Bereisht 28:20 – And Jacob uttered a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way, upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear; (21) And if I return in peace to my father’s house, and the Lord will be my God; (22) Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of God, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You.
Tosafot on Hulin 2:2 – The word “saying” [in verse 28:20 above] indicates that [in future generations] we should utter vows in times of trouble.
Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #20
Even though, in general, we discourage people from uttering oaths and vows in accordance with the verse in Ecclesiates 5:4 “It is better not to utter an vow”, in times of trouble we should make vows. It is further explained in Midrash Rabba and in Tosafot that not only is it permissible to make a vow but it is a commandment to do so in times of trouble. I don’t understand why the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah Section 203 uses the term ‘permission’ rather than ‘commandment’.
Look also at the Chidushe HaRashba in his comments on Nedarim 9a in his comments regarding the vows of evil people. There the Rashba answers the question of how could Jacob have uttered a vow even though the verse in Ecclesiastes states that it is better not to make a vow. There the Rashba answers that Jacob’s vow was not a true vow but rather a free will offering. I don’t know why the Rashba does not understand the verse in its plain, simple meaning. Further we find that regarding this vow of Jacob’s, God himself refers to it (Bereishit 31:13) as a vow. See also in the adjacent note the comment of the Rambam in Chapter 6 Halacha 33 of Erchin. We find similarly in Midrash Rabba’s comment on VaYikra Chapter 37 that due to Jacob’s delay in fulfilling this vow, Rachel died before her time. (This is in accordance with the text of Gemora Shabbat 30b that in transgression of a man’s vows, a man’s wife [could] die.) From all these sources we see that Jacob’s vow was considered a real vow.
If there is a desire to answer the question of how Jacob could have made a vow against the words of the verse in Ecclesiastes, it is clear that in times of trouble the ruling is different [and we are actually encouraged to make vows in such a situation.] It would be a forced explanation to say that Jacob’s vow wasn’t really a vow. The text of the verse certainly does not say this and in any event, one needs to conclude that it was a real vow.
Look also in the Responsum of the Ralbach, Section 3, where he mentions that one who vows an oath in times of trouble to fast a certain number of days and it occurs that there is a Yom Tov [Jewish holiday] during those days, he is punished with lashes because he did not explicitly exclude those days from his vow. This would imply that vow was “in force” during the Jewish holiday that occurred. This opinion needs further study [and seems inaccurate] because how could one possibly think that the one who made the oath also included Yom Tov and that the vow should be in force on Yom Tov? Isn’t it explicitly stated in the Gemora Nedarim 66a that one who makes a vow like this is approached and asked whether if he had realized that Shabbat and Yom Tov were included in these days, would you have still made that vow? How is our case any different [than that discussed in the Gemora just mentioned]?
Perhaps one needs to say that since one is making a vow in a time of trouble, he is not particular about the [requirement] of joy during Yom Tov. Rather, he considers the fasting as a joy to the extent that it relieves his sorrow. This is in accordance with what our rabbinic authorities have ruled that one whose soul is afflicted and crying is a benefit [joy] to him, it is permissible for him to cry on Shabbat.
Thus we see why [per the Ralbach’s comments above] the vow is indeed in force on Yom Tov and the one who makes the vow is liable for punishment for not explicitly excluding Yom Tov.
Editor’s Note: In this note, besides the interesting halachic analysis, I think that the Torah Temimah did want to convey the idea that it is permissible to cry on Shabbat if one is in distress.