By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 16 – Reishis, To the Before and After
It’s an unhappy machlokes. If a divorce is going to happen, everyone involved hopes that at least it will go as cleanly and smoothly as possible. Unfortunately, though, that is often not the case, and the subject of the first Mishna of our current perek is no exception. The husband is trying to get away with the minimal amount of “severance pay” as he can. He contends that when they married, she was an almanah and that her kesubah is therefore only one hundred zuz. She insists vociferously, though, that she was in fact a besulah and he must pay her the full two hundred zuz.
One of the ways this uncomfortable controversy can be resolved is by substantiating that certain customs where performed at the chasunah.
The Mishna mentions the two customs of the kallah being adorned with a hinumah and the distribution of sweet, roasted wheat kernels. The Braisah adds a few more, one of which is the act of passing before the kallah a kos shel besorah. This is one of those things that was done specifically for a besulah and therefore can serve as proof to her claim.
According to Rav Ada bar Ahava, this kos shel besorah is a cup of terumah wine. Rav Papa explains the significance: this one is reishis just like terumah is reishis. Meaning, this is the first time this kallah is getting married, thus clearly establishing that she is in fact a besulah.
But why couldn’t they just do something like hold up a sign with the number one written on it in big, bold script?
It seems pretty reasonable to posit that the fact that they used terumah wine as the indication of her status as a besulah carries implications that go beyond the simple indication that this is her first marriage.
Terumah is called reishis, it is the first. This has two facets to it: it is the first to what follows, and it is the first to what preceded it. It is the first to what follows it because you separate Terumah before separating any of the other maasros. But it is also the first to what preceded it in the sense that this is the first culmination of all the preparation and work that went into producing it.
There is no question that a major part of the whole mitzvah of terumos and maasros is the unequivocal declaration that “from Your hand have they given to You, for from You is everything.” A farmer has to work really hard, and for a long time, before he can get to the point where he can enjoy the fruits of his labors. He has to plow, plant, fertilize, weed, reap, and on and on in order to get to that point. And when he has finally gotten to that point, the Torah tells him “first things first”. The first thing you do with this is set aside the cheilek la’Hashem, be mafrish terumah and demonstrate your awareness of the fact that, with all of your intense labor, it is from the beracha of Hashem that you received all of this.
What we see, then, is that the reishis of terumah is not a beginning that exists in a vacuum; rather, it is a reishis that came before it a whole, extended process to get to this point. And the reishis of a besulah is the same.
When a new couple gets married, it is an amazingly fresh, new beginning. They get mechilas avonos because they are turning a completely fresh, new page in life. Finally they have unified and become the full tzuras ha’adam that they were always meant to be, and the merged unit is as a biryah chadasha, a brand new entity.
This powerful sense of hischadshus and reishis is very important and beneficial to the new couple. It affords them the ability to set wonderful goals and ideals for themselves, and to be able to incorporate and inculcate behaviors and habits that will serve as a strong springboard in that direction.
With that, it is equally important to be aware of the fact that this reishis does not exist in a vacuum. An incredible amount of hachana preceded it, and all that preparation was inextricably necessary to bring them both to this summit of their union. Years and years of experiences, familial interactions, education, friendships, teachers, environments, opportunities. All that, and so much more, went into making each one of them who they are, the soul mates that they are to one another, and facilitating the bris nisuin into which they are entering with one another.
Understanding that is not only an appreciation of the phenomenal, unfathomable Hashgacha pratis that went into making this moment – and everything that will follow therefrom – happen, but it also furnishes each of them with a mindset that will facilitate their successful navigation of this new journey called marriage upon which they are now embarking.
For there are bound to be points along the way at which either one discovers a sense of frustration at this that or the other regarding the other. Different people have different backgrounds, upbringings, and ways of doing things, and that can sometimes pose a challenge to a harmonious relationship. Recognizing, though, that everything, but everything about your spouse is not coincidental can go a long way in helping you to deal with that challenge. When you remember that every single step along the way to this point was deliberately engineered by the Ribbono shel Olam – specifically to fashion the spouse that is just right for you – you’ll have a lot easier time meeting that challenge and persevering through it. Because you will realize that, ultimately, all these “bumps” in the road are not bumps at all, but the opportunities to truly forge your relationship and bring it to the next level.
Yes, marriage is a reishis. It is the reishis of everything that preceded and led up to it, and is therefore a reishis for the practically unlimited potential of all that will follow. And the potential is yours to actualize.
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.