By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 29 – Personal Rights
The Gemara is bothered by the fact that the Mishna says, “These are the maidens who receive knas,” and only proceeds to enumerate those who either have some type of pesul or drawback, or whose union is otherwise forbidden. Is this to say, asks the Gemara, that only pesulos get knas and regular ksheiros do not? No, of course not! Rather, answers the Gemara, what the Mishna means to say is, “These are the naaros pesulos who get knas…”.
On the Mishna, Rashi elaborated on this point by explaining that it is regarding the pesulos that the Tanna felt a need to expound. In other words, regular naaros ksheiros is no chiddush that they get knas, so there isn’t much reason to even talk about them. But, pesulos, that is a big chiddush, as we see from the Gemara on amud beis, that we would have thought to say that only a naarah who is potentially suitable to be his wife should get knas (since the pasuk says “and she shall be to him a wife”).
This parsha of knas is one of the many halachos in the Torah that clearly and emphatically delineates individual rights. In other words, the Torah does not allow a man to just do as he pleases, thereby violating the personal individuality of a hapless woman, and get away with it. The Torah first of all penalizes him for his base and boorish act; and, in addition, compels him to accept full responsibility for his victim’s well-being for the rest of his life. If she and her father are agreeable, he is compelled to take her as a wife and is never allowed to divorce her against her will. If you think about that (without all the contemporary, “politically correct” baggage that we carry), that is one really serious consequence!
And the very first list of people, about whom the Mishna teaches us this lesson of personal rights, is comprised of those individuals who would otherwise tend to be looked upon as the misfits or even outcasts of society. Mamzeres, Nesina, Kusis. Not exactly from the high-ups on the social ladder, are they?
The inescapable implication of this is that there is no excuse to write someone off just because that person may be carrying an irreversible handicap. Although a mamzeres and the others most definitely have been dealt a difficult hand in life, that is no reason to deem them generally insignificant and/or unworthy. Whatsoever. Although the violator cannot take them as a wife, the knas he still must pay.
And the fact that the Mishna puts them first makes it clear as day that we are enjoined to treat their knas with as much seriousness as we do regular ksheiros. Perhaps even more so.
This person is alive. That means that Hashem obviously wants them to be alive. That means that their existence carries purpose and potential just as anyone else’s does. Whatever limitations or handicaps they have, they have. That, for whatever reason unbeknownst to us mortals, is the nisayon with which the Almighty has charged them. It is their personal gateway to the individual tikun that they, and only they are meant to bring about.
And that is the only right way to look at it.
Do they have a pesul, some form of drawback or irreversible restriction? Yes. But does that mean that the person is pasul? Absolutely not! All it means is that that drawback is what they, and their loved ones, were given with which to struggle and through which to persevere. Personal worth, though, is no less theirs than anyone else’s. And that is something that as a Torah society we must never forget. Because as a Torah society, our insistence on the rights and privileges of every single Yid – regardless of situation or stature, handicaps or lack thereof – must be absolute and uncompromising. For every single one is a child to our Father in Heaven.
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.