Masechet Erchin begins by discussing the laws which give name to the masechet. The Mishnah immediately teaches that an erech-vow is very different to regular nedarim (vows), which we learnt about some time ago. There, if one wished to make nedarim thereby donating the monetary value (d’mei) of a person or himself, this value would need to be calculated. Put simply, the value of this person if he were to be sold as a slave in the market place. An *erech-*vow is very different, since the value pledged of any person is listed in the Torah and determined by one’s age alone. Consequently the first Mishnah lists those people whose erech is not stipulated in the Torah and thereby cannot be the subject of an *erech-*vow but nonetheless can be the subject of a neder.
Considering the above stated difference between a neder and *erech-*vow, further probing may help us better understand erchin. The Minchat Asher explains that there are two possible ways to view erchin. The first is that an erech-vow is no different to any other neder. The Torah provides fixed values for when a person uses the term “erech” when making a vow. With the Torah evaluation in hand, the person will then follow the normal requirements of any neder. The second understanding however is that the erchin is a completely new topic in Halacha with its own obligations not stemming from ordinary nedarim. If so, we do not care whether a person knew the obligatory erech when he stipulated the neder. Since it embodies a new obligation independent of a regular neder, the concept of a mistaken neder (neder ta’ut) does not apply.
The Minchat Asher feels that the latter of the two understandings is indeed the true perception on erchin and brings a number of proofs in support of his position. The first is that the Rambam lists erchin as an independent mitzvah. The Minchat Asher reasons that if Torah was only revealing the monetary value for an *erech-*vow then it would not warrant being listed as an independent mitzvah but rather as part of the mitzvah of nedarim.13
The second is from the language of the Chazon Ish (Kodshim, 29:1):
It appears that the matter of Erchin is not an obligation stemming from Nedarim with a fixed value, but rather one is bound by the mitzvah of erchin similar to that of nezirut, and one is bound by the mitzvot ha’Torah in fulfilling the erchin [vow]. And if one does not… he violates the mitzvah of erchin.
A number of differences in Halacha also strengthen this point. Firstly, with erchin one is also responsible to pay even if the allocated funds go missing. This is not the case by nedarim in the case where the person states “harei ze” (“this is what I volunteer”).14 Secondly the Rambam (Erchin ) rules that if one makes an erech vow, he is only obligated once the stipulation has been formally assessed (ha’amadah b’din). If a person dies before this assessment his heirs are not obligated to fulfil the erech-vow.15 Finally, the concept of heseg yad, whereby if the person making the erech-neder is poor then we assess him according to his status is unique to erchin. The Ra’avad who agrees here with the Rambam explains that this is because erchin is more similar to a knas (fine) than monetary payment (which is a closer model for nedarim).
The Minchat Asher raises a challenge from the Rambam (Erchin 1:1) who writes:
Erchin are included as part of nidrei hekdesh as it states: “When a person expresses a vow (neder) pledging evaluation (b’erkecha) of souls to Hashem”. Therefore one is bound [when making them] on the obligation of “you shall not delay your word”…
The Minchat Asher answers that indeed there is a connection as the term neder is used when mentioning erchin. Consequently such obligations like “you shall not delay your word” also apply to erchin. They are similar as well in that one obligates himself with the spoken word alone. Nonetheless the binding nature erchin is still novel and its foundation very different to that of nedarim.
**There is Giving **
And There is Giving
The section that discusses the laws of Erchin immediately follows the section that mentions the blessings and curses. The Kli Yakar understands that there is significance in this juxtaposition. His sentiments are strengthened, as he cites the Ba’al Ha’Turim who states that the shekalim listed by the laws of Erchin is equal to the total of number curses, 143.
The Kli Yakar explains that unfortunately, it is the nature of Am Yisrael to donate only in times of tzarah, difficulty. It is only through tribulations that we reflect, regret and do teshuva. However, the Kli Yakar closes by saying if however one wilfully gives then it is considered “yom ratzon Hashem” – performing the will of Hashem.
"יהי לרצון אמרי פי..."
13: See the Minchat Asher (Vayikra, 67) for a possible rejection of this proof based on the language of the Rambam and his response to this challenge.
14: This is learnt from the pasuk: “ve’natan et ha’erkecha”.
15: See the Kesef Mishnah, Radvaz and Chazon Ish. The Ra’avad however disagrees with this ruling.
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