By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 21 – L’kulah or L’chumrah?
In one way it’s a chumra but in another way it’ll come out a kulah. The Gemara explains that Rebbi unequivocally holds that when the two witnesses signed on the shtar come to confirm that they in fact are the eidim of this shtar, it is not the subject matter of the shtar, per se, upon which they are now testifying; rather, it is their signatures that they are authenticating. Therefore, it is not enough to have each witness substantiate his own signature. Each signature needs two witnesses to testify that it is valid. If each witness can do so for his fellow witness’s signature in addition to his own, then that suffices. If he can only authenticate his own signature, though, it is necessary to find a third party to come and provide the second testimony for each of the signatures.
That is where Rebbi’s shitah comes out l’chumrah. However, in the event that one of the witnesses (signed on the shtar) is dead, shitas Rebbi will come out l’kulah.
The Rabbanan, who hold that it is the subject matter of the shtar which is being authenticated, will have to require an additional two witnesses to testify in lieu of the dead witness. Otherwise, the extent of the living witness’s influence on the judicial conclusion will be disproportionate. The reason for this is as follows. Since it is the subject matter of the shtar itself which is being authenticated, the living witness does not need anyone else’s help for his half thereof. If he would also help with the other half of the authentication process (by testifying together with an additional witness that the dead witness’s signature is valid), that would effectively mean that 75% of the psak din is based on his say-so. Since that is considered disproportionately influential, an additional two witnesses are required to substantiate the dead witness’s signature without any involvement of the living witness.
Rebbi, though, who holds that it is the signatures that are being authenticated, will not require an additional two witnesses in this scenario. One will suffice. Why? Because, don’t forget, according to Rebbi it is each signature that requires two witnesses. So, when the living witness substantiates his own signature, he still needs the help of the additional witness to do so as well. When the two of them go ahead and substantiate the dead witness’s signature as well, it comes out that the total influence of the living witness is 50%, which is just right.
This idea, that a particular shitah will sometimes come out l’chumrah and sometimes l’kulah, is a common theme throughout all of Shas. Oftentimes, we begin a sugyah with the impression that one of the opinions is the machmir and the other the meikil, only to discover that in a slightly different scenario it is just the opposite! When it all comes down to it, it is the underlying logical argument that is the arbiter of what the halacha will be in any given situation. Sometimes the situation is such that the one’s sevara will mandate a chumrah and the other’s a kulah, and sometimes it is the opposite.
This is true not only in halacha, but in life in general as well. In each detail of life’s rainbow-spectrum of issues, we take up a certain position. And that position that we take, if we are to be consistent, can sometimes make life easier for us and sometimes more challenging. Let’s focus in on one small example to crystalize the concept a bit more in our minds.
Someone comes to you to ask for a favor. He needs to borrow money but the gemach will only proffer the loan if he has guarantors signed on the loan document. “Would you please be willing to sign arvus,” he wants to know. Now, you are the cautious type, and the idea of signing as a guarantor on a loan (particularly the way it’s commonly done nowadays as areiv kablan), does not really sit well with you. You demur. This happens a few more times until this tendency concretizes into policy. “I am sorry. I b’shitah never sign arvus.” That becomes your standard line.
In the situations in which you are the one being requested to sign arvus, this position of yours makes life a lot easier for you. You never have to worry that perhaps some day some gemach is going to come knocking on your door demanding payment of an outstanding loan. You have peace of mind.
However, when the roles are reversed, and one can never know if and when that will happen, this position can all of a sudden become a real sharp thorn in your side. Whether it is only an issue of dealing with your own internal sense of discomfort asking someone else to sign arvus when you yourself never do, or perhaps even the practical difficulty of finding someone willing to do so since many people may be aware of your shitah, it is difficult. Once the situation has been altered, your position that you took is having the opposite effect that it had before.
Now, just to clarify, by no means is this meant to imply that one should or should not sign arvus. Logical, compelling arguments can be made in either direction on that score, and the golden rule is that a person needs to be discerning and prudent in the way he conducts himself in addition to being kind and caring. The point being made in this context, is that being aware of this kind of inverse relationship in terms of the positions we take in life is important. First of all, it is important in helping us to make decisions and choose our positions based on a mature, objective assessment and not based on what may seem to be the path of least resistance. Because what may seem to be the path of least resistance now, may prove to put up quite a fight later on. Being aware of this fact is a decent, albeit perhaps relatively minor, impetus to make our decisions based on correct, valid criteria and considerations.
Not at all less significant, though, is the awareness in of itself. This can be explained with a quote that Rabbi Pesach Krohn said in the name of his Rebbetzin: “Whenever you say yes to one thing, it means you are saying no to another.” We are only human, and our time and resources is limited.
So you get a call from the local chesed organization if you can play an active role in the upcoming drive. Doing chesed is a mitzvah, you enjoy it, and how could you turn down such a sincere request for such an important cause. So, of course, you say yes. But, wait! Did you stop to consider the potential inverse affect that that is going to have on everything else going on in your life, particularly your family life? If you didn’t, then you haven’t considered all the angles necessary to come to a proper decision.
Again, this is not at all about whether you should or should not accept such requests. Each individual needs to assess such things based on a host of factors, not the least of which being his particular strengths, weaknesses, talents, limitations, and life circumstances. But that is precisely the point! You see, to make a decision based on a narrow view of only what is facing you right now at this moment, means that you may very well be shortchanging yourself; or significant others. For it may seem in the moment, given the current circumstance, that this is the best, most appropriate, or easiest thing for you to do; but if you would pause to consider all of the ramifications of the issue, you may reconsider.
In a nutshell, to really be empowered to make the right decisions and take up fitting positions, one needs to remember that there will almost never be anything that is always going to be l’kulah or l’chumrah. Sometimes it will be l’kulah and sometimes it will be l’chumrah. Being aware of that fact and all the sweeping, practical repercussions it entails is what can really arm you with the power to make correct decisions and assume suitable positions.
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.