Que Sera, Sera?
‘He Daubed Him With Mud’
The Gemara relates that an unmarried man wanted to study the Six Orders of the Mishnah but was convinced that he would be unable to achieve his goal if he were married (marriage bringing obligations with it). He therefore made a conditional vow forbidding himself from deriving any benefit from the world if he married before attaining his goal. The Gemara relates that his mental capabilities, regrettably, did not match his enthusiasm and he met with little success in his studies.
The Gemara then states that a sage was only allowed to annul his vow after he married – not before – since a conditional vow is not subject to annulment until the deed upon which the vow is conditioned (in this case, his marriage) occurs.
What Did R. Acha Do?
The Gemara relates that immediately after the man married – but prior to his seeking an annulment of his vow – R. Acha bar Rav Huna “daubed the man with mud.” The Rosh (ad loc.) suggests that what actually happened was that R. Acha insisted that the man remove his clothes since the clothes were providing him a benefit (forbidden by the vow); afterwards R. Acha covered the man’s body with mud for the sake of modesty.
The Ran (ad loc.), in contrast, explains that R. Acha soiled the man’s clothes in order to demonstrate the necessity of seeking an annulment of the vow. He was by showing him that he could survive without benefiting from the services of other people, such as having someone wash his soiled clothes.
Explaining The Differing Views
The Vilna Gaon (Biur HaGra, Yoreh De’ah 228:35) indicates that the Ran’s rejection of the Rosh’s interpretation is due to an underlying fundamental dispute between the Ran and the Rosh. According to the Ran, a person may rely on an annulment that will annul his vow retroactively. Therefore, according to the Ran, R’ Acha was not concerned with the man wearing clothes and thus benefiting from the world. He just wanted to make sure he actually annulled his vow. That’s why he spread mud on his clothes – to demonstrate that he will always need people to help him and therefore it was imperative that he get his vow annulled.
The Rosh, however, maintains that it is forbidden for a person to rely on an eventual retroactive annulment of a vow. Therefore, according to the Rosh, R’ Acha was concerned about the man wearing his clothes and therefore make him take them off. He then spread mud on his body so that he wouldn’t be exposed.