February 14, 2023

Nedarim 12

I would like to share a teaching from today’s daf (Nedarim 12a) whose application motivates so much of what I think and do.
We are taught that if someone said, “I hereby undertake that I will neither eat meat nor drink wine as on the day on which my father died”, or “as on the day in which my Torah teacher died”, or “as on the day in which Gedaliah ben Achikam was killed”, or “as on the day in which I viewed Jerusalem in its destruction” then such a person has invoked a vow by association.
Before I proceed, and to avoid any confusion, I do eat meat and, on the rarest of occasions, I do drink wine, so the specifics of the vow being referenced in our daf is not my focus here. However, every single day I endeavour to undertake certain things in fulfilment of a vow that I made 27 years ago today, on the 12th of Cheshvan 5756, corresponding to the 4th of November 1995.
Like many people, I remember exactly where I was when I heard of Rabin’s assassination. But beyond this, having studied in Yeshiva in Israel until just three months before that fateful day, I also remember the toxic rhetoric, the vicious slogans, and the divisive atmosphere in Israel at that time. True, Jews have often disagreed. However, there were moments when discourse was nothing less than poisonous.
Personally, I’ve always been someone who strives to be a bridge rather than a divider. In fact, whenever I travelled on a Sunday morning during my time in Israel from the kibbutz where my secular Israeli family live to my religious Zionist yeshiva, I believed that it represented my endeavour to be a bridge between different groups within the Jewish people.
Yet though there was just one person who pulled the trigger on that Motzei Shabbat in Tel Aviv, it was visible to me and many others that an ideology had been constructed in the months and years beforehand which provided a backdrop for that evil act, and that Torah teachings had been weaponized by some extremists to offer some theoretical basis for such an action.
So while I sought to be a bridge before that day, when Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated I endeavoured to do so even more, and it was at that I time that I expressed, as a form of vow to myself, that: “I hereby undertake that I will do what I can to strengthen unity amongst the Jewish people, and that, while it is legitimate – and at times necessary – to have robust debates about issues that matter, I commit myself to continue to see the image of God in the one with whom I disagree, and treat them with dignity however differently we see the world.”
I made my vow then, but I have striven to keep it every day since. It is a vow that comes from the depth of my heart and soul, and one that I hope to observe for every day of my life as well as teach to my children, and – in time – their children too.
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