By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 43 – Acknowledging Our Deficiencies
The maskana is that we do have a proof from the Mishna. The reason, explains Rava, is that it doesn’t read properly if you take it at face value. How can it say, “Her wages and objects she found, even if she didn’t collect them until her father died, belong to her brothers (who inherit the father)”? From whom exactly is she collecting a found object?! Obviously, then, the way to understand what the Mishna means is as follows: Her wages are like objects that she finds. Just like when it comes to objects she finds they only go to her father (and his heirs) if she found them while he was alive, so too is it with her wages. If she found an object after her father already died, while she was being supported by her brothers, it definitely belongs to her, not her brothers. So too, since the Mishna put the two together, is it regarding her wages. Even though her brothers are providing her with shelter and sustenance, she gets to keep her earnings.
The underlying assumption of this exposition is that it is patently obvious that her brothers do not have any rights to objects that she finds, despite the fact that they are supporting her. Rashi explains why this is so: Even the father doesn’t inherently have any rights to objects that his daughter finds. Chazal enacted that, so long as a daughter is being supported by her father, any objects she finds are legally considered his property. Why did they make this takanah? In order to prevent a situation in which the father may come to resent his daughter, which could in turn cause him to cease supporting her; which, strictly speaking, he is not obligated to do.
In our contemporary society, we can have a hard time digesting such a statement. How could a father consider such a thing? To stop supporting his daughter?! What kind of a father is he?!
There is no question that a big part of the gap that exists in our understanding of the way things worked in earlier generations has to do with the yawning chasm vis a vis the material wealth that exists in our times, in incredibly stark contrast to bygone eras.
Could you imagine a widowed mother remarrying a man who would whisk her off to a faraway country, leaving her small children behind? Such a thing is absolutely unthinkable to us. But the fact is that such a thing could and did sometimes occur even within the past two hundred years. Back then, in many places, the poverty was so grinding that the death of the man of the house could leave his widow and orphans in a state of pikuach nefesh. Literally! A woman in such a situation could, and often would reason that if she refuses the offer of the one courting her, both she and her children will eventually likely succumb to hunger, freezing cold, and disease. If she accepts the offer, though, – as incredibly gut wrenching as it was – she will be provided for, and her young children will also have a much better chance of survival since the community will assume an acutely heightened sense of responsibility to provide for small children that have no father or mother to help them.
They did not love their children less back then. But the harsh reality of life with which they were faced was beyond any frame of reference that we could possibly conjure up. And that in turn necessarily and deeply affected their decision making process.
So, no, we cannot fathom how a father could consider divesting himself of the support of his daughter; but that is because we cannot fathom what life was like back then either.
Furthermore, even in our times, is there no such thing as adoption? Does it never happen that for one reason or another a parent or couple decides that they just cannot handle it? Do we automatically and categorically condemn such people in our minds? Or can we perhaps be prepared to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe they may have been faced with exceedingly mitigating circumstances that can make their decision understandable, albeit extremely unpalatable?
On top of all of this, there is also the fact that not everyone is so nice. There are some people that have a tough and selfish streak to them. Those people also become parents. Should the authority figures in their lives have tried harder to ensure their character refinement before allowing them to marry and have children? Perhaps. But that doesn’t change the fact that it happens that such people get married and have children without having had their characters refined sufficiently. And if you don’t enact legislation with this fact in mind – as distasteful as the implications of said legislation may be – you may eventually be faced with a far worse problem to deal with.
So what is the point of discussing all this? The point is to recognize that life is not perfect. People are not perfect. Despite the fact that we would prefer everything to always be rosy and sweet. And if we don’t accept a realistic outlook on our flaws and follies, on the less pleasant facets of ourselves, the people around us, and society as a whole, it can chas v’Shalom cause a lot of damage.
We don’t like to accept that these unpleasant sides exist, because it can make us feel disgusted. It can tend to give us a sense of, “Well, if that’s the case, then throw the whole thing out!” But that is a mistake. A big mistake. Admitting the weaker side of ourselves is not an admission of total disqualification. On the contrary, it is a supreme expression of gevurah. And it affords us the ability to do what we can to address those deficiencies and provide for the provision that will compensate therefor. That is part of the phenomenal life wisdom that we learn from Chazal. To be real. Very real. To not shy away from or ignore deficiencies and problems – whether on the individual or societal level – but to fully acknowledge them and take the necessary steps to deal with them. After all, isn’t that a primary part of what we are here for?
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.