In a previous Mishna (Nedarim 3:1) we were taught about various vows which, given the circumstances in which they were uttered, are considered to be invalid. And among these is the category of נִדְרֵי אֳנָסִים – ‘vows whose fulfilment is impeded by circumstances beyond one’s control’.
On this theme, today’s daf (Nedarim 24a) cites a later Mishna (Nedarim 3:3) discussing the laws of נִדְרֵי אֳנָסִים where an example is given of someone who says to their friend: “I vow that all my possessions be forbidden to you if you don’t come to my house to eat”. In theory, this vow should be effective and should hold if the friend does not come to his house. However, what happens if the friend is unable to come due to their own ill health? Or due to the fact that one of their children is unwell? Or due to flooding in the area? In that case, then these ‘unforeseen circumstances’ render the vow to be invalid because it is presumed that when the vow was made, it did not include its application to this kind of situation.
This halacha about נִדְרֵי אֳנָסִים is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 232:12). However, what is of particular interest is what Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema), quoting Rabbi Yitzhak ben Sheshet (Rivash), adds to this point, namely that: “if an unforeseen event occurs which can be resolved by paying a significant amount of money, it is nevertheless considered to be an unforeseen event [and would render such an individual free from a vow-obligation]”. At the same time, he then adds that “still, if with relative ease one could strive and fulfil what has been asked of you, then this is not considered to be this form of unforeseen event [to render such an individual free from a vow-obligation]”.
What this means, at least within this context, is that when we say that ‘something unforeseen’ (אנוס) has occurred, it doesn’t only mean that it is totally impossible to do what is expected of us by others or by ourselves. Instead, what it can also mean is that it would be very difficult or costly for us to do so, and in such a situation this is considered as אנוס. At the same time, if the fulfilment of a vow requires that we overcome a small inconvenience, then this is what we are expected to do.
We oftentimes push ourselves in life to do what is expected of us by others or ourselves – with the big question being, “how far should I push myself?”. What we learn from today’s daf is that while we should all strive to do what we commit ourselves to do, there are some אנוס situations when it is reasonable and right to say that we can’t. And that when this occurs, it does not mean that it is totally impossible, but instead, that it would be very difficult or very costly, and when we agreed to do this thing, we did not intend to include this kind of situation.