Sheishes, the Rivash (1326-1408), in the course of a discussion about undertaking a journey to Eretz Yisroel that will involve violating Shabbos, writes: "We have established that for a mitzvah one is permitted to depart even on a Friday, and there is no doubt that traveling to Eretz Yisroel is a mitzvah. Our Sages have said, "Whoever lives outside the Holy Land is like one who has no G-d" (Kesubos 110b). And they said further, "Whoever walks four cubits in Eretz Yisroel is guaranteed a share in the World to Come" (Kesubos 111a). Although the prophet said to the exiled Jews, "Build houses and live in them" (Yirmiyah 29:5), that was only because exile was decreed upon them, and the One who exiled them did not permit them to return, until they returned with the permission of Cyrus. And now as well, one of the Three Oaths G-d made the Jewish people swear is not to go up as a wall." (Shailos Uteshuvos Rivash, siman 101)

Rabbi Shlomo ben Shimon Duran, the Rashbash (1400-1467) wrote: "There is no doubt that living in Eretz Yisroel is a great mitzvah at all times, both during and after the time of the Temple, and my ancestor the Ramban (he was a sixth generation descendent of the Ramban) counted it as one of the mitzvos, as it says, 'You shall take possession of it and live in it,' and so is the opinion of my father the Rashbatz in his work Zohar Harakia. And even according to the Rambam who did not count it as a mitzvah, it is at least a Rabbinic mitzvah, besides the many other benefits of living there. However, during exile this is not a general mitzvah for all Jews, but on the contrary it is forbidden, as the Gemara says in the last chapter of Kesubos, that this is one of the oaths that the Holy One, blessed is He, made the Jews swear: that they not hurry the end and not go up as a wall. Go and see what happened to the children of Ephraim when they hurried the end! However, it is a mitzvah for any individual to go up and live there, but if there are considerations that prevent him he is not obligated." (Shailos Uteshuvos Rashbash, siman 2)