By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 52 – Inject a Spirit of Magnanimity
Kesubas bnin dichrin. It’s a very interesting takanah, and the rationale behind it is no less interesting. If a woman dies during her husband’s lifetime, her husband inherits her. Then, when he passes on, all his male children (or females if there are no males) split up his estate equally (besides the double portion that a bechor receives). That’s as far as the din d’Oraysah of yerusha is concerned. However, the Chachamim made a takanah that, if a man had multiple wives (when it was still mutar), the sons of each wife can demand that they inherit all the value recorded in their mother’s kesubah.
This can sometimes make a big difference, explains Rashi, because her kesubah may carry disproportionate value to the rest of the estate, representing a lion’s-share percentage thereof; or, even if the other wife’s kesubah is of equal value, one woman may have only a few sons whereas the other has many. Therefore, by taking their yerusha primarily based on their mother’s kesubah-value, they can wind up with much more than were they to all just split up the estate equally.
Now, this takanah obviously is a serious game-changer as far as the way yerusha works. What reason did Chazal have to do this? Said Rabi Yochanan in the name of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, “In order that a person should be quick to write out a sizable wedding dowry for his daughter as he does for his son.”
The father of the kallah is not particularly predisposed to doing so if he thinks that one day all that wealth may go in large part to people that are not his descendants (i.e. the husband and his children from other women). Now that Chazal made this takanah of kesubas bnin dichrin, though, the father can be reasonably sure that his wealth will stay with his descendants, and he is therefore eager to provide his daughters as well with sizable wedding dowries.
The reason why it is so important for a girl to receive a sizable wedding dowry becomes clear from the continuation of the Gemara. It ensures that there will be plenty of eligible men who will want to marry her, and she will be able to get a good shidduch.
The Gemara asks a number of questions on the details of the halachos governing this takanah of kesubas bnin dichrin. One of them is this: why do her male sons inherit everything written in the kesubah? Why shouldn’t it just be that they inherit the value of the dowry provided to her by her father contained therein? Since the whole basis for the takanah is so that the father will be happy that his dowry that he’s giving will stay with his descendants, shouldn’t that be enough? The answer to that question, explains the Gemara, is that if the father will get the impression that the husband is being stingy vis a vis the former’s grandsons to not allow them to inherit the parts of their mother’s kesubah that are from the husband, then the father will be inclined to respond in kind – by withholding any sizable dowry so that the husband should not benefit from him.
The concept is pretty straightforward. Magnanimity begets magnanimity, and stinginess begets stinginess. Although a father certainly wants his daughter to get married, he will nonetheless be naturally prone to withholding generosity of hand if that is what he feels is being dealt his way.
Obviously, no one wants to see their daughter growing into old-maid-hood, suffering from loneliness and shame, but you know how these things go. The true cause for a person’s behavior can be buried so deep that it is practically on the subliminal level. In his conscious mind there can be a million and one justifications, rationalizations, and irrefutable explanations for why there is simply “no way” he can do this, that, or the other. The fact that the sum total result of this “no other way” approach is absolutely disastrous is irrelevant because he just comforts himself that “that part is out of my hands”.
In any event, if you want people to act with generosity and magnanimity, then you need to make sure that that is how they feel they are being treated. Otherwise, it is a losing battle. It’s a good thing for us that Chazal stepped in and enacted specific legislation that obviates the potential for gridlock wherein each party is not willing to be the one to make the first step forward. However, life is full of situations the variation of which is as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. In other words, there will inevitably arouse many, many circumstances in every person’s life in which there will not necessarily be a wondrous piece of Chazal-legislation to save the day. When that happens, a person has a choice to make. He can either stand on principle and not budge unless “that good-for-nothing stops his shenanigans”, or he can realize that it is he who stands to gain by accepting the role of being the Nachshon ben Aminadav. Taking that first step to introduce a spirit of giving and generosity into the picture is going to bring himself great benefit. Because when the other in your life feels that you are acting with magnanimity, the reciprocal response won’t be long in coming.
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.