February 14, 2023

Nedarim 27

I previously explained in my commentary to Nedarim 23a that certain vows, known as נִדְרֵי אֳנָסִים, are considered to be invalid if unforeseen circumstances occur which impede the person who made the vow from fulfilling their vow.
In today’s daf (Nedarim 27b) we continue to explore this theme while discussing some of the examples given in the Mishna (Nedarim 3:3) of unforeseen circumstances, such as when a river swells and thereby prevents someone from crossing.
However, a challenge is then raised from a different Mishna (Gittin 7:8) which rules that some vows remain valid notwithstanding the occurrence of an unforeseen event. To this, the Gemara responds by acknowledging that there are certain circumstances that are considered to be foreseeable, and in such cases it falls upon the one who makes the vow to remain cognizant of the likelihood of these foreseeable events.
On this point, the Rema makes a very important statement in his gloss to the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 232:12): “whoever makes an oath or a vow to do something within a period of a year or on a particular date should do so (i.e. fulfil their oath or vow) immediately or, in the case of a particular date, in the morning of that particular day. This is to avoid the situation that they then forget to do so and thereby transgress their vow or their oath. And if they did not do the thing immediately and, instead, said to themselves, “I’ve still got time to do this” and then forgets to do so or is impeded to do so by unforeseen circumstances, while there are those who consider this to be אונס (beyond one’s control), others do not consider it to be אונס.”
What this teaches us is that while Jewish law is sensitive to circumstances beyond our control, if we could have prioritized what we committed to do and not procrastinated, then even if, at the 11th hour, an event did occur that was truly beyond our control, it is then nevertheless highly questionable whether our failure to do what we said we’d do is truly considered to have been ‘beyond our control’.
Personally, I believe that this halacha is a powerful lesson to us all – and especially to those of us who may, at times, procrastinate. So if you have something you said you were going to do which you’ve pushed off for a while, then make today the day that you get to it.
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