By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 111 – Child-rearing, Only for Children?
The yavam did yibum with the yevama. The interesting thing, though, is that the yevama is an adult and the yavam is still a katan, not yet bar mitzvah. The Mishna says that they can stay together. A whole discussion ensues in the Gemara as per why this is the case, seeing that a katan cannot father children and the pasuk clearly indicates that yibum is all about providing a continuity for the deceased.
Abayei says the fact that the pasuk says “her yavam” (as opposed to “the deceased’s brother” -Tosafos-) implies even ayavam kol d’hu; meaning whatever he is, even a katan. Rava holds you don’t need to come onto that. We already have a derasha from the words “ki yeishvu achim yachdav” that any brother who was alive when the husband died is subject to doing yibum.
In any event, the Mishna is clear that this is the halacha; they can stay together. They also must stay together, at least for the time being, because once yibum is done, she is fully married to him and a katan cannot give a get.
The way the Mishna says this halacha, though, is quite interesting: tegadlenu. That literally means, she shall raise him. In the context of what the Mishna is talking about, the way to understand this is that she is stuck with him and therefore effectively has no choice but to raise him.
Kind of funny, isn’t it? This kid is her husband, full-fledged, and yet she needs to raise him as if she was his mother. That cannot be an easy job. Anyone who has experience with raising boys knows that boys – even as young as four or five years old – often have a strong tendency to try to be domineering even with the woman who really is their mother! Now, the boy in our sugyah is strong enough and intelligent enough to know how to carry out yibum. He most certainly realizes what he did and what he now is to this woman. He is her husband. What’s the likelihood that he’ll readily submit to her child-rearing?
How can she pull this off?
In Mishlei (14:1), Shlomo Ha’Melech says, “Chachmos nashim bansah beisah, the wisdom of women builds her home.” Or, as Chazal say (Nidah 45b), “Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu placed extra understanding in women more than he put into men.”
She has a strong advantage over him. No, it won’t be easy. Perhaps ever. But, with her binah yeseirah, she can do it. She can find the way around his natural resistance and defenses by employing her unique wisdom and understanding.
This is a very good thing, because it isn’t only boys under bar mitzvah who can be in need of some child-rearing. Unfortunately, true maturity is sometimes a rare commodity amongst men, and a woman can be surprised to find herself in a situation wherein a not-insignificant amount of childish immaturity occupies a prominent place on his side of the marriage. This can be very trying, indeed. A wife is most definitely not a mother and she cannot just go ahead and “raise” her husband.
But she can raise him up.
In the sense of helping him to stretch and grow, and become big in the true sense. No, most definitely not in any direct, frontal type of way. She knows better than anyone how futilely doomed to failure such an approach would be. Rather, she can utilize the phenomenal gift of binah yeseirah to find the way to unlocking the potential within her husband’s heart.
Chazal tell us (Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu, 9) that an isha k’sheirah is osah ratzon baalah. Certainly, the pashut pshat is that she fulfills the will of her husband. But there is also a deeper meaning, she creates his will. So much of what he desires and for which he aspires is a direct result of his relationship with his wife. As the Medrash (Tanchuma) tells us about a tzadik who was married to a tzadeikes and a rasha who was married to a reshaah. Both couples got divorced and the tzadik wound up marrying the reshaah and the rasha wound up marrying the tzadeikes. Eventually the tzadik turned into a rasha, and the rasha turned into a tzadik. “From this we see,” concludes the Medrash, “that everything comes from the woman.”
As Rav Yaakov Weinberg put it, “If not for Sarah Schneerer, Torah would have been forgotten from Klal Yisrael. Because if it is businessmen or baseball players that women want to see in their husbands and sons, then that is what they will become. And if it is Talmidei Chachamim and ovdei Hashem that the women want, then that is what there will be.”
This is a good thing for us men, even those of us who genuinely do not deserve to be labeled as immature or childish. The fact of the matter is – as any intelligent, open-minded individual will readily recognize – that as much maturity as we may possess, we still have a lot of room to grow. In our sensitivity to others’ needs and understanding those needs, in our sense of appreciating the importance of strong, healthy relationships, in what it means to experience an emotion and deal with it, and many other ways as well. So, yes, it is a very good thing that women were endowed with this singular ability to raise us up. In the words of Rav Dovid Kaplan, an intelligent man will quickly learn to recognize the unique advantage of his wife’s binah yeseirah and rely on it heavily and often; particularly when it comes to child-rearing.
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 theParsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.