February 14, 2023

Nedarim 8

Yesterday Israel went to the polls, and though the count is yet to be completed, there is an overall consensus about the predicted result. Like every election, not all people feel the same way about this outcome. There are some who are delighted, some who are relieved, some who are disappointed, and some who are distressed. Simply put, while there are always mixed feelings about politics, the tensions are extremely high on the days preceding and those that follow national elections, and it is with this context, and in this spirit, that I open today’s daf (Nedarim 8a) which, as the tractate indicates, is all about vows. And while doing so, a particular line begins speaking to me.
The Gemara records how Rav Gidel quotes a teaching of Rav who states that: הָאוֹמֵר לַחֲבֵירוֹ ״נַשְׁכִּים וְנִשְׁנֶה פֶּרֶק זֶה״ – ‘one who says to their fellow “let us get up early and study this chapter”’ is obliged to be the one to get up first to study this particular chapter. And how does Rav know this? Because Yechezkel (3:22-23) records how God said to him, “Arise, go forth into the plain, and there I will speak with you. Then I arose and went forth into the plain; and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there”.
Though this teaching is elegant, you may wonder why this line speaks to me today? And the answer is rooted in the many meanings of the word פֶּרֶק.
To begin with, and as mentioned above, the word פֶּרֶק generally means ‘chapter’, and so when I read the words of נַשְׁכִּים וְנִשְׁנֶה פֶּרֶק זֶה, I hear the need to understand the ‘chapter’ that we are living in. This is because, all too often, we are so engrossed by the day-to-day events in our lives that we can’t see the forest for the trees. However, it is important to remember that every government is a פֶּרֶק, a ‘chapter’, which has a beginning and an end and which, at the same time, speaks volumes about the various ideological trends in society. Simply put, wherever you stand on the political spectrum, political results deserve our attention, and they prompt us to ‘get up early the next day’ to try and make sense of the world and the society where we are living.
At the same time, the word פֶּרֶק can mean ‘fracture’ or ‘disconnect’, and especially around elections, the fractures and disconnections in our society can be even more noticeable. Yet, rather than ignoring these challenges, the words of נַשְׁכִּים וְנִשְׁנֶה פֶּרֶק זֶה – which could also be translated as “let us get up early and be a force for change (וְנִשְׁנֶה) in this period of societal disconnect” – stirs us to get involved and speak up, rather than stand by the sidelines.
Lastly, the word פֶּרֶק can mean ‘crossroads’, because every moment provides us with multiple opportunities either to walk along already well-trodden paths, or to consider following a new route towards new possibilities.
Still, while I have offered multiple meanings of the word פֶּרֶק, I would like to conclude by noting how Rav’s teaching pushes us to take responsibility, and it communicates to us that if we want something to happen, then we need to get up and be the first to make it happen – rather than wait for others to make changes
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