Monday, July 6, 2015

Nedarim 43 – Vagaries of vows

If A is prohibited by a vow to receive any benefit from B, and then A does not have what to eat, what is B to do if he wants to feed A? B can go to a storekeeper whom he frequents and tell him, “A does not have what to eat, and I don't know what to do about it.” The storekeeper can take the hint and feed A, and B can then repay him. This is allowed since B never explicitly promised to repay, so the storekeeper acts on his own accord.

If they were traveling together on the road and A does not have what to eat, B can give food as a present to other travelers, and they can feed A. If there is no traveler with them, B can put the food on a rock and say, “This food is ownerless, and anyone can take it,” and A can then eat it.

Rabbi Yose does not allow B to feed A by putting food on a rock, because it is obvious that he is giving food as a gift. Some say that even giving through other travelers is not permitted by Rabbi Yose.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nedarim 41 – Moral lessons from Rav Ami

Rabbi Ami was quoted earlier, so we continue with his teachings. When the Torah says, “Because you did not serve God when you had everything and lacked nothing, now you will serve your enemies in hunger and cold and nakedness... without anything,” what does “without anything” mean, what does it add? – Without a wife, since then he is without joy, without blessing, without goodness, without Torah, protection, assistance, atonement, peace, and life, and is considered only half-man.

Others say that it means without assistant, others - without understanding. One who is born with understanding has everything within him, but one who is born without it should work hard to achieve it. If he mastered it, what does he lack? And if he did not achieve understanding, what has he acquired?

Rav Yosef got sick and forgot his learning. His student Abaye would often remind him, "This is what you taught us, and you derived it from here."

Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, who compiled and wrote down the Mishnah, initially had thirteen complete versions of it. He taught seven of these to Rabbi Chiya. Later he got sick and forgot the other six. However, there was a certain laundryman, who heard Rabbi Yehudah repeat them out loud, so now he taught these back. Rabbi Yehudah then said, "You made me!" - for anyone who teaches a fellow Torah is as if he made him, just like Abraham and Sarah, who "made souls in Charan."

Art: My Wife and I by Istvan Desi-Huber

Nedarim 40 – Curing the sick

The mitzvah of visiting the sick has no limit. How so? Does it mean that the reward for it is limitless? – Why, all mitzvot are that way! Rather, even a person of great importance should visit people of smaller stature. Or it could mean that there is no limit to how many times one may visit a sick person, provided that it does not tire the sick one.

Rabbi Akiva noticed that one of his students did not show up for the classes. He went to visit the student and found him sick and in a dirty dusty room. Rabbi Akiva cleaned the room, cared for the student – and some say that because of this visit the innkeeper started caring for the student more – and the student recovered. The student told Rabbi Akiva, “Teacher, you brought me back to life!” Rabbi Akiva then taught that one who does not visit the sick is as if he spills blood.

When Rava would get sick, he at first told no one – so that his luck would not turn to the worst through the people wishing him ill. But after three days he would announce it, saying “Whoever does not like me will rejoice, and then God will have mercy on me, just as He does for anyone over whom enemies rejoice, and my friends will pray for me.”

Art: The Sick Woman  by Jan Steen

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nedarim 39 – Visiting the sick

The hint to the mitzvah of visiting the sick comes from the Korah's rebellion. Moses said, “If these people die like all men, and are visited...” – and from here we see that when normally people get sick before they die, it is expected that they should be visited.

If one vows against a fellow, he may still visit him if the fellow gets sick, but he should stand and not sit. What are we talking about? If the visitor is prohibited to benefit the sick one, then the visitor should be allowed even to sit: he is doing a mitzvah. And if the sick is prohibited to give benefit to the visitor, then no visits should be allowed, since the visitor inevitably derives some benefit by entering the house, which is more protected than being in the street!?

Really, possessions of the visitor are prohibited to the sick. So the visitor should be able to enter and even sit with the sick person. However, the visitor may sit more than necessary, going beyond the bounds of the mitzvah and providing the sick person with the extra benefit, for which one could even claim a reward. By doing this for free, the visitor would be violating the vow. Therefore, the Sages allowed him to stand – since he will leave on time – but not to sit.

Art: The Sick Room by Emma Brownlow

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Nedarim 38 – Only Moses had to observe the Torah

Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Chanina said, “The Torah was given only to Moses and his descendants,” because it clearly states “Carve for yourself” and “Write for yourself.” However, Moses was nice and gave it to all Israel.

Now, how could it be? Aren't all Israel obligated to fulfill the Torah? Moses himself said, “I was commanded by God at this time to teach you the laws and statutes.” – Sure, Moses was commanded, he alone, but he chose to teach to all.

But what about the song which Moses wrote so that “it will be for God a testimony?” If they were not commanded to keep the Torah, what testimony is needed?

The Talmud concedes the point and gives the following explanation: of course the Torah was given to all Israel. Only Moses and his descendants, however, were initially given the power for logical analysis and deductions. Out of the goodness of his heart, he taught this to all.

Art: Moses with the Ten Commandments by Philippe de Champaigne

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nedarim 37 – Making money on the Torah?

Earlier we saw that one is not allowed to take money for teaching Torah. We also saw that when this teaching is for singing the notes of the Torah, as it is sung in the synagogue, or simply for watching the kids so that they don't run out during lessons, then getting paid for this is acceptable.

But which of these two reasons is the real one? Some say that the singing notes were actually given to Moses together with the rest of the Torah: when Ezra read Torah for the people, he made them “understand the reading” – which is achieved with proper notes; thus, no money can be earned for teaching that.

Others argue and say that “understand the reading” refers to proper pronunciation, since there are places in the Torah where the words should not be read the way they are written. However, the notes were introduced by the Sages of the court of Solomon later, and reward may be taken for teaching them.

According to the first point of view then one is not paid for singing but for watching the children. This sounds reasonable, what will the opposing side say? They will answer that both boys and girls are equally taught, and that little girls cause less trouble and don't run out of the room – so one is not paid for watching them, and we are back to paying for singing.

Art: Portrait of Artist's Children by Jan Matejko

Monday, June 29, 2015

Nedarim 36 – Sorry, I cannot teach you Torah

One who vowed not to provide any benefit to his fellow is not allowed to teach him Torah; however, he is allowed to teach him the moral lessons and stories about the Torah (Midrash), as well as teach Torah to his sons and daughters.

Basically, why should Torah be taught for free? Moses said, “Look, I taught you the Torah, for free, just as God commanded me,”  – and you should also teach for free. Then if so, why is teaching Torah considered a benefit, which one should not confer on his fellow if he vowed against him? – We mean teaching the written Torah, and there one takes money for teaching the melody, not the words. Alternatively, the art of reading the written Torah is usually taught to small children, and one receives money for being their babysitter rather than teacher. Moral lesson are for adults though, and there one cannot take the reward.

Note that the rule says that one can teach to the fellow's sons and daughter. This rule is the source for the view that Torah should be taught to women as well as men.

Art: A Lady With Her Daughter And Two Sons by Dutch School