Nedarim 54 - 60
Mystery of the Will
In the will of Bar Mar Shmuel there was a bequest to the Sage Rava of 13,000 zuz of income from his holdings on the Panya River. The specific term "alalto" which he used to describe the source for this bequest left Rava and the other sages with a mystery as to exactly what it included.
Rabbi Yosef took a quite limited view. Since "alalto" is the Targum for the Hebrew word grain, he held that Rava could only collect from the five species of grain, just as one who makes a vow to abstain from enjoying grain is only forbidden to benefit from those five species.
His view was contested by both Rava and his colleague the Sage Abaye, because the term "alalto" means anything which improves and brings profit. Rava, therefore, had no doubt that his bequest covered all agricultural produce. He was not sure, however, if it also included the rental income from houses and boats in the Panya River area which now belonged to other heirs.
Why should such rental income be different from the income he was certainly entitled to receive from the fields owned by his benefactor? Rava, says the gemara, was not certain whether rental income from houses and boats came under the category of "alalto," as there was a depreciation factor involved, albeit a not very discernible one.
What sort of depreciation is involved in rental income from houses and boats which can distinguish this income from that which is derived from agricultural produce?
Rosh (whose text of the gemara substitutes animals for ships) explains this in terms of the level of income. While agricultural income is consistent, houses and animals sometimes have to be hired out at a low price because of a lack of demand.
Rashi, however, takes a more direct approach in explaining the difference: The land which produces income from agriculture does not depreciate, while in regard to houses and ships there is a hardly discernible but gradual depreciation because of wear and tear.
Since Rava could not resolve his mystery, says Ran, he was not able to collect the rent from the houses and ships, and was limited to agricultural produce alone.
A Liar till the Grave
One who makes a vow to abstain from wine "this year" is forbidden to enjoy wine only until Rosh Hashana which begins the next year, regardless of how close he was to the end of the year when he made his vow. Should he make his vow, however, to abstain from wine for "one year," he is forbidden to enjoy wine until an entire year has passed from the making of his vow.
This ruling of the mishna provides an interesting background for understanding a chapter in Jewish history. In the Book of Yirmiyahu (Chapter 28) we read of a dramatic confrontation between this true prophet and a false prophet by the name of Chanania ben Azur, a confrontation which took place in the fifth month, the month of Av. In contrast to Yirmiyahu's prophecy of impending exile at the hands of the Babylonians, Chanania attempted to delude the people into believing that they would be free of Babylonian control within two years.
The chapter concludes with Yirmiyahu informing Chanania in the name of Hashem that because he misrepresented the Divine will he would die that year. It is in regard to the fulfillment of this prophecy of Yirmiyahu that a problem arises, for in the very last passage we read that Chanania perished in the seventh month (Tishrei) of that year. If his death did not take place before the seventh month, which begins with Rosh Hashana and ushers in the new year, then Yirmiyahu's prophecy that he would die in that year seems not to have been fulfilled!
The attempt of one of the great biblical commentators, Radak, to explain Yirmiyahu's prophecy as a prediction that Chanania would die within a year of their confrontation does not seem to be consistent with our gemara, which clearly states that the term "this year," which is the term used by Yirmiyahu, means till Rosh Hashana, and does not mean a full year from the date of pronouncement. (Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his "Gilyon Hashas" footnotes, calls attention to this problem with Radak's approach.)
The solution provided by our Sages to this problem is that Chanania actually died the day before Rosh Hashana, before the year had ended, just as Yirmiyahu had prophesied. Since he was reluctant, however, to serve as a vindication of that prophecy, he ordered his children, before his death, to keep his death a secret and to bury him after Rosh Hashana so that the impression would be that he had not died within the year as prophesied. This word "died" in that passage is therefore translated by the Targum of Yonatan ben Uziel as "buried," because the death of the false prophet was actually in the year which the true prophet had designated.