By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 53 – Financial Worries, A Force to Be Reckoned With
What if she sold her kesubah? She was pressed for cash, so she sold it. Now, no one is going to buy it for the total, potential value that it represents. After all, the kesubah is only worth what is written in it if her husband divorces her or dies first. In the event, though, that she dies first, her husband inherits all the value contained within the kesubah. So it’s a gamble. Maybe someone will be willing to pay her one tenth of the total value represented by the kesubah for the roughly fifty percent chance that one day he’ll be able to collect it. It’s not much, but she really is pressed for cash.
In any event, what happens if the buyer’s gamble doesn’t work out the way he would have hoped and she dies first? That is the question the Gemara asks. Not in regard to the buyer, because that part is completely straightforward. He took a gamble and he lost. But what about her sons? What about kesubas bnin dichrin? That is the question the Gemara is dealing with.
On the one hand, she sold her kesubah. Meaning, in the event that her husband would have divorced her or died first, the buyer would be the one to make the collection on the kesubah, and she and her inheritors would get nothing of it. Essentially, then, by selling whatever potential value she had in it, she effectively wrote off herself and her inheritors from ever being able to get anything out of this kesubah.
That being the case, there is a strong case to be made that kesubas bnin dichrin should no longer apply. Even though she died first and the kesubah value was inherited in its totality by their father, they no longer have any claim on a particular portion of his estate represented by the value of their mother’s kesubah when he will later die, because now that kesubah no longer has anything to do with her. She sold out her stake in it. So its value is like any other property belonging to their father and should thus be divvied up according to the regular rules of yerusha.
On the other hand, continues the Gemara, it was not as if she really wanted to do this. What woman would willingly sell her kesubah? Unless she was under serious pressure. She was really hard pressed for cash, and she had no other choice. Since the whole concept of kesubas bnin dichrin is exclusive to a situation wherein their mother dies before their father, and that is in fact what happened, we do not take into account what would have been had the reverse happened. As far as the husband is concerned, that theoretical scenario is irrelevant since she only sold it because she needed money.
Those are the two sides to the question as the Gemara presents them, of course with the help of Rashi’s ever-lucid explanations. So what is the maskana? Rava paskens the shailoh. She’s an anusah. The need for money forced her into it. The Gemara proffers an analogy for this type of pressure. Imagine a leather strap with a small, iron weight tied to the end. Now imagine getting hit really hard with such a contraption.
Now imagine getting hit multiple times with it. Not once. Not twice. Not even three times. But one hundred times. I think it’s safe to say that that would be more than enough to kill just about anyone. And that, says the Gemara, is the appropriate analogy to understand why we should consider her to be anusah in selling her kesubah. The duress of monetary pressure is so intense that it is as if she was getting hit one hundred times with a leather strap that has a small, iron weight tied on the end. Therefore, as far as the husband is concerned, what she did is irrelevant and kesubas bnin dichrin still applies.
Financial pressure is a part of life. We all deal with it from time to time. It’s part of the curse b’zeias apecha tochal lechem. No one wants to have it, but it is inevitable that everyone will be faced with monetary pressures from time to time. Whether it’s trying to figure out how the bills will be paid this month, worrying about an investment that seems to be going downhill, negotiating tuition fees with the school, or any other number of infinitely varied manifestations of this ubiquitous part of life, fiscal anxieties occupy a big part of what we are challenged with in life.
Knowing how debilitating it can be is an important component of being able to persevere. The reason for this is quite straightforward. Whenever there arouses something in our lives that triggers anxiety, there also exists a pernicious potential for one to become anxious over the fact that he is experiencing anxiety. A person can become stressed out over the fact that he is stressed out! So now, not only is he dealing with the anxiety over whatever matter is actually challenging him at the current moment, he is also saddled with an additional burden of managing the worry that he feels over the fact that he is stressed out.
Put in other words, when a person realizes that it is completely normal to feel anxious and worried about whatever it is that is bothering him, that itself is like opening a steam valve that can release a tremendous amount of the pressure. No, it will not cure his worries or woes; since, after all, the financial pressure is still there – he still does not know where he is going to find the money to pay his electricity bill this month – but it can help him to remain in a generally calmer frame of mind. And that, in turn, empowers him to be able to address his issue from a point of much greater strength and lucidity of thought. He avoids spiraling downward into a state of near panic.
No less significant is the manner in which we view others who are struggling with such issues.
By this point in human history it is a pretty well-known fact that unhealthy stress can and does impact a person’s behavior in just about every facet of his functioning. In the way he works, plays, interacts with others, and so on.
Imagine that one day you had a very unpleasant experience with your coworker. It started off typically enough. A little argument about the way a certain task ought to be carried out. Very quickly, though, tempers rose to a boiling point and some really awful epithets were hurled your way. Completely uncalled for and totally out of line. You are fuming. You just cannot believe how nasty and spiteful he behaved! An hour later, while the grey-black cloud of disgust and anger is still hovering above your head (making it very difficult for you to get anything productive done), a different coworker whispers into your ear that the one who said those awful things just buried his only daughter the day before. There was a terrible accident. His wife had passed away a few years earlier from cancer, and his daughter was all he had left. She was the apple of his eye, and his only joy in life. His whole world just imploded.
In an instant, almost all of your anger and fury completely melts, and in its stead wells up strong feelings of pity. You may still remain a bit upset. After all, there is no excuse for you to become his punching bag, and hurtful words are hurtful. But, still, anger will most definitely not be the primary emotion you are going to feel towards him. It will become greatly overshadowed by your sense of compassion and empathy.
Because that is human nature. We understand that every single one of us is an absolute maze of complexity. Although a given consideration may not completely justify or exonerate, it can mitigate. A lot. A whole lot.
And, as we see in today’s Gemara, monetary pressure represents a very powerful, mitigating factor. So much so, says the Gemara, that someone who makes decisions under such duress is like an ahnus. It is as if they were being whipped with a leather strap that has a small, iron weight on the end. Again, and again, and again. Without letup. Bearing this fact in mind can go a long way in helping us be more compassionate, empathetic, and understanding towards others.
More often than not, someone’s poor behavior can be traced back to some form or another of anxiety or stress that is weighing down on them. Even when there is nothing apparently obvious, is it that hard to surmise that perhaps the individual is under serious financial duress? After all, it is such a ubiquitous challenge that the chances are quite high that that just may be what is getting to him.
So whether it is you or someone else, recognize that worries about money carries an enormous weight. The pressure can sometimes be just unbearable. It is very normal and completely understandable for a person to feel extremely stressed out when faced with such an issue. Be understanding to yourself and to others. It will go a long way towards fostering increased internal and interpersonal serenity.
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.