Even though it’s superfluous because he already is obliged by the mitzvah to do it, it is nevertheless permissible, and even commendable for one to swear that he will fulfill a particular mitzvah. Why? Because he is thereby encouraging and urging himself to actually do it. To follow through.
This can seem strange at first. After all, why shouldn’t the mitzvah itself be a sufficient motivation? What we see from this, though, is that it often may not be. Whether it’s a result of being used to the fact that there is such a mitzvah, or the general need for a little extra push, what is clear is that an extra ziruz is often in order.
Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l emphasized this point in parshas Tzav where Rashi brings that tzav is an expression of ziruz, encouragement and urging. He said that we see from the fact that the pasuk explicitly says “tzav es Aharon” that everyone needs ziruz; even someone as great as Aharon Ha’Kohein! He proceeded to relate a personal anecdote wherein he once did not manage to work out a suitable chevrusah for a particular boy in his Yeshiva. After a couple weeks, the boy’s father called him up, pleading that he find a chevrusah for his son, because the latter was really suffering from the lack of a chevrusah. He went back to the “drawing board” and, lo and behold, this time he managed to work it out! “Don’t think,” Rav Weinberg concluded his account, “that I didn’t try my hardest the first time around. I did. Just what? When someone is given a ziruz it brings out kochos that are otherwise not available. That is why I managed to work out a chevrusah for him the second time around.”
My Rebbi, Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l Hy”d made a similar point in a discussion of the need for chizuk during the period of Sefiras Ha’Omer. He emphasized that one of the main ways to be mischazeik is by davening a lot to Hashem for help. He said that there is a common misconception that one has to be a “gibor” and go it alone. But, he said, that is a mistake. We need help! Like the Gemara says, “If not for the fact that Hashem helps us, we would not manage to persevere in the battle against the yeitzer hara.”
We like to feel strong and therefore sometimes tend to shy away from external impetus or assistance. We want to feel that we are doing what we are doing purely for the right reasons. We don’t want to feel weak or insincere. Those are all inherently wonderful proclivities. But not if they wind up blocking the way of success. If instead of becoming a push in the right direction, those feelings become a prideful saboteur of actually doing the right thing, then it is time to leave them aside.
Now, I don’t know if the ziruz that is appropriate for us nowadays is to go around taking oaths. I have a feeling that most Rabbanim would discourage such a thing; but who am I to say. However, what I think is quite clear is that there are a lot of sources of encouragement and assistance available to us that we can and should be taking advantage of. This can range from anything like installing webchaver to monitor your internet activity, asking a friend to come to your house and help you wake up in the morning, or taking medication that will take the edge off of anxiety issues and help you to have a happier, more relaxed life-experience.
The main point is, as we see in today’s sugyah, that accepting and taking advantage of some ziruz and help where available is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a very positive, commendable thing to do.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.