The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 5 January 2008 / 27 Tevet 5768

Nedarim 19 - 25

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Two Kinds of Fire

Whoever becomes angry, said Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, has all sorts of Gehinnom (purgatory) controlling him.

This condemnation of losing one's temper is the subject of various interpretations.

Ran explains, on the basis of a gemara (Mesechta Shabbat 105b) which tells us to view one who breaks vessels in his wrath as if he were an idol worshipper, that anger can bring one to a momentary abandonment of his faith for which he will be punished in Gehinnom. The comparison of the angry fellow to an idol worshipper is elucidated by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto in his classic "Mesillat Yesharim." One who is quick to anger over anything which is not to his liking loses control of his senses and would destroy the entire world if he only could. He is as out of control as a wild beast and is ready to commit all the sins in the world if his anger should lead him to do so, because he is completely dominated by that anger. One who is in such a state is equivalent to an idol worshipper who lacks any sense of discipline in regard to his Creator.

Rosh offers a different perspective. Anger is physically self-destructive and it causes damage to a person's health as if the fires of Gehinnom had harmed him.

Maharsha focuses on the term "all sorts of Gehinnom" and traces the fire of human fury to the purgatory fire of Gehinnom. One of the Hebrew terms for anger is "chaima" which is similar to the word for heat -- "cham." One who loses his tempter invites the fires of Gehinnom into his being.

There is, he notes, another sort of anger born of fire. This is the anger of the Torah scholar, discussed in another gemara (Mesechta Taanit 4a).

"If you see a Torah scholar getting upset over something," says the Sage Rava, "it is the Torah which is burning within him." The Torah scholar's anger is also rooted in fire, not in the fire of hell but in the fire of Torah.

Rashi there explains how this fire of the Torah scholar works: "He has such a broadness of heart as a result of his Torah that he becomes much more sensitive than others to things that are wrong. Rava therefore urges us to judge him favorably when we see him getting excited."

Rava's source for tracing the fire of the Torah scholar to the Torah is Hashem's comparison of His Torah to fire, in the passage (Yirmiyahu 23:29) "Is not My word like fire? says Hashem."

  • Nedarim 22a

When the Truth is a Lie

When a beit din (Torah court) requires a litigant in a monetary case to take an oath to verify his claim, the judges issue this warning: "You must be aware that the oath you are taking is not in accordance with what you have in mind but rather with what we have in mind."

This warning is necessary, explains the gemara, because of situations like the one which arose in the court of the Sage Rava. When challenged by his creditor about an unpaid loan, the defendant claimed that he had already made partial payment. Because Torah laws requires one who makes such a partial admission of liability to swear to his claim of partial payment, Rava ordered him to take a Torah scroll in hand while taking the oath. This fellow had surreptitiously put some money into the hollow section of his walking stick. Before taking the Sefer Torah, he asked his creditor to hold his cane for him. When he then boldly took the oath, the creditor became so infuriated by his brazenness that he smashed the cane. When the money came spilling out on the floor it became evident how the borrower had attempted to lie and yet circumvent taking a false oath.

To avoid such subterfuges, our Sages instituted the procedure of warning that such circumvention is invalid, and that such an oath is a false one.

The question arises, however, how the fellow in Rava's court imagined that he could get away with his trick. Rava was certainly aware of the warning to be issued. If Rava had cautioned the defendant, why did the defendant go ahead with what would be only an exercise in futility?

Tosefot (Mesechta Shavuot 29b) offers a simple answer. Before Rava had a chance to warn him, this fellow seized the Torah scroll and took the oath. The trickery used by this fellow serves us, however, as the classic example of why such a warning is necessary.

  • Nedarim 25a

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