By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 10 – The Cup is Half Full
Today’s sugyah is a great example of how important it is to understand the difference between theory and practice. In the theoretical discussion of the halacha, someone who claims that he found a pesach pasuach or that he did not find dam besulin is believed, under certain circumstances, to either make his wife forbidden to him forever, or cause her to lose her kesubah, or both. However, when such cases came before the Tannaim and Amoraim, we get a totally different vantage point.
A guy who was just married for the first time who made such a claim was given a flogging by order of Rav Nachman because how in the world could he know about such things?! A man who came to Rabban Gamliel was told, “Perhaps you did hatayah?” Rebbi had the mitzvah cloth carefully laundered which revealed a few drops of dam besulin. Rabban Gamliel used an ingenious technique of having the kallah sit on a barrel of wine. He did a “field test” with shefachos first to make sure it actually works before subjecting the kallah to this somewhat embarrassing situation. And so on and so forth.
Perhaps this is a big part of what Chazal meant when they said gadol shimushah yoseir mi’limudah, that serving a Talmid Chacham is greater than learning Torah; because when you are around a Posek in real-time, that is when you are zocheh to really see how halacha is applied l’maaseh. Without that, it is to a great extent just limud, theoretical study.
One of these interesting, real-life cases went as follows. A man came to Rabban Gamliel Ha’Zakein and claimed that he did not find any dam besulin. The kallah responded in her defense that she is from the family known as Durketi whose women do not have dam nidah or dam besulin. Rabban Gamliel made inquiries of other women in that family and was thus able to corroborate her claim. He then told the chassan, “Go and be zocheh in your acquisition. Fortunate are you that you had the merit to marry a woman from the Durketi family!”
The Gemara then brings a machlokes whether that last statement was for real or if it was just a way of making the guy feel happy. Rabi Chanina holds that, since Rabi Chiyah says that a woman not having dam is an indication that she will have few or no children, Rabban Gamliel could not have really meant what he said. Rabi Yosi bar Avin goes so far as to change the narrative of the account, and that really what Rabban Gamliel said to the guy is, “Accept the penance that has come your way.” Rabi Yirmiyah bar Abba, on the other hand, insists that the text remains as we originally had it, and he further holds that Rabban Gamliel meant what he said and genuinely considered it a zechus for that guy that he married such a woman.
“Why?,” asks the Gemara, “because this way he will never have any issues of safeik nidah, he’ll never have any doubts as to whether or not his wife is asurah to him.”
So, how do we pasken? At the end of the day, do we hold like Rabi Yosi bar Avin that this guy’s situation is a negative thing, or like Rabi Yirmiyah bar Abba that it is positive? Well, the Rif, when he quotes this Gemara, brings the original language of Rabban Gamliel’s statement (that he called it a zechus) and completely leaves out the ensuing discussion. Ditto for the Rosh.
Apparently, then, the Rif and the Rosh both hold that we accept the original statement at face value, that such a situation is to be considered a good thing.
Now, obviously no-one would consider it a zechus to only be able to have few children, and certainly not if he cannot have any children (see mefarshim as to why the man did not claim mekach taus). That being the case, shouldn’t we say that both points are true? It is a negative situation vis a vis the fertility issue, and a positive situation as far as safeik-nidus is concerned.
Why, then, does it seem that Chazal are making it out to be either one way or the other?
This brings us to the old “cup half full or half empty” mashal. Now, a cup which is half full and half empty is just that, it is both half full and half empty. Factually speaking, it is not completely accurate to say it is half full as if to imply it is not half empty. Likewise, it is not factually accurate to say it is half empty as if to imply that it is not half full. And, yet, we seem to have no problem accepting this allegoric concept as a matter of course.
For good reason.
You see, apparently, that is just the way we are; at least, most of us that is. Perhaps all of us. But definitely at least most of us. Maybe our cold intellect is in fact able to hold both of these disparate descriptions in mind at the same time, but when it comes to how we feel about the situation, it is one way or the other. Either you feel that the cup is half full or you feel that it is half empty. And when you have that choice, it would seem that the way we pasken at the end of the day is to choose half full.
Does this mean that a person is never meant to take note of events in his life that clearly seem to be a sign of chastisement from Above, since, after all, you are always going to see everything in a positive light? Of course not. Chazal tell us in a very unambiguous way that when unfavorable things happen in our lives, we are meant to take stock of ourselves and see what needs fixing or improvement.
What it does mean, though, is that one does not have to jump at every little (or even big) disappointment and immediately cry out, “Foul! Oh how I suffer so!” Because many things, perhaps most, that happen in life differently than we would have liked or planned are not yissurim at all but a blessing, pure and true. It is just a matter of how we look at it. Do we see the cup half empty because we were expecting and wanted it to be 100% full, or do we see the cup half full because it is the positive in life upon which we always want to be focused?
When you start to look at life this way, not only does so much of that which we may have thought to be negative suddenly shine forth as good and positive, but even those things that really are meant as a wake-up call from Above we come to understand in the proper light. That it is not that Hashem is out to get us, chalilah, but that He is providing us with the tough love that we need to get us back on the path that is best for us. And even when we are unable to comprehend how it is for our best, the disposition to seeing the cup half full will strengthen our emunah that, in fact, everything that Hashem does for us is ultimately for our good.
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.