Imagine the following situation: Yossi and Shimon are neighbours, and in response to a disagreement between them three weeks ago about where the property boundary is between their two houses, as agitated by where each of them would park their car, Yossi makes a vow which restricts him from giving any benefit to his neighbour Shimon.
Before proceeding further it is worthwhile noting that in order to make a vow that ‘holds’, one generally needs to have some technical knowledge of the laws of vows, so let’s assume that both Yossi and Shimon consider themselves to be religious. Beyond this, while we often think we know what is going on in the life of our neighbours, we often, regrettably, don’t have a clue.
Yossi was recently called by his local Rabbi who asked that he assist Shimon both personally and financially since Shimon lost his job two months ago and is in personal and financial distress. However, Yossi then remembered his vow and so, somewhat embarrassed, he asked his Rabbi what to do.
In response, his Rabbi repeated, verbatim, the words of Rabbi Meir found in the Mishna in today’s daf (Nedarim 65b): “Had you known that through your vow you are transgressing the prohibition “you shall not take vengeance” (Vayikra 19:18) and the prohibition “nor bear any grudge” (Vayikra 19:18), and the prohibition “you shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Vayikra 19:17), and “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18), as well as “and your brother should live with you” (Vayikra 25:36) – would you have vowed in that case?” To this, Yossi answered, “Had I known that it is so (i.e. that my vow involved all these prohibitions) I would not have vowed”, to which the Rabbi replied, “then the vow is dissolved”. Immediately, Yossi then did whatever he could both personally and financially to assist Shimon.
Of course, one may consider this to be a ‘happily ever after’ story. But let’s think this through: how is it possible that Yossi – who regards himself as being religious, and who knows enough about the laws of vows to make a vow that ‘holds’ – is able to overlook five Torah laws relating to mitzvot bein adam lechaveiro (the laws relating to interpersonal relationships)?
Of course, we could claim that when Yossi made his vow he didn’t know that Shimon had lost his job. But the problem with this reasoning is that these Torah laws are not conditional on the personal or economic status of the receiver; they apply to everyone! Moreover, as mentioned, even if we were to erroneously think that we should step up in our observance of these mitzvot when our friends and neighbours are having a hard time, the question is whether we truly know what is going on in the lives of our friends and neighbours?
Overall, the lesson we learn from this Mishna is that there are times when people are particular about certain aspects of halacha but seem to have vast blind-spots about others. This problem has been with us throughout history and will likely always be with us. Still, if we want to be loyal to Torah we need to know what this means – both in terms of our mitzvot bein adam l’makom (the laws relating to our relationship with God), as well as our mitzvot bein adam lechaveiro (the laws relating to our interpersonal relationships).