By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 95 – A Shrewd Rasha, A Clever Tzaddik
A shrewd rasha. Who’s that? Someone who advises a person that received a gift of “acharecha l’ploni” to sell what he got. “Acharecha l’ploni” means that the gift was given with the stipulation that after the recipient dies, so-and-so will get it. However, that is so long as the original recipient does not sell it to anyone. After all, the property was given to him as a full-fledged gift, so he can do with it as he pleases; no different than any other owner. Therefore, if he sells it, the sale is completely binding and Mr. So-and-So loses out.
Legally binding it may be, but nice it is not. The giver’s intent was that so-and-so should get it after the original recipient dies, and by advising the latter to sell, this shrewd rasha succeeded in causing the giver’s intention to become anulled and ploni to lose out.
There is no indication as to the relative ages of the individuals involved in this interesting triangle. What if the giver of the present said, “I am giving this property to you, and after you, Mr. Salinger”, and it just so happens that Mr. Salinger is ninety years old and ailing? The one who got the gift is thirty years old and in the best of health. It seems pretty clear from the Gemara that it doesn’t matter. The advisor is still called a shrewd rasha.
But you know what? You don’t even have to go there. Even if the initial recipient of the gift was, let’s say, forty nine, and the “acharecha” guy is twenty five, there are no guarantees. Who’s to say that the twenty-five-year-old will definitely outlive the forty nine-year-old? Some people die at the age of one hundred and two and some people die at the age of fifty-four.
The whole thing to begin with is one big question mark – as far as Mr. Acharecha is concerned – and yet Mr. Advisor is called a shrewd rasha for getting involved in something that’s none of his business (see Rashbam in Bava Basra). So what’s pshat? Lichora, the pshat is that it’s a zechus. In the monetary sense of the word. Meaning, Mr. Acharecha has a certain right. A title. He has something. Is that zechus contingent on a particular set of circumstances and not necessarily a surefire thing? Yes, that’s true. But that doesn’t change the fact that a zechus, a title and claim, it still is. And Mr. Advisor terminated it. So he’s called a shrewd rasha.
Now let’s think about this on the flipside. Midah tovah merubah. The parallel good side of the coin is always of a much greater intensity than the negative side (by five hundred times!). You want to help someone. Say, perhaps, there’s a person in need and you get involved in fundraising. Along your route, there comes to your attention an interesting potential. A friend of yours is a paralegal who is involved and tasked with acting as curator of the estates of many wealthy people who passed. Will execution. It can be an involved (and even ugly) process; but usually it’s straightforward enough.
However, it can sometimes happen that the deceased did not provide instructions that are all that clear. In such situations there’s a lot of wiggle room. Particularly as far as charitable causes are concerned. And it just so happens that your friend is currently in the middle of one of those. So you mention to him the project that you’re working on. He mulls it over and tells you this, “If you go to such and such office and fill out the following paperwork, it will enter your organization’s name into the registry of potential beneficiaries. Once that’s done, I may be able to pull some strings that can give you high priority. It’s somewhat of a longshot, and it can take months or even years for anything to come of it, but perhaps it’s worth the effort.”
So you go for it. Why not? It’s not like you have any other serious leads to work on right now.
As it turns out, nothing ever came of it. The heirs of the estate ramped up their active interest in every tiny detail of the legal proceedings and wound up blocking any forwarding of funds to charitable institutions that were not explicitly listed in the will. “Oh well,” you think to yourself when you your friend called you those eight months later, “at least I tried. Trying is also something.”
That’s true, trying is in fact a big something. But in this case, he did much more than try. When he filed for his organization to be registered as a potential beneficiary of the estate, at that moment a certain legal right was acquired. A number of particulars would need to fall into place for the hoped-for results to come about, but no matter what, a zechus was obtained. Ok, so nothing tangible ever came of the zechus. But this is not like a phone call from which nothing ever came. This was a bona-fide zechus. And he is credited for that.
If Mr. Advisor of the Gemara’s storyline is called a shrewd rasha for taking away a zechus that may have anyway never materialized into a tangible benefit for Mr. Acharecha, then it only stands to reason that all the more so that Mr. Paralegal and Mr. Fundraiser in our story-line are called clever tzaddikim. They get full credit for having actually given something to the person whom they were trying to help, despite the fact that said help never materialized into a tangible benefit.
And the same is true – perhaps with even another kol sheh’kein – in ruchniyus. Parents put so much into their children. They literally invest the best years of their lives into their children’s future. And if that is true of many Gentile or secular parents, how much more so of frum, Jewish parents. For the frum, Jewish parent, a child is to a great extent the whole center and focus of life around which everything else revolves.
When all is said and done, though, there are no guarantees. Avraham avinu had a Yishamel, Yitzchak avinu had an Eisav, and Chizkiyahu Ha’Melech had a Menashe. At the end of the day, what we are really doing with our children is sowing. Sowing the seeds of Torah, yiras Shamayim, good middos. And our most fervent hope and prayer is that those seeds should germinate and grow into mighty cedars, beautiful flower gardens, and luscious orchards.
Of course, we pour out our hearts – both inwardly and outwardly – to our own Father in Heaven that He should make all of our efforts bear the sweet fruit for which we so long. But we do not have guarantees. One of the most crushing blows a person can receive is to experience the disappointment of “amaleinu, eilu ha’banim”. And this is not only talking about parents who, albeit well-meaning, may have inadvertently driven their child towards the wrong direction by superimposing on him or her an image and form that does not at all reflect who that child really is. This can also happen, chalila v’chas, even in the most wholesome environments, wherein each child is unconditionally loved, respected, and guided as an individual. Because there are so many factors that are completely not in our control. Friends. School. Experiences. The child’s own yeitzer hara and koach of bechira.
What is important, perhaps critical, for parents to remember in such heartbreaking situations in order to retain their own, internal equilibrium, is that if chalila a child does not turn out the way we had hoped, it is not a reflection of personal failure. Yes, a child being in distress – whether physical or spiritual – is heartrending, and nothing can be said to alleviate such pain. But what a parent should bear in mind is that you did give to your child no matter what. A zechus – in this context in every sense of the word – that was real and actual. That certain, particular stipulations that were needed for that zechus to materialize into a tangible benefit did not come about, does not change this reality one iota. By sowing those seeds, you did give to him something of enormous, incalculable value. And one who does that is truly deserving of being called a great, clever tzaddik.
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 email@example.com.