Is it the here and now that he’s referring to, or is it the historical beginnings to which his words are directed. That’s the question that our entire daf is busy dealing with, plus a piece of the previous and next dapim as well. The guy has a piece of shlamim meat in front of him – after the procedure of bringing the korban has been fully and successfully executed, so the meat is totally permissible now – and he says “my loaf of bread is hereby like this piece of meat”. So the question is, what exactly does that statement mean? If we go by the here and now, the meat is 100% mutar – after the blood of the shlamim was sprinkled, the issur (generated by his initial neder of being makdish the korban) falls away – and his words now do not create any neder on the bread. However, if we say that his words are referring back to the historical beginnings of this piece of meat, when it was forbidden by force of the hekdesh-neder, then the loaf of bread does become forbidden to him; because it is a full-fledged neder.
One of the attempts that the Gemara makes at proving which side of the shailoh is correct, has to do with the following case (pshat courtesy of the Ran [assuming I understood him correctly]): A guy’s father died, and he made a neder to not eat meat or drink wine on that day. A proper neder, “Meat and wine is upon me for the duration of today like a korban.” But just for that one day. That day was the first Sunday of the month of Nissan. In a different year, when it is once again the first Sunday of the month of Nissan, the guy says “Behold that I am not going to eat meat or drink wine today, just like the first Sunday of Nissan.” Says the Braisah, it is a binding neder and he cannot eat meat or drink wine that day.
Now, asserts the Gemara, for there to be a chiddush in this case, it must be talking a few years down the line since his father died. So there have been numerous “first Sundays of Nissan” in the interim in which it was totally ok for him to eat meat and drink wine. If, when he said “just like the first Sunday of Nissan”, we say that he’s referring to the “here and now” – meaning the most recent first Sunday of Nissan – well, then, those most recent “first Sundays of Nissan” were total heter, and there is no neder in what he said. But if we say that his words refer to the “historical beginnings” – meaning the “original” first Sunday of Nissan which was a day of issur neder for him – then what he said now becomes a neder just like it. And what does the Braisah say? It is a binding neder! So there you have it! Clearly, the given is that the words refer back to the “historical beginnings”, and not to the most recent “here and now”.
But the Gemara rejects that assertion and says that the case is talking about a situation where he had repeated his “first Sunday of Nissan” neder in every subsequent year since his father’s death. Therefore, there’s no proof whatsoever.
Now, what the Gemara does not say is what, then, is the chiddush of the Braisah?! The Ran explains that, indeed, our Gemara here is (in his words) a sugyah ketiah, a cut off sugyah. Meaning, it didn’t finish the train of thought, and kind of just left off in the middle. Why did it do that? Because, explains the Ran, it was relying on the sugyah in Maseches Shavuos that does complete the thought, and explains that the chiddush of the Braisah is in regards to the other case where he made a neder to not eat meat and drink wine on the day that Gedalyah ben Achikom was killed. That day is anyway a fast day m’d’Rabannan, so one may have thought any subsequent neder of “today is like that day” would not take effect – in line with the concept that the subject by which one is making his neder (i.e. this should be like that [the “that”]) must be a davar ha’nadur, something which is forbidden by force of vow, and not a davar ha’asur, something which is forbidden by force of inherent prohibition.
This type of thing, that one source leaves out certain pieces of information, and you don’t get the full picture until you one day come across another source – perhaps somewhere very far off in Shas – happens all the time. It’s what Chazal refer to as the principle of divrei Torah aniyim b’makom echad v’ashirim b’makom acher. Words of Torah are poor in one location, and rich in another. In other words, a lot of times you are going to be lacking certain, important pieces of the puzzle, and that wealth will have to wait until you get to the point where it is to be found.
It’s a fair question to ask, why is that way? After all, the One who gave us the Torah certainly could have arranged it that everything would always be a full package. Of course, there are probably many, many answers to this question, and perhaps one of them is that the Torah is meant to be a guide to life. It’s not just a law book. Or even a book of fantastically insightful values, morals, and principles. It’s more than that. It’s a guide to life. It is life.
And life will never fit into a convenient, cookie-cutter package.
Life, by its very nature is chock full of ups and downs, twists and turns, surprises and detours. We almost never have the full picture in any given situation. It is not uncommon at all for an individual to have an experience at age sixty three that suddenly casts an entirely new light on something that he saw or happened to him at age nine!
The cut off sugyos in Torah reflect that this is the reality with which we live. We cannot just assume, because we learned one particular daf, that we’ve already got the full picture. Even if it may seem that way. And in life in general it’s no different. Whether it pertains to how we try making sense of what’s happening in our own lives, or what we see going on around us – with our family, friends, neighbors, communities, and the world as a whole.
Part of maturing – as we grow and really start to get a grasp on this thing we call life – is recognizing that there is so much that we really don’t know. Because some of the pieces of the puzzle might still be missing.
Of course, we do the best that we can at any given juncture with whatever we’ve got at the moment; as Chazal say, ein l’dayan elah mah sheh’einav ro’os, that a Dayan can only pasken according to whatever facts he is currently presented with. But, maintaining an underlying awareness that, essentially, life is a continuum of sugyos ketios, cut off sugyos – wherein the right puzzle pieces are scattered all over the place – helps us to keep our minds and eyes open to identifying those supplementary pieces when we encounter them, and successfully incorporating them into the correct location.
Understanding this fact of our existence, not only gives us a better chance to reach our highest potential of completing the puzzle, but it also affords the ability to have equanimity even in the interim when we are left with serious question marks. Because we realize that it may be, it just may be, that it’s because we’re still missing some of the pieces and therefore cannot yet see the whole picture.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.