INSIGHT: Rambam: Shipwreck and a New Profession

Torah in Tough Times

Torah in Tough Times

Hold it! What if, for some good reason, a promise can’t be kept?

Thankfully, HaShem gives us a way out. The person must officially cancel the promise by going to a Beis-Din, a Jewish court of law consisting of 3 Rabbis, or to one wise, learned Torah scholar who is an expert on the laws of promises.

The Beis-Din or the learned Rabbi asks questions to help the person find a Torah-approved way to cancel his promise. This process is called “Hataras Nedarim” (nullification of vows).

You may already be familiar with Hataras Nedarim:

On Erev Yom Kippur, that’s the day before the Holy day of Yom Kippur, every man in the synagogue stands up in front of a Beis Din of at least three men, to cancel out any vows they may have said during the past year.

And another Hataras Nedarim example:

On Yom Kippur itself, the entire Jewish people make a collective Hataras Nedarim when we listen to the Chazan (the cantor) sing the beautiful melody of Kol Nidrei during the evening service. The words of Kol Nidrei mean that any vow we might make is completely null and void.

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Rambam: Shipwreck and a New Profession

Even in today’s day and age a storm at the sea can be pretty scary, but shipwrecks are not very common, considering how sturdily our ships are built. But this was not the case in the olden days.

Consider this sad episode from the life of the Rambam, Rabbi Moshe the son of Maimon (1138-1204):

The Rambam was a “silent business partner” with his brother, Dovid. Rabbi Moshe invested his money, and Dovid would buy and sell precious jewels from India. The jewelry business was quite successful and the Rambam had plenty of time to write his important Torah books. Until… one day, the jewels were no longer available at the port in Egypt. Dovid bravely boarded a ship for India, hoping to buy the diamonds at the source.

But… Oh no! In a dreadful, fierce storm, the ship sank and Dovid drowned. This event shook the world of the Rambam. Not only did he lose his dear brother whom he had taught Torah and loved dearly, the Rambam also lost his means for a livelihood and had to open shop as, you guessed it… a doctor.

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