Talmud Tips

For the week ending 11 July 2015 / 24 Tammuz 5775

Nedarim 51 - 57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“Perhaps the big fish (“dag”) spit him (Yona) out, and a small fish swallowed him?”

This suggestion is how Abayei answers Rav Papa’s question on a statement in a beraita in which Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar teaches that a person who makes a neder not to eat “dag” forbids large fish, whereas if he says “daga” he forbids “small fish”. Rav Papa questions this distinction based on verses in Sefer Yona which seem to use these two words interchangeably. Abayei defends Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar by suggesting that the verses may be speaking of two different fish: a large fish which first swallowed Yona, and then spit him out into a small fish. This would explain the distinct words in the verses, in accordance with the beraita.

This suggestion is also in accordance with the Midrash that locates Yona at first in a spacious (i.e. “large”) male fish (“dag”), and since he had enough space there he did not feel a need to pray to G-d. However, G-d wanted him to pray and realize that he was wrong to flee from his mission to rebuke Ninveh to atone, and therefore caused him to be spit out by the male fish and swallowed up by a female, pregnant (i.e. “small”) fish (“daga”), and since he was cramped he prayed to G-d to get out.

The gemara concludes that in the Written Torah there is really no distinction between the two words — they both refer to all fish in general. However, when examining a neder, such as in the case of the beraita, the way that people speak is what matters, and people use “dag” for large fish and “daga” for small ones. (See the Maharal who points out an apparent difficulty to the suggestion of Abayei, since the verse states that in response to Yona’s prayer G-d spoke to the “dag” — not “daga” — to spit him out.)

  • Nedarim 51b

“If a person makes himself like a desert, which is available to all, the Torah is given to him as a gift.”

Rava said this to Rav Yosef on our daf, and derives it from a verse in Sefer Bamidbar (21:18). His intent was to warn Rav Yosef to be exceedingly humble, as seen in the context of the sugya. (Rabbeinu Nissim)

What is meant here by stating that the Torah is given to him “as a gift”? Only a person who is humble, like Moshe Rabbeinu, can truly connect to Torah. He is given the gift of Torah if he has the proper humility and lack of haughtiness that are pre-requisites for being a ben Torah. (Maharal) And although one may learn Torah, he is likely to forget it as well. But if he “works on himself” to acquire the character trait of humility, G-d will give him the Torah as a gift, and he will not forget what he learns. (Maharsha)

  • Nedarim 55a

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