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I am learning the Mishnayot of Masechet Nedarim and I came across an apparent contradiction that I cannot quite wrap my head around. The seifa of the first mishna in the fourth perek mentions that a person (we'll call him Reuven) who has made a neder not to benefit from his neighbor (Shimon)'s food cannot borrow even a non-food-related tool for free if it is the type of tool which would normally be rented. The Rav Bartenura explains based on the Gemara that the reason is because Reuven could use the money that he saves by not paying to rent the item to buy food and he is therefore benefiting food-wise from Shimon.

Fine. So far I understand.

Now, the next couple of mishnayot discuss the kinds of services that Shimon can do for Reuven if Reuven made a neder not to get any הנאה from Shimon at all. Among these things are certain services that definitely save Reuven money. For example, Shimon may pay Reuven's מחצית השקל (since the money goes to the גזבר rather than to Reuven), or he may settle Reuven's debts (similar reasoning), or he may provide food for Reuven's wife (similar reasoning).

My question is, what's the difference between the first case where Reuven is not allowed to indirectly get הנאה from Shimon and the second case where (at least to me) it seems like the הנאה is much more direct, but is still permitted?

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It seems like the issue is that we broaden the definition of food to include what can turn into food. By giving you this item he is in that way giving you food, or food currency.

By saving you money, he will be at most saving you your own food, or food money. But he isn't giving you anything that will translate into food that can be traced to him.

The Gemara in Nedarim and Ksubos has two ways to explain this Mishna. Rav Hoshia says that this Mishna is according to Chanan, that when you pay up someone's debt he doesn't owe you anything for it. Therefore there is nothing that is considered to have gone over from benefactor to beneficiary. If you are not indebted to him for this it is as if he did an act in which you just happened to have gained.

Rava says that it is even according to the Chachamim but it is talking about a case where he borrowed without any time limit, in which case there is no technical gain since at no point do I save what I would have lost.

  • In the saving money example, the neder didn't have anything to do with food. Reuven just swore that he would get no benefit from Shimon. Then Shimon goes and does something that saves Reuven money. How is that not benefit? Look at it this way: in the first case, Reuven saves money and since he could use it to buy food it's prohibited because he's getting food benefit. If it can be called food benefit, it should certainly also be called benefit. – Daniel Jul 8 '15 at 16:45
  • @Daniel The important thing here is more than saving money, he gave him something. That which he gave him can translate into food. – HaLeiVi Jul 8 '15 at 17:22

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