By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 51 – Mum’s the Word
“Chieftains withheld [their] words, and the palm [of their hands] do they place upon their mouth (Iyov 29:19).” This is the pasuk that Rav applied to Avuha d’Shmuel when he responded with silence to Rav’s kashya on him.
Avuha d’Shmuel had issued a statement that if a woman is violated, she becomes forbidden to her husband even if he is a Yisrael, because we have to be concerned that at some point the situation for her may have shifted from ohnes to ratzon. Rav challenged this statement based on the nusach of the kesubah, “If you will be captured, I will redeem you and bring you back to me.” The words “bring you back to me” clearly indicate that despite having been captured by people regarding whom it is a safe assumption to say that they did with her as they pleased, she is nevertheless permitted to resume living with her husband as before.
Upon being confronted with this kashya, Avuha d’Shmuel did not respond. He went silent. That is when Rav invoked the above pasuk. Because, really, explained Rav, Avuha d’Shmuel could have answered that it is specifically regarding a woman who is captured that we are lenient because we do not know with absolute certainty that she was in fact violated. In a case, though, where it is known with certainty that she was violated, there would be room for Avuha d’Shmuel to posit his position.
The implication, then, of Rav’s application of the above pasuk to Avuha d’Shmuel, is that really Avuha d’Shmuel had what to answer, but he decided to keep it to himself.
Now, did Avuha d’Shmuel actually know this answer yet for some reason decide to remain silent, or did he really not think of it; that the Gemara does not tell us. What is clear, though, is that Rav was not willing to allow a lingering impression that Avuha d’Shmuel was bested by his kashya. Rav made a point to indicate that, as far as he was concerned, Avuha d’Shmuel definitely had a good answer to say, just that for whatever reason he decided to remain silent.
There’s a story about Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that rings very similar to this Gemara. Rav Shlomo Zalman was asked by the hanhala of Yeshivas Kol Torah to come and deliver a trial shiur. They were considering hiring him as one of the Yeshiva’s maggidei shiur. The shiur was not only attended by the bachurim of the Yeshiva; the senior members of the hanhala were present as well. At one point in the shiur, one of the senior Roshei Yeshiva posed a kashya on an idea that Rav Shlomo Zalman was in the midst of developing. Rav Shlomo Zalman went quiet for a moment or two, and then said, “I erred.” He moved on to the next point in the shiur.
Upon returning home, Rav Shlomo Zalman informed his wife that he would most probably not be accepted for the position because of what happened – that he was unable to resolve the difficulty posed to him. However, very soon thereafter, that very Rosh Yeshiva came to Rav Shlomo Zalman’s house to inform him of the exact opposite. He was now officially employed by Yeshivas Kol Torah. “Someone who is prepared to admit when he doesn’t know or has erred,” explained the Rosh Yeshiva, “is precisely the type of ish emes that we are looking for.”
“In fact,” Rav Shlomo Zalman confided to someone close to him, “I immediately thought of a few possible ways to resolve the kashya that he had asked on my approach. However, none of the resolutions really rang true to me. Therefore, I decided that his kashya really was correct and that I had erred.”
“The chieftains withheld [their] words, and the palm [of their hands] do they place upon their mouth.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman had what to say. But it didn’t strike him as really being accurate. So he kept it to himself. And it was that act of gevurah that brought about such tremendous bracha for him. For the rest of his life, Rav Shlomo Zalman was marbitz Torah to thousands of talmidim who came through Yeshivas Kol Torah, and he considered that his crowning achievement in life.
It is not easy to hold your tongue. Sometimes we find ourselves in a position that is awkward or embarrassing, and if we would just say this that or the other, it could release us from the distressful situation. Part of the person knows, though, that he really shouldn’t say that. Whether because it is not really honest, may be hurtful to someone else, or for some other reason. There is a tension. And it is not easy. What is k’dai to bear in mind, though, is that oftentimes it is precisely the withholding of our words that brings us the greatest bracha in life.
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 email@example.com.