March 10, 2023

Nedarim 87

Today’s daf (Nedarim 87a) quotes a fascinating Beraita which teaches us that, ‘someone who has a relative who is ill who then faints (וְנִתְעַלֵּף) which gives the impression that they have died, and who tears ‘kriah’ [on their clothes] for them because they believed their relative has died, and then [some time later], realizes that the relative hadn’t previously died but has now died] has not fulfilled their duty to tear ‘kriah’ [and must do it again]’.
Clearly, there are many messages that we can draw from this teaching. However, what I’d like to do is take a look at how Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235) interprets the term וְנִתְעַלֵּף because I think that we can learn some deep lessons from what he says about how we support others going through challenges.
According to Rabbi Kimchi (in his ‘Sefer HaShorashim: Shoresh עלף), fainting is ‘what happens when you’ve expended almost every ‘drop’ of physical and spiritual energy and where you’re totally exhausted and cannot focus on any thing to the point that you cannot stand on your own and you temporarily feel as if your soul has almost left you’.
Whether you have ever fainted or not this description is very compelling. And with this in mind we can now return to our daf, because while it may be discussing the technicalities of obligation to tear ‘kriah’, what we also learn from here is that the worst thing to think or observe when you are experiencing various forms of וְנִתְעַלֵּף is seeing that others have given up on you and are ready to tear ‘kriah’ for you. Instead, as our sages teach us, it is at such moments when you need the greatest chizuk (nb. according to the Torah’s definition of chizuk as found in Vayikra 25:35, chizuk is not about helping people who are strong feeling strong. Instead, it is being there for people who feel a sense of slipping and falling, helping them from slipping or falling further, and helping them get back on their feet).
Admittedly, if you are reading this it means that you aren’t quite totally in the וְנִתְעַלֵּף category. Still, if you are in the ballpark of וְנִתְעַלֵּף, know that while you may feel weak and exhausted, and while you may occasionally feel as if your soul has almost left you, you have life in you and that things can change. And if you are reading this and you know someone near or in the וְנִתְעַלֵּף category, go be there for them and give them as much chizuk as you can – because true chizuk is all about helping those who feel they are in a state of וְנִתְעַלֵּף, and it is about showing them that not only have you not given up on them, but that you’ll be with them and you’ll be there supporting them until they get back on their feet.
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