In this week’s Parsha, Avraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak from among Avraham’s relatives living in Charan. Upon reaching the local well where many young women gather, Eliezer prays to Hashem for help. He makes an oath that he would ask a woman for some water and if she volunteers to water his camels as well, then he would know that she is the correct woman for Yitzchak. However, this is a strange request because the girl might not be from Avraham’s family, from whom Eliezer was instructed to search!
The Gemara in Taanit (4a) raises brings up this exact point while explaining three people in Tanach who took similar open ended oaths. In addition to Eliezer, the Gemara mentions Shaul Hamelech who made an oath that whoever would kill Galyat would receive a large cash sum and his daughter’s hand in marriage. However, the person who killed Galyat could have been someone unfit to marry a Jewish princess. Additionally, the Gemara relates the story of Yiftach who before going to battle made an oath that if Hashem would help him win the war, he would offer as a Korban the first thing to exit his house. However, again this is a difficult to comprehend because the first thing to exit Yiftach’s house could have been an animal unfit to be offered as a Korban. Despite their inappropriate oaths, Hashem helped Eliezer and Shaul, as Elizer found Rivka and David became Shaul’s son in-law. On the other hand, Hashem didn’t help Yiftach as his daughter was the first one to exit his house. Yet, the question is, why was Yiftach less fortunate than the others?
Rav Ravir of Yeshivat Shaarei Mevaseret Ziyon posits that Eliezer and Shaul made their oaths in order to benefit the Jewish people, therefore, there requests were honored. However, Yiftach only wanted to pad his ego; he wanted to be the one to save the Jews from Amon. The Gemara even points out Yiftach’s haughtiness by commenting that he could have gone to a Kohen to annul his oath once death was imposed upon his daughter, yet, he says that the Kohen should come to him since he is the leader of Bnei Yisrael (see Tosafot ad. Loc. s.v. Vihynu). We can learn from these three individuals the importance of doing Mitzvot Lishma. If we do Hashem’s will, He will guide our actions in the right direction.