Sabbaths, Feasts, and More
Marking Jewish Themes with Distinction
“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth” (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
Everyone does it. At some point in life, you swear that you will never…fill in the blank…do that again, wait that long, get treated that badly, react that way…the list goes on. There are other things we swear to as well—good things that we believe will help us like, “God if you do such and such, I will stop smoking or stop stealing or stop cheating or stop treating my kids that way…”
As a teenager, I made a rash vow to never wear make-up. Its seems so trivial now, but I did it with the sincerest motive. I desired God with all my heart, and it seemed a small offering to show my devotion. About a year later, I took a part in a play and was required to wear stage make-up. I felt so guilty for breaking my vow, almost tormented. I spoke to my mother about it, and she said that God knew my heart was right when I promised something that may become a burden to me as an adult. So as a young lady, I went straight to the Lord and asked Him to forgive my rash vow and release me. I remember the joy and light heart that resulted because of that prayer.
Later in life, I made inner vows that were more harmful to my personal life like promising myself not to forgive someone for hurting me. As I matured in my walk with the Lord, I grew to understand these words were powerful, like chains that held me back from fruitfulness and happiness in other areas of my life. Now I regularly ask the Lord to shine a light on my words to keep the hold of negative words from pulling my life in the wrong direction.
There is an interesting custom in Judaism surrounding the month of Elul, which precedes the Days of Awe and the High Holy Days. It is called HaTarat Nedarim or “Annulling Personal Vows.” This month is a time of introspection for Jews around the world. They are meditating and pondering on shortcomings and making restitution, hoping their good works outweigh their bad. They hope their sins will be absolved on Yom Kippur. Rash or harmful personal vows can become part of the introspection.
On the evening of the Jewish New Year of Rosh HaShanah, some engage in the ritual of HaTarat Nedarim. They find three people who also want to be released from harmful personal vows, and they confess the rash promises of the past to each other. One person then declares in the presence of the three others that they have been forgiven and released.
When I first read about this Jewish tradition, my heart leaped because I could see a refelction of the admonishment that James gives us in the New Covenant:
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
Confession to others is good for the heart. Not only is it humbling, but it allows healing to flow. It opens the door. And it makes your prayers more effective. I believe the healing that is available is both for the emotional bruises of life’s disappointments and also physical healing.
Another scripture that I remembered was I John I:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Yeshua or Jesus as He is called in English became the blood offering once and for all so we all can receive release from our shortcomings like rash vows or harmful inner vows of unforgiveness or hate. He is the Jewish Messiah, and those who believe in Him by making confession receive a clean slate.
There is such beauty and richness in Jewish traditions, and they are worth contemplation as many augment God’s Word. The month Elul brings opportunity to make things right with God and man in a collective and personal way, and I cherish these shadows of His mighty work on the cross for us.
For more Study…
Mark 1:5; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6; Leviticus 5:4-13
Work it into Daily Life…
Consider joining the Jewish people during the month preceding the High Holy Days and allow the Holy Spirit to shine light into your heart. Ponder the beautiful practice of HaTarat Nedarim but in the light of the New Covenant promises. Ask God to reveal any personal rash or harmful vows that you may have sworn to yourself. Confess to God first, then find someone trustworthy with whom you can confess. Ask for their prayer over your life. Expect healing rivers to flow. Your prayers just grew from mediocre to powerfully effective!
©Bonnie Saul Wilks