By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 66 – Ashreichem Yisrael!
One million gold coins. That was the amount written in her kesubah. And that was only the nedunyah she got from her father. Her chassan’s family was also exceedingly wealthy, and the Gemara leaves to our imagination how much more was written in her kesubah from that angle.
The kavod of being one of the eidei ha’kesubah by her chasunah was given to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai. That’s why he was able to recall the details so clearly.
Discovering the daughter of Nakdimon ben Guryon searching for undigested kernels of barley in the dung of some Arabs’ donkeys must have been quite a shockingly awful sight to see. She saw Rabban Yochanan passing by, so she stood up and begged him to give her something to eat. That is what spurred the conversation which led to her saying, “Rebbi, do you remember when you signed on my kesubah?”
Rabban Yochanan was moved to tears by the pitiful sight of the heiress of the most aristocratic family of the Jewish nation being reduced to such degrading penury. The expression, though, that he gave to his emotions is perhaps just as startling; at least at first glance.
“Ashreichem Yisrael, How fortunate are you Yisrael! When they fulfill the will of the Omnipresent one, no nation or language can exert any control over them, and when they do not fulfill the will of the Omnipresent one, He gives them over into the hands of a lowly nation. And not only into the hands of a lowly nation, but into the hands of the animals of a lowly nation.”
Rabban Yochanan clearly considered this woman’s plight to be not just her own, but representative of the entire state of churban Beis Ha’Mikdash and galus Yisrael. Typifying the disastrous downfall of the Jewish People as a whole.
So why is that worthy of an exclamation of “Ashreichem Yisrael”?! After all, Rabban Yochanan was crying! This is not like the story of Rabi Akiva consoling his contemporaries when they saw a fox exiting the place where the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim had stood because he saw in that the guarantee of the eventual fulfillment of the positive prophecies. In that scenario, Rabi Akiva was laughing. He was focusing not on the current churban, but on the eventual rebirth, renaissance, and rebuilding. That is why he was exuding ebullience. But, in this story, Rabban Yochanan is crying; he is very much experiencing and feeling the intense pain of the destruction! So why is he saying “Ashreichem Yisrael”?!
The answer, explains the Maharsha, is that what happens to Klal Yisrael – whether wonderful or terrible – is demonstrative of one basic yesod: Ki cheilek Hashem amo, Yaakov chevel nachalaso. Every other nation in the world has a sar and mazal in Heaven, but Klal Yisrael has only Hashem. When it comes to all the other nations of the world, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu does not deal with them directly, kavayachol; rather he manages their affairs through intermediary conduits. It is like, explained Rav Yaakov Weinberg, someone who works with radioactive materials and doesn’t want to have any direct contact with it. So he operates an artificial, mechanical arm in order to move the material as need be. Of course, it is not really the mechanical arm doing it, but the person who is manipulating that arm; yet the dividing line of no direct contact is equally as clear. Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu does not desire any direct interaction, kavayachol, with the Umos Ha’Olam; therefore, He puts on a glove, as it were, in His dealings with them.
But Klal Yisrael is different. Completely different. Klal Yisrael is able to declare “Hashem Elokeinu”. With us, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has established and maintains an intimate relationship and ongoing, direct contact. Ki cheilek Hashem amo, Yaakov chevel nachalaso. We belong to Hashem. We are His and no other’s. That is why what happens to us is so radically different from every other nation in the world. When we are conducting ourselves as we should, our meteoric rise catapults us way beyond anything the world can recognize. And when we do not behave as we must, the appearance of siluk ha’Shechina from our midst leaves us with such a hollow nothingness that the lowliness to which we reach is just unfathomable. Either way, though, it is indicative and expressive of the greatest maalah that there could possibly be. A maalah to which no other maalah can even begin to come close: that we belong to Hashem. We are His. And even when things look catastrophic beyond belief, that itself is the very affirmation of this fact.
And the fact that we are Hashem’s means that even when it appears that He has removed His Shechina from us, it is just that; but an appearance. Hashem said to Yaakov, “Anochi eired imcha Mitzraymah, I will go down with you to Egypt.” He told Moshe, Ekyeh asher Ekyeh, just as I was with them in this tzarah, so too will I be with them in all of their tzaros. And when the pasuk describes how Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu will eventually bring us back to our former grandeur and greatness with the geulah shleimah, it employs the word v’shav, which means “and He will return”. Because, explain Chazal, when Klal Yisrael is in galus, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is right there in galus with them, kavayachol; and when He will eventually bring us out of that galus, He will be bringing himself out of that galus together with us. Because no matter what, we are His; and that is the greatest maalah that could possibly be. About which it is truly deserving to say, Ashreichem Yisrael!
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.