February 14, 2023

Nedarim 30

(TRIGGER WARNING: In this piece I make reference to childlessness, miscarriages and the loss of a child)
Chodesh Tov!
There are times while, when learning the Mishna & Gemara, we must ask ourselves the simple question: “Why?” – and I believe that this certainly applies to the Mishna (Nedarim 3:9) found in today’s daf (Nedarim 30b) which speaks of someone who makes a vow which prohibits them from benefitting from the yilodim (הַיִּלּוֹדִים), or alternatively, from the noladim (הַנּוֹלָדִים).
In terms of the former, it refers to ‘those already born’, whereas in terms of the latter, it actually can be understood to refer both to ‘those already born and those who are to be born’. Consequently, the application of this vow would depend on the intent of the person saying these words at the time, and how it was understood by those around them.
However, a stark question which we should all be asking is: “Why?” Why would someone make such a vow? Moreover, a further obvious question which is raised by Rav Moshe Klapter of Edelén (as quoted by Rabbi Yisrael Landa in his חידושי מהריא”א) is how could such a vow even be valid since it is impossible to fulfil such a vow?!
Admittedly, there are those (see R’ Yirmiyahu Matlin’s קונטרס פי מלכים) who suggest that such a vow may have been intended just for a short duration (eg. 3 days). Yet even were this to be so, R’ Klapter’s question still stands. In fact, it is possible that this is the reason why – as noted by R’ Azriel Hoftman (in his קונטרס ליקוטי הערות וביאורים) – neither the Rambam or Shulchan Aruch codify this law.
Yet the one question I’d like to return to is why would someone make a vow that restricts them from benefitting from those already born, or alternatively, those who are to be born? To answer, I’d like to make a suggestion which, though it involves a slight re-reading of the words הַיִּלּוֹדִים and הַנּוֹלָדִים, may answer the question of “why”? And this is because while these terms differ in meaning, they each refer to those being born.
As we know, there are those who wish to marry and then have children but who haven’t yet found someone to marry. There are many people who wish to have a child but are unfortunately unable to do so. And there are those who have sadly suffered miscarriages or have lost a child once they have been born.
Of course, each of these groups of people, and each individual person within each group, deals with their situation or their pain in many different ways. Still, there can be times when such people say – maybe not in the form of a vow but something similar – that they simply cannot tolerate hearing any information, or listening to stories about, or seeing pictures of babies that have been born or will soon be born to their friends and family. To be clear, these words don’t come from a point of anger. Instead, they express deep pain. But unfortunately, while we may know the pain of others, we aren’t aways sensitive enough to feel their pain.
It should go without saying that this message should be taken to heart every day. But especially as today is Thanksgiving, this is a message that I’d like to emphasise – that we should be sensitive to the pain of others and know that while some people may wish to celebrate the blessings they have, there are others who find such days very difficult.
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