י״ט בתמוז ה׳תשע״ה (July 6, 2015)

Nedarim 43a-b: When Helping is Prohibited by a Vow

The Mishna on our daf lists three situations in which a person who cannot offer support to his friend because of a vow that had been made prohibiting such benefit, can arrange to do so surreptitiously in a time of need. These cases include:

  • When his friend has nothing to eat, he can say to the local storekeeper, “My friend has nothing to eat and I simply don’t know what I can do…” In such a case, the storekeeper can offer credit to the friend and collect from this person.
  • When his friend has work that needs to be done – to build his house, put up a fence or harvest his field – he can go to the workers and say, “I would like to help him out, but there is a vow that keeps me from helping him…” They can do the work and collect their wages from him.
  • When they are traveling together and his friend has run out of food, he can give it as a present to another member of the party, who can then pass it on to the friend. If there are no other travelers, he can put it on a rock and declare it ownerless so that anyone who wants to can take it, allowing his friend to eat.

In all of these cases, he cannot directly tell the intermediary to pass along the food or to do the work for his friend, because that would create a situation of shelihut – effectively making that person his agent to carry out the transfer. Such an agreement would be forbidden because of the neder. The Talmud Yerushalmi points out that although the person who suggested giving food or doing work could not help him directly, he is allowed to pay for it, but it should be clear that he would not be obligated to do so.

The Rosh and Tosafot point out that in the final case, it is only because of the extreme situation (sha’at ha-dehak) that he would be permitted to avoid the requirements of the neder. In normal circumstances he would not be permitted to do so (see the story of Beit Horon on daf 48).