Imagine Judy is the kind of person who is easily angered and who, in the heat of her anger, can say hurtful things to others. Moreover, imagine that Judy is not only the kind of person who is justifiably prepared to distance herself from those who upset or hurt her, but she also, figuratively speaking, ‘burns bridges’ by saying things to those who have upset her that are so consequential that it will likely impede any restoration of their relationship.
Having set the scene, let us now imagine that Judy is talking with her neighbour Barbara who is a well-meaning person but who, on occasion, says things that are judgmental or insensitive. And while Judy is talking about a matter close to her heart, Barbara then says something that is incredibly insensitive. Barbara immediately regrets what she has said and apologizes profusely. However, Judy is furious and she then makes a vow forbidding herself from having any benefit from Barbara!
Perhaps most people may, once they cool down, realize that such a reaction might have gone too far. However, Judy isn’t such a person, and she has no intention of releasing herself from her vow. The problem is that Judy recently lost her job and she is struggling to put food on the table, and while Barbara knows about this, she knows that Judy currently doesn’t want anyone else to know about her situation. Barbara desperately wants to help Judy, but she knows that Judy will blank her and she doesn’t want anything from her. So what is she to do?
It is this kind of situation which is being described in the Mishna (Nedarim 4:7-8) in today’s daf (Nedarim 43a) – with the question being what can Barbara do given Judy’s vow (and her general attitude)?
Our Mishna begins by suggesting that Barbara should go to the local store, she should say to the storekeeper that Judy and she had a disagreement, and that Judy made a vow from receiving benefit from Barbara, but she’d like to make things up with Judy. Given this, Barbara should intimate to the storekeeper that they should enable Judy to ‘buy’ food from the store without paying, and Barbara will then pay the storekeeper whatever is owed to them.
Alternatively, if Judy and Barbara happen to be travelling on the same bus to a particular destination, then Judy can bring food that she wants Judy to receive, and she should then gift her food to a third traveller who can distribute it to whomever they wish – Judy included!
Finally, if Barbara and Judy are somewhere with no other person around, Barbara should put whatever food she wishes to give Judy on a rock or on a fence and she should then declare this food ownerless (הפקר) – at which point Judy can take the food without undermining her vow.
All these solutions may sound exhausting – and this is because helping someone who doesn’t want to be helped but who is in need can be exhausting!
Still, the lesson I learn from this Mishna is the importance of thinking out of the box to help those in need, and, perhaps most significantly, the importance of love and compassion even in strained relationships.