On today’s daf, Ben Rechumi asks a series of questions of Abaye:
In the case where a person says, “I am hereby a nazirwhen I have a son,” and another hears him and says, “And upon me,” — what is the law? Is he talking about the statement or about himself?
And if you say he refers to himself, what about the case where a person says, “I am hereby a nazir when I have a son,” and another hears him and says, “And I”? Is he talking about himself, or is he saying, “I love you as you love yourself”?
And if you say that anything said in front of him is because the matter is embarrassing for him (if he doesn’t comment), if the first person says, “I am hereby a nazirwhen so-and-so has a son,” and the second says, “And I,” — what then? Do we say that because he is not in front of so-and-so he refers to himself, or is he saying, “I love him as you love him”?
If you got lost, don’t worry. In the Gemara, these questions remain unresolved. But today we’re going to work on a more elementary problem: What are the questions? Because the text is not so clear. What was Ben Rechumi actually asking?
To figure this out, we’ll look at a few commentaries, starting with Rashi. Rashi understands Ben Rechumi’s question this way: If a person hears another’s vow that he will become a nazir as soon as he has a son and then says, “And upon me” or even, “And I,” the question is whether he has committed to becoming a nazirwhen he himself has a son or when the first person making the vow has a son. In other words: Is it a vow of emulation or a vow of solidarity? Tosafot widen this distinction with the next two questions in the series, asking whether the response “And I” in front of the person who made the vow indicates that he too will be a nazir when he has a son, or does it simply indicate a statement of love and support with no intention of taking on naziriteship at all?
Maimonides (Rambam), on the other hand, has a completely different understanding of the question. In HilkhotNezirut2:5, he rules that one who hears another’s vow and answers, “And I,” becomes a nazir immediately. This ruling seems to come out of left field. We didn’t suppose the second person would possibly become a nazir before a son was born to someone.
Yet the Kesef Mishneh(a commentary on the Rambam written by Rabbi Joseph Caro) explains that Rambam’s ruling makes sense when the question is read this way: A person who hears another vow and answers, “And I” — is his intention on the words themselves, meaning he will only become a nazir when he has a son himself? Or is his intention on the essence of the vow, meaning he is responding to the words, “I am hereby a nazir”?
Let’s not miss the irony (or aptness!): This entire sugya is about determining the intent of an indeterminate statement. In the same way, the disagreement between Rashi and Rambam makes clear that not even the question about clarifying intent is clear! The question may be whose son makes the second speaker a nazir, but the question might also be whether he becomes a nazirat all — depending on one’s interpretation of Ben Rechumi.
I mentioned earlier that these questions are never answered. And like the sugyaitself, we are left with more questions than answers. Perhaps it is a cautionary tale, reminding us to consider carefully what we say aloud. Perhaps it is an invitation, asking us to consider all the possibilities a statement can open for us, before honing in on what we assume is obvious. Or, perhaps it is a reminder that some things will always need interpretation, and the confusion that generates can lead us to a deeper understanding of a situation, even if we don’t come away with a clear answer.
Read all of Nazir 13 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 5th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.