By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 59 – Keep the Open Door Open
Davar sheh’lo bah la’olam is always a fascinating sugyah. So many different shitos, possibilities, and nuances. On 58b we saw that Shmuel holds that the maah-kesef weekly-allowance that the husband is obligated to provide his wife, is that which gives him rights to her extra maaseh-yadayim. He holds that the machlokes between Rabi Meir and Rabi Yochanan Ha’Sandlar in the Mishna, regarding a man who was makdish his wife’s extra maaseh yadayim, is talking about a situation where the husband is not able to afford that weekly allowance of a maah-kesef. Therefore, he has no rights to his wife’s extra maaseh-yadayim.
So what is the question? Whether that extra maaseh-yadayim will become hekdesh in the event that his wife dies and he inherits it.
Rabi Yochanan Ha’Sandlar holds that this is classified as davar sheh’lo bah la’olam, and the hekdesh therefore does not take effect even after the wife dies. On today’s daf, we learn that Shmuel paskens in accordance with this shitah.
However, there is a challenge presented to this psak.
What if a woman makes a konam-neder to forbid her husband from getting any benefit from her maaseh-yadayim? The Tanna Kama holds that there is no need for the husband to annul such a vow since her maaseh-yadayim effectively belong to him, and she has no power to forbid to him that which is his. However, Rabi Akiva and Rabi Yochanan ben Nuri argue. We’ll focus in on the shitah of Rabi Yochanan as it is that which is pertinent to this discussion. He holds that the husband must annul this vow. Why? “Because maybe one day he will divorce her, and he will be forbidden to remarry her.”
Rashi explains pshat. Yes, agrees Rabi Yochanan ben Nuri, the neder cannot take effect now since she is meshubedes to him; her maaseh-yadayim belong to him. However, if he will one day divorce her, at which point he obviously no longer has any rights to her maaseh-yadayim, then the neder can and will take effect. And at that stage he will not be able to annul it. If that were to happen, he would not be able to remarry her because it would be virtually impossible for him to not be nichshal by getting benefit from things that she does in the home all the time.
Ok, so what does this all have to do with Shmuel?
Shmuel paskens like Rabi Yochanan ben Nuri. That means that, apparently, Shmuel holds that one can be makdish a davar sheh’lo bah la’olam; because if the wife’s neder cannot take effect now, but will nonetheless take effect later when she is divorced, that is precisely a case of davar sheh’lo bah la’olam!
So how, asks the Gemara, are these two psakim of Shmuel not in total contradiction with one another?!
It’s an involved shakla v’tarya, but the answer that finally stays is Rav Ashi’s at the end of the sugyah, right before the next Mishna. Rav Ashi explains that a konam-neder is, at least from one perspective, a stronger form of hekdesh than that which is the subject of dispute between Rabi Meir and Rabi Yochanan ben Nuri in the Mishna. They are talking about hekdesh to Bedek Ha’Bayis, the general Temple treasury. That is hekdesh damim, hekdesh of value. A konam-neder, on the hand, functions with the din of kedushas ha’guf like korbanos. And that type of hekdesh inherently has the power to override a monetary liability or debt. That is why her konam-neder can take effect in the event she gets divorced. Because, essentially, it should be able to take effect even now while she is still married, just that the Chachamim beefed up the husband’s lien vis a vis his wife, so that she should not be able to make her maaseh-yadayim forbidden to him while they are still married.
However, if they were to divorce, that extra strengthening that Chazal gave to the husband is obviously no longer relevant, and the neder automatically takes effect. And, according to Rabi Yochanan ben Nuri and Shmuel who paskens like him, we don’t want such a thing to happen, because that would preclude the possibility of them getting remarried.
In addition to the geshmak of the halachik aspect of this sugyah, there is also a fascinating, moral implication as well. This halacha, that we insist that the husband annul the vow now in order to afford the possibility of remarriage in the event of divorce, really says a lot about the kedusha of the marital union between husband and wife, doesn’t it? Their togetherness is so important that, even though the neder currently carries no ramifications whatsoever, we want to ensure that there should not exist anything that could cause problems in the future.
But it goes further than that. Much further. We’re not just talking about a future, potential eventuality; but a situation that is not only extremely dysfunctional, it has already failed and completely collapsed! Nispardah ha’chavila; the Mizbeiach has already shed its tears over them! And yet, and yet, the halacha is telling us that, really, all is not lost. It is not game over.
In 180 Rechov Yafo, Dr. Meir Wikler chronicles many moving, even wondrous anecdotes of the great tzaddik, Rav Nachum Cohen. Every week, hundreds of people come to Rav Nachum for a bracha, an eitzah, a chizuk. You name it. He is known for his boundless ahavas Yisrael as much as he is for being a baal mofeis. So he gets a lot of traffic. Putting it mildly. He has two days per week for receiving the public at 180 Rechov Yafo. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In any event, one Tuesday Rav Nachum received, amongst his many other petitioners, a man in his mid-thirties who came with a request. “I need a bracha for a shidduch.” He had been divorced for a year or two and things were not going so easily for him in the zivug-sheini department. Rav Nachum asked him a few questions and then closed his eyes and fervently blessed him that he should find his proper match very soon.
Thursday of that week a woman came – again, amongst many others – to ask for a bracha for a shidduch. She had been divorced not so very long ago, and the loneliness was getting to her, in addition to “the children needing a permanent father-figure in their lives.” After hearing her story, Rav Nachum was suddenly jolted by the realization that this woman may be the divorcee of the man who came to him just that week, on Tuesday. “What are the chances,” he thought, “that these two people would both come to me the same week?!”
Recognizing that this may very well be a siman min ha’Shamayim, Rav Nachum probed the woman about herself. After hearing the answers she gave to his questions, he was now absolutely certain that these two people were in fact each other’s divorcees. He asked her, “Are you in communication with your ex-husband?” When she responded in the affirmative, Rav Nachum said this: “Please contact your ex-husband and tell him that I would like for both of you to come back to see me together next week. It is very important.”
Although definitely not expecting to hear that, the woman was of course prepared to do as the tzaddik instructed her.
Sure enough, next week they both came. Together. After ascertaining that the husband is not a Kohein, Rav Nachum said to them, “By now you both probably understand why it is that I wanted you to come see me together.” Shyly, they both looked away or down. The ex-husband nervously cleared his throat. “I am sure,” continued Rav Nachum, “that you are aware of how big a mitzvah it is for a divorced couple to remarry. You both strike me as very nice, kind individuals. Certainly, whatever differences there were, you can find a way to work it out.”
Rav Nachum’s plan worked.
Although the vast majority of divorce stories most certainly do not have such a rosy, “happily ever after” ending, the essential point is still quite relevant to us all. And that is, that our perception of ruin is not necessarily accurate. Sometimes we may be under the impression that something is a lost cause. Totally destroyed. Hopeless. And really, it isn’t. It may be dismantled. Perhaps even severely so. But that does not necessarily mean that it is not salvageable.
Chazal were concerned that even a broken marriage, wherever possible, should not be prevented from being recovered and reconstituted. What are the chances? That doesn’t matter. The main thing is to realize that very often the door is still open even when it may not appear that way; and we don’t want any unnecessary, artificial obstacles impeding the way to that open, albeit perhaps hard-to-see, doorway.
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.