February 15, 2023

Nedarim 75

Today’s daf (Nedarim 75b) informs us that we cannot revoke our own vows (שֶׁאֵין מֵיפֵר נִדְרֵי עַצְמוֹ). In fact, we are taught in Nedarim 81b that the words לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ – ‘he shall not profane his word’ (Bemidbar 30:3) teach us that even a learned Torah Sage cannot dissolve his own vows (מִכָּאן לְחָכָם שֶׁאֵין מַתִּיר נְדָרַי עַצְמוֹ).
On this theme, Gemara Chagigah 10a references Tehillim Chapter 95 which states about God how: ‘for forty years I strove with that generation. I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, who have not understood My ways.” So I swore in My anger, “They shall not enter My place of rest”’ – and it raises the point that the words אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי בְאַפִּי (‘So I swore in My anger’) imply that had God wanted to, He could have revoked that oath (בְּאַפִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי וְחָזַרְתִּי בִּי).
At the same time, Gemara Bava Batra 74a asserts that God’s voice can be heard at Mount Sinai saying, אוֹי לִי שֶׁנִּשְׁבַּעְתִּי וְעַכְשָׁיו שֶׁנִּשְׁבַּעְתִּי מִי מֵפֵר לִי – ‘Woe is Me that I took an oath [to exile My people], and now that I took the oath, who will nullify it for Me?’
Given all this, the question raised by Tosfot (on Bava Batra 74a DH V’Achshav), along with numerous other commentaries (see Torah Temimah on Bemidbar 30:3) is if God can revoke His own vows/oaths, why are we told that God couldn’t in terms of our exile?
While I don’t think I can comprehensively answer this question, I’d like to use this opportunity to explore an idea inspired by Rav Binyamin Hashin (in his ‘Amtachat Binyamin’ commentary to Bava Batra 74a – although I suggest those who wish to understand this concept more take a look at his commentary) and which relates back to a theme that we’ve been discussing in recent dapim, that the language used in the above-mentioned Gemarot is הפרה (revocation) – which is a term used in reference to a parent/spousal relationships (i.e. father/husband), as opposed to התרה (annulment) – which is a term used in reference to Sages.
So when we read in Bava Batra 74a, ‘Woe is Me that I took an oath [to exile My people], and now that I took the oath, who will nullify it for Me?’, the point here isn’t the lack of know-how of God to revoke an oath or a vow, but rather, the chilled relationship between God and the Jewish people at that point when the oath or vow was made – thereby making revocation an impossibility.
Admittedly, there is much more to this than I have written, but I invite all of you who are reading this to consider the nature of our relationship with God, its parallels to הפרה and התרה, and its various theological implications.
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