By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 87 – If It’s Not Geshmak, It’s Not Torah
Lichora, it’s a rock-solid kal v’chomer.
A Bas-Kohein who married a Yisrael is not allowed to eat terumah anymore. Even if the husband dies, if she has a child from him, she still cannot eat terumah. Let’s say she gets remarried to another Yisrael. This time around, she does not have any children. Then second husband also dies. She still cannot eat terumah. Why not? Because she still has a child from husband-Yisrael number one. The Gemara calls this “the child from the first one is as if a child from the second one”. Meaning, even though her most recent marriage with a Yisrael was without children and that second husband died, the child she had from the first husband is as if she had a child from the second husband in that it just as much prevents her from being able to eat terumah.
That is as far as her terumah-eating status is concerned.
When it comes to yibum, though, “the child from the first one is not as if a child from the second one”. Meaning, if a woman was married to husband number one and he died, but she had a child from him, and then she got remarried and husband number two also died – just the only difference is that # 2 didn’t have any children – she is subject to zikas yibum as a result of her second marriage. The fact that she has a child from her first husband does not remove the zikas yibum that the second marriage generates. Hence, regarding yibum, “the child from the first one is not as if a child from the second one”.
So, what do we have here so far? What we have is that regarding terumah we do say “the child from the first one is as if a child from the second one,” whereas regarding yibum we do not say “the child from the first one is as if a child from the second one”.
Based on this, we should have a solid kal v’chomer. By adding one more piece to the puzzle. Regarding terumah, “dead ones are not like live ones”. Meaning, a child who died does not have the same effect on its mother as a living child vis a vis her terumah-eating status. A Bas-Kohein who has a living child from her deceased Yisrael-husband may not eat terumah. But, if that child also died, she may once again eat terumah.
So, concludes the Gemara in its kashya, if when it comes to terumah where we do say “the child from the first one is as if a child from the second”, yet nevertheless “the dead ones are not like living ones”, how much more so regarding yibum – wherein we do not say “a child from the first one is as a child from the second one” – that the halacha ought to be that “dead ones are not like living ones”.
This would make it that if a woman’s husband died, although at the time of his death she had children from him and therefore was not subject to yibum or chalitza, if subsequently those children died, she would immediately become subject to yibum or chalitza!
The single refutation that the Gemara proffers on this kal v’chomer is, “That is what we learn from the pasuk, ‘Deracheha darchei noam v’chol nesivoseha shalom, Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” Explains Rashi, “This [woman] who had a child [at the time her husband died] and did not become subject to yibum, and she [therefore] married someone else, and then her child [from the deceased husband] died, if you will say that she [now] needs to do chalitza, behold she will become disagreeable to her [current] husband, therefore you have no choice but to say [that] ‘and a child he does not have’ means at the moment of death, and behold [at that moment] he has.”
To refresh our memory: for a woman to marry someone other than the yavam without doing chalitza is assur m’doraysah. A kal v’chomer is a fully binding limud. If a kal v’chomer is not refuted, the outcome thereof is as binding as any other din d’oraysah. What that means is that the yesod that the mitzvos of the Torah are darchei noam is a concept which is fully binding on the absolute, halachik, d’oraysah level! Darchei noam is not merely a nice idea or a fanciful goal, it is a fundamentally defining characteristic of the entire Torah. Actually, from the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah v’Chanukah 4:14) we see that it is the fundamental, defining characteristic of the Torah:
If one has to choose between ner beiso (=Shabbos candle) and ner Chanukah, or ner beiso and wine for Kiddush, ner beiso takes precedence because of the consideration of his shalom bayis, for behold the name of Hashem is erased (in the case of a woman suspected of infidelity) in order to make shalom between husband and wife. Great is shalom for the entire Torah was given to make shalom in the world as it says, “Deracheha darchei noam v’chol nesivoseha shalom”.
There is a critically important rule we can understand from this: If it’s not geshmak it’s not Torah. That is how Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky put it when expressing his disapproval for the trend of leaning towards chumros that were unheard of back in Europe, particularly those chumros that are accompanied with unhealthy nervousness.
Obviously that does not mean that one should desist from fulfilling a particular mitzvah or keeping a certain a halacha just because he does not find it enjoyable. Chas v’shalom. What it does mean, though, is that something is wrong with this picture. Very wrong. The world was specifically and deliberately engineered so that keeping Torah will generate unmatched pleasantness and sweetness to our lives. If it isn’t, then something about the way we are going about it is off.
Perhaps it may be that one davens in a Shul that is too speedy, too slow, too stoic, too lively, too crowded, or too sparse for his liking. Maybe he is learning bekius when really it is slow iyun that is what will give him satisfaction. Or the opposite. Perhaps she is doing too much by herself to get ready for Pesach, and it is overwhelming. Or maybe she doesn’t properly understand hilchos Shabbos and feels frustrated and overly constrained by her sense of confusion. It could be something as simple as a bar mitzvah boy not realizing that he is tightening his teffilin straps too much, or a young 13 year old girl not realizing that if she is feeling weak on Yom Kippur she should leave Shul and go home to take a nap (or an adult, in certain instances, for that matter).
The point is, that Torah is inherently geshmak. Very, very geshmak. If it doesn’t feel that way, then it means something needs to be tweaked about how we are going about it.
Imagine, by way of analogy, a boy who is learning how to swim. He is taught how to move his arms and legs, but when the instructor demonstrated how to move one’s head to the side to get air, the boy was daydreaming and didn’t catch that point. Well, what do you think is going to happen? He’s is obviously going to come to hate swimming with a passion. Every time he goes at it, he practically suffocates and inadvertently gulps down huge amounts of chlorinated, pool water! Not only will he come to harbor a serious loathing of swimming, he is going to be extremely bitter and resentful towards everyone involved in coercing him to swim! How terrible. Swimming is inherently a very enjoyable activity. Assuming you know how to do it right.
The nimshal is clear. If we don’t make sure that we and our children know how to do it right when it comes to Torah and mitzvos, the danger is enormous. And what a tragedy that would be! Because, inherently, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the entire world that can even come close to affording the incredibly amazing joy and sweetness that Torah and its mitzvos provides us.
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.