By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 9 – Open and Shut…Or Is It?
An open barrel of wine. This is the analogy that the Yerushalmi employs to convey the physiological expectations vis a vis a bogeres, a girl who has already completely passed the transition stage of puberty. Initially, Tosafos understands this to be in complete contradiction to the opinion of Rabbeinu Chananel who holds that although a bogeres no longer has dam besulin, it is still possible for the chassan to make a potentially defamatory claim that he found a pesach pasuach because that state, according to Rabbeinu Chananel, does not occur just as a matter of age. The aforementioned Yerushalmi, posits Tosafos, certainly seems to be saying otherwise, in as much as it is likening the physiology of a bogeres to an open barrel of wine.
However, says Tosafos, it is possible to understand this analogy of the Yerushalmi in a manner that does not refute the shitah of Rabbeinu Chananel. That is, a sealed barrel of wine, min ha’stam, always is full of wine. That’s why it is closed and sealed. An open barrel of wine, though, sometimes contains wine in it and sometimes does not. So too does a bogeres sometimes still have dam besulin and sometimes not. Since it is wholly possible that she may be devoid of dam besulin as a result of her age, no allegation of non-discovery of dam besulin can be made against her, which is in perfect consonance with what Rabbeinu Chananel said.
An open barrel of wine versus a closed one.
Which one would you have thought is better?
It would seem that contemporary parlance has it that “open” is generally used in a positive light, whereas “closed” has more of a negative connotation to it. If the store is open we are delighted; if it is closed we feel frustrated and perhaps even angry. If the line is open, we can use it and reach whom we need to reach. If it is closed, we cannot.
This theme extends past places and things into the realm of people as well.
“He’s a closed book.” Although not an outright put-down, such a statement does tend to give off a slightly not-so-good feeling. Or perhaps even more than slightly. We want our children to be open with us. If they are closed, that is bad. “She has a very open and outgoing personality.” Wouldn’t most people consider that a plus on the shidduch resume?
Yes, it definitely seems that how we relate to the concepts of open versus closed is pretty much an open and shut case, isn’t it?
Interestingly enough, though, the Torah does not necessarily seem to share our assumption. In Mishlei (17:28), Shlomo Ha’Melech tells us, “Even a fool who remains silent will be considered wise.” In Avos (1:17), Chazal echo this point, “His son Shimon said, ‘All my days I grew up amongst the Chachamim and I have not found anything better for the body than silence.”
The Torah hints at what happened with Shlomis bas Divri and that Mitzri that Moshe killed, and clearly indicates as well that her disgrace had a lot to do with her gregarious, extroverted disposition and her behavior of extending warm greetings to everybody and anybody. Her son, from that unfortunate union, went down in history as having perpetrated one of the worst sins imaginable, giduf.
Even Dinah, who the Torah clearly designates as a very righteous person, is not spared a critical glance when her nature of curious outgoingness gets her into serious trouble with Shechem.
So what is this all supposed to mean?
Well, one thing that it definitely ought to do is get us to question our assumptions about how we relate to relative characteristics such as extroverted versus quiet, sociable versus reserved, and expressive versus discreet.
Recently, I saw an article in a frum publication (I don’t recall which one) wherein an interesting, albeit informal survey was reported. Many educators were questioned as to which qualities they felt were most representative of “good”, “great”, or “best” students. Descriptions such as, “outgoing, involved, active” came up again and again. This is quite telling. It may possibly indicate that as a society we have cultivated a certain bias for a particular character type over another, and this preference may not be on the mark.
Because, more often than not, a closed barrel of wine is full, whereas an open one is in a dubious situation.
Does that mean we should start discouraging behavior that is born of an outgoing, gregarious, and expressive temperament? No. Not necessarily. Such characteristics definitely have their place and can be used for the accomplishment of a tremendous amount of good.
What it definitely does mean, though, is that we should not allow ourselves to automatically assume that if someone is dynamic and animated that he or she must be good, great, nice, or wonderful.
Even more so, we should most definitely not allow ourselves to feel a knee-jerk sense of off-putting distance from someone who radiates an aura of being quiet and reserved. Although Thesaurus may have us believe that such characteristics are synonymous with standoffish, snobbish, and unfriendly; in fact, there could be nothing further from the truth.
If anything, what these characteristics would actually indicate, as a general rule, is a person possessed of a depth of internal content, healthy equilibrium, self-discipline, and strong consistency. A closed barrel full of fine wine. Such a person, despite not demonstrating a lively manner of proactively reaching out, can without a doubt be quite friendly, indeed, and an extremely valuable friend at that.