How are we to understand the intention of someone who takes a vow not to eat grain? While Rabbi Meir rules that grain includes other milled products, such as pol hamitzri, the Hakhamim limit such a statement to the five types of grain.
How are we to understand the intention of someone who takes a vow not to wear clothing? The Mishna rules that such a person can wear sackcloth, a curtain or a blanket in order to cover himself because they are not considered normal items of clothing.
At the same time, a person who takes a vow not to put on wool will not be permitted to wear woolen clothing, but can drape bundles of wool on his shoulders, since we interpret his statement as referring to traditional woolen clothing only.
Rabbi Yehuda points out that we need to examine the circumstances in order to properly assess the man’s intention when he took the vow. Thus, someone who is exhausted, having been hauling bundles of wool all day, who says, “I will not put on any wool,” will be allowed to wear woolen clothing, but will not be allowed to carry any more wool.
Rabbi Yehuda’s teaching obligates us to examine a person’s words and take into consideration the need to interpret a plain statement within the context in which it was said, thus recognizing that sometimes it will limit – or even change – their meaning.
Some say that Rabbi Yehuda is not arguing with the other Sages of the Mishna, but rather he is simply pointing out that their ruling applies only in simple, straightforward situations. In more complicated situations we are obligated to consider the context in which the neder was made.