As we have learned, a woman’s husband or father can annul her nedarim through the power of hafara. What about a case where the woman’s neder will only take effect based on some future event? Can hafara be done on the vow before it takes effect, or only once it is an actual vow?
Our Mishna discusses cases where the woman makes her vow conditional on some other thing. For example, she says “If I follow your instructions, then I vow never to accept benefit from your father,” or, “If I follow your father’s instructions, I vow never to accept benefit from you.” In such cases, the Mishna rules that the husband can be mefer even before the condition is fulfilled; our Gemara quotes a baraita that brings Rabbi Natan’s ruling that the husband cannot annul the vow. The approach taken by most of the commentaries is that Rabbi Natan does not believe that the power of hafara works until the neder is a real one.
To illustrate Rabbi Natan’s position, the Gemara relates a story about a man who vowed not to derive benefit from anyone in the world if he were to get married before becoming a Torah scholar. The Gemara describes his unsuccessful attempts at learning with the expression, rahit be-gapa ve-tovlaya, ve-lo imtzei le-mitnah – literally, “He ran with a ladder and a rope, but he could not learn.”). Three suggestions are given to explain this expression:
- Rashi, the Ran and others explain simply that he put all of his efforts into learning, but was unsuccessful.
- According to The Ritva, The Rosh and others he became involved in other work or activities (the Ritva understands tovlaya as “vanities”) and did not become a scholar.
- The Arukh suggests that despite his hard work to pay his teachers, he was an unsuccessful student.
In any case, what was this man to do? His well-intentioned vow did not help him become a scholar, but, were he to marry, he would no longer be able to derive benefit from others? And according to Rabbi Natan, since the vow would not take effect unless he married, he cannot even approach a rabbi to annul the vow?!
The Gemara tells that Rav Aḥa bar Rav Huna tricked him into getting married, so that the vow would take effect, allowing him to arrange for the vow to be annulled.