After much back and forth, the Gemara’s conclusion is that Shmuel’s statement is based on the concept of yadayim sheh’einan mochichos. In other words, the neder was not clear enough. Yes, there is a halacha called yados nedarim, as we saw in the Mishna, but a “handle” has to be strong enough if you want it to lift the utensil. Therefore, according to Shmuel, if all he said is “Mudarni mimcha, I am hereby avowed from you,” and he did not also add something like “that I will not eat by you”, the neder is completely invalid. Nothing at all takes effect (see Ran and Rosh that this seems to be the main pshat in the Gemara).
Why, asks the Gemara; because “mudarni mimcha” as a stand-alone could just as well mean “I am not going to talk to you”. Could it mean “I am not going to get any benefit at all from you”? Sure; and it is even more likely that that is in fact what he meant (see Rosh), but since in the final analysis it is not clear what he was trying to imply, it’s yadayim sheh’einan mochichos, an inconclusive, weak “handle”. And the psak halacha according to Shmuel and Rava is that einan yadayim – inconclusive, weak “handles” are not considered handles at all. The neder is not chal, it does not at all take effect.
Someone who makes a neder to either forbid himself from eating by his friend or talking to him, etc. is very likely doing so out of anger. His friend did something that upset him, and this is his response. Or, perhaps he has other reasons why he wants to distance himself from this particular individual’s company. Either way, it is an act of acrimony, at least more often than not. That being the case, why is the guy being ambiguous? Why beat around the bush? If you have something to say, just come on out and say it!
The reason is, it would seem, that people often have a hard time being straightforward. We often tend to shy away from confrontation. It takes a good amount of self-assuredness to be able to fully assert yourself in such situations, and it is a degree of internal strength that can often be lacking.
Now, the desire to avoid confrontation can be a very good thing. After all, it’s not good to fight, is it? However, here’s the hitch. Oftentimes, the compensatory, avoidance tactic can actually cause far greater confrontation than there would have been had the person come straight out with it!
When you’re upset with someone, those feelings have to be dealt with. Can you deal with them by internally working it through, letting bygones be bygones, and move on (a.k.a mechila)? Sure. (If you’re a tzaddik or you’ve been blessed with an extremely easygoing nature). But one way or another the issue must be addressed. Time can help, but it is not a fix-all. Without dealing with the matter in one way or another, the emotions can fester and mutate, growing even bigger and blacker.
An unclear “jab in the gut” such as is manifest in an ambiguous “mudarni mimcha” is precisely the type of external expression of this avoidance-posture that can foment more extreme hostility, rather than serve as a pressure valve to let the steam safely release. The recipient of that less-than-nice “mudarni mimcha” won’t know quite how to take it. And, given the already strained relations, is likely to interpret it as a form of battle-cry. Or whatever.
The point is basically basic. Yes, some situations can call for couched language in order to avoid offending other’s sensibilities and/or to avoid coming across as overly aggressive, eager, etc. However, there are many situations that really do call for a direct, unambiguous approach; and circumstances of interpersonal friction can more often than not fit into that latter category.
No, that does not grant one a license to start ranting and raving, spewing recrimination and invective with abandon. Definitely not. Maintaining a soft, respectful tone is key to any type of interpersonal, conflict resolution. However, at the same time, you need to be clear and direct – albeit concise and not longwinded – about what it is that is bothering you, and what you’d like to see improve. And there’s no way out of it; it demands a certain, basic amount of self-confidence and the ability to be assertive (of course, in appropriate measure).
A decent, although not foolproof, litmus test of whether a given situation calls for diplomatic ambiguity or respectfully-assertive directness, is the following question: What is motivating the person? Do you feel restrained from saying what is really on your mind because you fear the potential consequences, or are you more than capable of saying your piece, just you feel that for the sake of the person you are currently dealing with, or for the better attainment of the goal at hand, it is best to be somewhat indirect? Generally, operating from a point of weakness is a red flag that the approach is likely to be seriously flawed; whereas deliberate determination of the most effective method given the conditions, has a much greater chance of success.
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 email@example.com.