Nedarim 82 - 88
The Investment of Shared Grief
The power which the Torah delegates to a husband in canceling his wife's vows is limited to such vows that are a source of considerable suffering for her, or for matters affecting his relationship with her. When a woman makes a vow of nezirut which obligates her to abstain from wine and from contact with the dead, it is obvious that her husband can cancel her vow as regards wine and grapes because this constitutes suffering. But what about that part of the vow prohibiting contact with the dead -- is such denial also considered suffering so that it qualifies for husbandly cancellation?
Yes, says the gemara, rejecting an earlier position that staying away from funerals is hardly considered self-denial. The reason that such denial is considered suffering is because it presents a danger to the woman that she will not benefit from reciprocity when it is her time to leave this world.
In explanation of this point the gemara cites the statement of Rabbi Meir (quoted in our piece on Ketubot 72) that King Solomon's counsel (Kohelet 7:1) "the living take it to heart" is a message: "One who eulogizes others will himself be eulogized, one who weeps for others will be wept over, and one who buries others will himself be buried."
Although this is obviously wise counsel regarding reciprocity in human relations, the commentaries saw in it a powerful incentive for a person to reflect on his eventual passing, and mold his life with that awareness of his mortality. Just hearing about people dying does not seem to have that impact because it is human nature for a man to relegate death to members of some mysterious "dier's club" to which he does not belong. It is only when he is involved in a funeral -- the eulogies, the weeping and the burial -- that he begins to seriously reflect that he expects these final tributes to someday be accorded to him. This suddenly makes him consider himself also a member of that "dier's club" and only then does he take death -- and life -- to heart.
- Nedarim 83b
Free For All
What is the legal monetary status of one's food that he has forbidden to himself through a vow? Do we view his relinquishing any benefit from this item as an act of hefker -- the relinquishing of ownership that makes it available to the first claimant?
The commentaries conclude that the food does indeed become hefker and can be appropriated. Their source is our mishna which states that if one makes a vow forbidding all kohanim from benefiting from him, the kohanim may forcibly take the teruma tithe from his produce. But if he limits this vow to specific kohanim then his teruma must be given to kohanim not included in his vow. The explanation of this mishna offered by the Sage Rava is that the tovat hana'ah -- the right which a Jew has to give his teruma to the kohen of his choice -- has a monetary value. If he has vowed not to provide any benefit for specific kohanim he cannot give his teruma to them because he is giving away this monetary value. But if his vow extends to all kohanim then there is nothing left for him to do with his teruma. He cannot retain it for himself because he is not a kohen and he cannot give it to any kohen because of his vow. We therefore consider it as if he had made the teruma hefker and it is accessible to the claim of any kohen. The obvious extension of this is the above-mentioned case of a man forbidding himself to have any benefit from his food.
But what happens if the man making such a vow subsequently goes to a sage, expresses regret and has his vow annulled? Does the person who took possession of that abandoned food now have the responsibility to compensate the owner, since the vow is retroactively considered as never haven taken place, and therefore the food was always the original owner's?
Rashba contends that he will have to pay because of the retroactive nature of vow annulment by a sage. But Ran disagrees. He distinguishes between the prohibitionary and monetary aspects of the food affected by the vow. Although the prohibition against his benefiting from the food is annulled by the sages, this does not affect the acquisition which another person made while that food was hefker, just as there is no annulment of an explicit declaration of hefker. The one who took it while it was hefker may therefore retain ownership of it.
- Nedarim 85a