By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 92 – A Shade of Gray
He doesn’t have to, and Shimon can’t coerce him into it, but if he wants to, it is within his rights. Reuvein sold a property to Shimon and now Reuvein’s creditor is collecting it for a debt that Reuvein owed him for some time already. Since Shimon is going to wind up coming back to Reuvein for compensation, the creditor cannot tell Reuvein, “this is none of your business.” It very much is his business. Therefore, Reuvein has the legal power to challenge the creditor’s claim in Beis Din with whatever counter claims he may possibly manage to muster.
The Rishonim are quite busy trying to work out exactly how Reuvein’s involvement over here could change anything. What is it that Reuvein could claim that Shimon cannot? There are a number of possibilities proposed, some more simple and straight forward, some more complex.
One of the major approaches advanced by Tosafos is that Reuvein can level a claim of forgery whereas Shimon cannot. This point is strongly disputed within the Baalei Tosafos themselves, and the Tosafos that deals with this point on today’s daf is one of those gigantic whoppers of a Tosafos.
The shitah that does hold of this approach explains it like this: min ha’Torah there is no such thing as kiyum shtaros – a person with a document signed by two witnesses does not need to substantiate that document because it is as if the witnesses signed thereupon where already cross-examined and corroborated in Beis Din. Chazal enacted that, in the event the defendant challenges the veracity of the shtar, the plaintiff needs to substantiate the signatures thereof before we will allow him to collect.
However, concludes this shitah in Tosafos, that is only if the plaintiff submits a definitive allegation that the shtar is a forgery. If, though, he is merely pleading a case of “who knows, maybe it’s forged”, then there is no need for the shtar to be extraneously substantiated. We leave it at the din d’Oraysoh that it is considered inherently substantiated. That is why Reuvein’s involvement in the above scenario can make all the difference – he can theoretically make such a definitive claim whereas Shimon cannot.
To emphasize this point, Tosafos adds, “Even a known thief is not min ha’Torah required to substantiate his shtar, because although he is suspect regarding money, he is afraid to forge a shtar lest Beis Din catch him on it.”
This idea, that an individual who is suspect on a particular aveirah does not necessarily become automatically suspect on other aveiros, comes up all over the place. Interestingly enough, we tend to not relate to the situation as such; at least, that is, when it comes to other people.
I once heard a story, although I have no idea if it is apocryphal or not, that one of the members of the Jewish community of Brisk, who just so happened to be the head of the Jewish mafia there, was involved in putting together a certain, communal event. Apparently, Reb Chaim felt it warranted his attention. When he had occasion to speak to the gangster-in-chief about it he said, “Yankel, tell me, is the food going to be kosher?” The response was incredulous. “What, Rebbi?! Am I not a Yid?!”
But we don’t tend to think like that. We really do tend to write off people like that in our minds. We can hardly be blamed for doing so, can we? After all, the guy is a hardened criminal! But, the truth is – the real truth is – that our assumptions are actually not right. Because people are complex. There is nothing naturally black and white about the way we operate. There is just a whole lot of cloudy gray that we are meant to sift through and try to make sense out of it.
The funniest thing about all this, in a tragic-comic sense, is that we sometimes even make this mistake vis a vis ourselves. Of course, naturally, there is a general tendency for a person to be more forgiving with himself than he is with others. When it comes to “me”, we often have an easier time of justifying, mitigating, explaining, and accommodating. And, indeed, we ought to take a cue from there in terms of the way we should be viewing others as well. But it can happen – it sometimes does happen – that a person can allow one black stroke to metamorphose into covering the whole canvas of his persona.
I remember once hearing a certain Rav speak about this idea. His example was quite extreme, but I think that that was just it; he was trying to make a point. He said, “Even if last night you did something terrible, that does not mean that you cannot put on teffilin the following morning and daven!” Was something bad done? Definitely. But does that mean that that’s it, and from now on you are just one big piece of evil? Of course not! What was done was done and of course must be dealt with, taking the appropriate steps to do teshuvah and adopt safeguards to prevent it from recurring. But does that determine the totality of who and what you are in the grander scheme of things?! Of what you are still capable of doing despite what happened?! Human beings are complex, and just because a guy may have a black spot on his shirt does not mean that he’s all black. Most definitely not. Even if it is a big spot.
The truth is that it goes much deeper than that. The Nefesh Ha’Chaim writes that there is a part of the neshama that can never be blemished by sin, and it is that part that provides the energy for one to be able to pick up and start afresh no matter what may have happened in the past. But perhaps that is a topic for another time. For now, it is enough for us to know on a very simple, straightforward level that human complexity inherently means that a person’s sum total cannot at all be determined on the basis of one act, even if that act is repetitive, or on the basis of one particular area of flaw or failing.
Tragically, there are a lot of people out there – perhaps most of them young – that fall far deeper and harder than what should have been, simply because they lack this basic awareness. Something happened, or they did something, that was dark and black. Perhaps even terrible. And from there an avalanche of precipitous plummet can follow, R”l. He stops learning. He stops davening. It becomes a vicious, vicious catch twenty two where each thing feeds and breeds into the next. And why does this happen? Because he feels, “Well if this happened, or I did such and such, then how in the world could I learn Hashem’s pure and holy Torah? How could I stand before Him and ask for things?”
It is critical, just absolutely critical, that we cultivate a broader picture. Broaden and deepen the dimensions of self-awareness to allow for an appreciation of complexity and intricacy. In a word, gray. Because, really, in the final analysis, isn’t that what we all are? Each on our own level. And, if there is anyone who appreciates this point more than anyone else, it is our loving, compassionate Father in Heaven who created us, and is the only one who fully fathoms the depths of our conflicted being. The “oy li mi’yitzri, oy li mi’Yotzri”. Knowing that will help a person to realize that, “yes, even if I did do that terrible thing, I can still get up in the morning, put on my teffilin, and daven. I can still move forward.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.