By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 122 – A Glimpse into Shalom Ba’Olam
You saw someone standing at a distance, on top of a mountain, and the latter was yelling, “So and so the son of so and so from such and such place has died.” By the time you got there to investigate, whomever it was calling out that message was gone. Vanished without a trace. It suffices, though, says the Mishna, to allow the wife of the subject of that message to remarry. This is what the Mishna refers to as masi’in al pi bas kol, we allow a woman to remarry on the basis of a bas kol.
The Gemara asks why we do not have to be concerned that the one who did the yelling was a sheid, in which case we certainly cannot rely on it to allow the woman to remarry. The answer the Gemara gives is that we’re talking about a case where you saw that the one doing the yelling had a shadow and a secondary shadow which sheidim do not have. Based on a later statement of the sugyah, there is a big discussion in the Poskim if this requirement is necessary l’halacha or not. Some Poskim hold that even if you heard a voice without seeing anyone at all, that is good enough.
What is clear, though, is that the term bas kol in this context is not referring to a Heavenly voice, as opposed to how Chazal generally employ the term. The question, of course, then begs to be asked: if so, why does the Mishna use this term over here? Why not just say someone heard a voice (kol)? Why use the term bas kol, which usually means a voice coming straight from Shamayim, if that is not what we’re talking about over here?
Before we proceed with attempting to resolve that question, let’s consider another.
Until this last Daf of the Masechta, practically every sugyah has been taking it for granted that the testimony of one witness suffices to allow a woman to remarry. Even if that one witness is a woman or eved who are generally pasul l’eidus. All of a sudden, in the penultimate Mishna of the Masechta, we suddenly are told that this actually started off as a raging Machlokes amongst the Tannaim! When Rabi Akiva visited the Diaspora, Nechemia Ish Beis Dli asked him if it’s true that Rabi Yehudah ben Bava is the only one in Eretz Yisrael allowing agunos to remarry on the basis of one witness. Rabi Akiva corroborated the truth of that rumor. Nechemia then told Rabi Akiva that he should tell all the Chachamim of Eretz Yisrael that he personally heard from Rabban Gamliel Ha’Zakein that the halacha is that one witness is enough to allow a woman to remarry. The Mishna goes on to describe that nonetheless there was a machlokes whether a woman’s testimony, or that of an eved or shifcha, can suffice.
At some point, the Mishna states, the accepted psak became that we accept the testimony of basically anyone. But, initially, that was far from being a simple matter. It was the subject of a great dispute. So why was this information “suppressed” until now? In terms of a logical, conceptual procession, wouldn’t it have made more sense to first teach us about the machlokes, the subsequent development of the consensus psak, and then go into all the various cases in which we can or cannot apply this psak, what the exceptions are, etc.?
I don’t know if this really answers the question, but here is what occurred to me as a result of this apparent order reversal.
A woman who became an agunah during the time period in which the machlokes Tannaim was still raging must have had an awfully difficult situation on her hands. It’s hard enough to garner a single testimony that could potentially allow her to remarry, and, beyond that, it was far from a given that the Beis Din she would go to would be willing to accept that testimony. Perhaps if she was a knowledgeable and savvy individual, she would know to whom to forward such a shailoh. Still, travel was no simple endeavor back then, and it may have been quite some time before she’d be able to make the trip to Rabi Yehudah ben Bava’s Beis Din. Particularly if she had small children to care for.
And if she wasn’t knowledgeable or savvy, she may have gone to whichever Beis Din was closest to her and received a negative response. Maybe at some later point, she would hear from a friend or relative that “there is a great Rav in the North who will give you a heter.” Well, at that point, even if she would make it out there, it would be no simple matter even for Rabi Yehudah ben Bava to proffer the heter, because a general rule is that once one Rav has paskened something to be assur, a different Rav cannot reverse that ruling, save for certain, limited circumstances.
B’kitzur, while this machlokes was still ongoing, it was a difficult, highly complex situation for any woman who would have the misfortune to become an agunah. In stark contrast, a woman living in the time when the psak of relying on just about anyone’s testimony was already widespread and accepted, would have a relatively much smoother and simpler ordeal. A tragic ordeal, definitely; but infinitely less complex than her counterparts in the previous generation.
When you think about it this way, in real time and real life, you cannot help but be struck by the dichotomy. It is almost confounding to consider the fact that whereas one woman may have had to climb the figurative Mount Everest to get her heter (or may never have gotten a heter!), a woman in the same exact situation just a few years later got hers as easy and simply as one two three. You cannot help but wonder, mah zeh v’al mah zeh – what is this all about?! Where is the rhyme and reason to this seemingly grossly imbalanced picture?
And the answer, of course, is that we just don’t know. We are not privy to the inner workings of the Hashgacha as to why woman A had to go through gehinnom and back to get her heter – on top of her tragedy of being widowed! – and woman B was able to get hers with no problem at all. To us it seems like a random throw of the dice. As though woman A just had the misfortune of being born in a time that would place her later in life in the thick of the controversy, whereas woman B lucked out to be in the right place at the right time.
But, of course, we realize that nothing could be further from the truth. Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, assigns each person precisely the challenges and life circumstances that they need to be in and go through for whatever tikun it is that they need to make. Every single person’s life is mapped and planned out from the very beginning. Not only that, but it is all somehow intertwined into one great, infinitely complex structure.
Although we do not understand why or how, that machlokes Tannaim had to occur as a precursor to what would eventually become the accepted psak. The latter was contingent on the former. Likewise, woman A having to go through what she had to go through was a necessary prerequisite to woman B being able to have it relatively so easy. Ultimately, Klal Yisrael is all one and the events of all our independent lives do not exist separately from one another. There is an inherent unity to it all.
And it is the Hashgacha of Ha’Kadosh baruch Hu which is the glue that binds it all together.
When the Mishna speaks of relying on a voice of some unidentified person to allow a woman to remarry, it calls it a bas kol. The reason for this, I think, is that, ultimately, everything that happens in our lives is a message from Hashem. No, we do not always understand what the message is, but we definitely do know that it is there. The significance of this – even in the absence of conscious understanding – is that we know that the guiding hand of Hashgacha is a constant presence in our lives. We are not living in a random, inexplicable vacuum of chance and coincidence. That awareness in of itself makes accepting and dealing with our life circumstances and challenges a whole lot easier and more meaningful.
Furthermore, the more we incorporate conscious awareness of this fact into our lives, the clearer those messages become. We’re not talking about behavior befitting a superstitious, mumbo-jumbo-nik; nothing of the sort. On the contrary, we’re talking about a very intellectual and intuitive awareness and careful consideration of the clear road-markers and indications that Hashem provides for us throughout. We will never be able to plumb the infinite depths of the Hashgacha, but we definitely can begin to see how the seemingly disparate pieces fit together. We start to get a glimpse of the shalom ba’olam that is generated through Klal Yisrael’s tenacious commitment to Torah and mitzvos and the unwavering Yad Hashem that spans throughout the sands of time. Being aware of that and consciously incorporating into how we live our lives provides us with a tremendous chizuk to continue onward until the ultimate Shalom Ba’Olam will shine forth with its full brilliance and clarity. Sheh’yehei bimeheirah b’yameinu.
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.