Talmud Tips

For the week ending 31 December 2022 / 7 Cheshvan 5783

Nedarim 51-57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Big Fish, Little Fish

“Perhaps the big fish (“dag”) spit him (Yona) out, and a small fish swallowed him?”

This suggestion is how Abayei answers Rav Papa’s question in our sugya. In a beraita, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar teaches that a person who makes a neder not to eat “dag” forbids large fish, whereas if he says “daga” he forbids “small fish.” Rav Papa questions this distinction based on verses in Sefer Yona that seem to use these two words interchangeably. Abayei defends Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar by answering that the verses may be speaking of two different fish: a large fish that first swallowed Yona, and then afterwards spit him out into a small fish. This would explain the distinct words in the verses, in accordance with the beraita.

This suggestion is also in accordance with the Midrash, which locates Yona at first in a spacious (i.e. “large”) male fish (“dag”), and since he had enough space there he did not feel a need to pray to Hashem. However, Hashem wanted him to pray and realize that he was wrong to flee from his mission to rebuke Ninveh to atone. Therefore, Hashem caused him to be spit out by the male fish and swallowed up by a female, pregnant (i.e. “small”) fish (daga), and since he was cramped there, he prayed to Hashem to get out.

The gemara concludes that in the Written Torah there is really no distinction between the two words — they both refer to all fish in general. However, when examining a neder, such as in the case of the beraita, the way that people speak is what matters. People use “dag” for large fish and “daga” for small ones. (See the Maharal, who points out an apparent difficulty to the answer of Abayei, since the verse states that in response to Yona’s prayer, Hashem spoke to the “dag” — not “daga” — to spit him out.)

Nedarim 51b

Humility and Torah

“If a person makes himself like a desert, which is available to all, the Torah is given to him as a gift.”

Rava said this to Rav Yosef on our daf and derives it from a verse in Sefer Bamidbar. (21:18) His intent was to warn Rav Yosef to be exceedingly humble, as seen in the context of the sugya. (Rabbeinu Nissim)

What is meant here by stating that the Torah is given to him “as a gift”? Only a person who is humble, like Moshe Rabbeinu, can truly connect to the Torah. He is given the gift of Torah if he has the proper humility and lack of haughtiness that are pre-requisites for being a ben Torah. (Maharal) And although one who lacks humility may indeed learn Torah, he is likely to forget it as well. But if he “works on himself” to acquire the character trait of humility, Hashem will give him the Torah as a gift, and he will not forget what he learns. (Maharsha)

Nedarim 55a

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