By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 88 – The Blessing of Miscommunications
Tosafos points out a fascinating kashya.
Two eidim tell someone, “You ate cheilev”. He responds, “No, I did not”. According to the Rabbanan, he is patur from bringing a korban chatas. The reason, explained the Gemara (end of 87b), is “What if he would want to say ‘I did eat cheilev, and it was b’meizid!”. Since there is no way for the eidim to say that he definitely did it b’shogeig, he is believed over them.
The kashya that Tosafos asks on this is, but the rule is that a migo does not work to contradict eidim?!
What is a migo? Essentially, it is that we have no choice but to believe the defendant when he says A, because he could have said B which without question would have been an indisputable contention.
That certainly seems to be what is at work over here, at least at first glance. We have no choice, according to the Rabbanan, to believe this person that he did not eat cheilev, since he could have unquestionably evaded the chatas-obligation by saying “I ate the cheilev b’meizid”. That is what seems to be pshat in this Gemara. But if that is the case, argues Tosafos, we have a serious problem since the rule is that a migo does not work to contradict two eidim!
Tosafos therefore proffers a completely different pshat in what the Rabbanan are saying. What they meant, says Tosafos, when they said “What if he would want to say ‘I did it b’meizid”, is that we are actually understanding his words “I did not eat cheilev” in that manner. When he said, “I did not eat cheilev”, what he meant is, “I did not eat cheilev b’shogeig, rather b’meizid”.
Before your eyebrows raise too high, think for a moment how many times in your own life you have had this type of miscommunication with someone? He said something to you, you though it meant one thing, and it turned out that it really meant something totally different!
“Communication misunderstandings are so common”, said a very clever entrepreneur, “that I have made it an ingrained habit to almost always double-check by asking, ‘Is this what you meant?”.
The conundrum of communication-misunderstandings is not selective. It happens between friends, coworkers, spouses, parents with children, and the list goes on. There is an obvious “Warning! Danger!” facet to the fact that this is so, in that we ought to be careful how we express ourselves in order to preclude miscommunications as much as possible (and do double-checking like that clever entrepreneur).
However, there is also a facet to this that is very encouraging, and even liberating.
So often we find ourselves almost enslaved to thoughts and feelings of angst as a result of something someone said to us, or something we heard about someone else. These negative reactions create an extremely significant amount of unhealthy stress in our lives, and can literally rob us of our peace of mind, sense of happiness, and satisfaction.
Think about it, how many high moments in our lives have been shattered and ruined just because of the reactionary-angst to something upsetting that someone said (or did)?
So, the encouraging – and, yes, even liberating – facet to this human condition is that we do not have to be chained down to our initial perceptions. When we incorporate the recognition that “it is wholly possible that he just meant the exact opposite of what I just understood”, we are empowered to not get worked up, stressed out, and upset over things. Being aware that misunderstandings and miscommunications are such an inherent part of our humanity affords us the ability to remain calm and collected in the overwhelming majority of situations.
Because, in truth, so often what you just heard was not at all what he just said. And that can be a great blessing.
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.