By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 72 – Expanded Consciousness
We can understand, says the Gemara, that if a husband forbids his wife from attending simchos by force of a neder that he should have to give her a get and full kesubah payment, since he is thereby “locking the door in her face”. He is preventing her from enjoying life. To suffer a lonely, painful existence. But why, asks the Gemara, does the Mishna also include a case of him forbidding her from making shivah calls? What is so terrible about that, that he should have to give her a get and pay her the kesubah in full?
To answer this question, the Gemara brings a Braisah: “Tomorrow (meaning, at some future point), her turn to pass on will come, and no-one will eulogize her.” Others have it [that the correct version of the Braisah is] “no-one will bury her”. Rashi elaborates that just as she did not do such kindnesses for others during her lifetime, so too will others not do for her in her time of need. So, if the husband forbids her from such activities, he really is putting her into an impossible position.
Further underscoring this point, the Gemara brings another Braisah: “Rabi Meir would say, what is that which is written, ‘It is better to go to a house of mourners than to go to a house of merrymakers, since that is the end of every person, and the living will take to heart.’ What is ‘and the living will take to heart’? Matters of death. [Namely,] that one who eulogizes will be eulogized, one who buries will be buried, one who raises his voice in wailing will have others’ voices raised in wailing over him, one who escorts (the deceased to the grave -Rashi-) will be escorted, and one who bears [the casket to carry the deceased to the grave] will be borne.”
In commenting on this sobering exposition, Rashi says something which, at first glance, seems odd: “One who eulogizes should take to heart that he also will be eulogized, and he should not feel bad about it if he conducted himself as such.”
Now, what reason could there be for a person to feel bad about saying a hesped? Is it so terrible that he needs a consolation of, “Don’t worry; it was worth it, because now others will eulogize you when you die”?
Perhaps Rashi is referring to a situation wherein the individual has to be a bit bold in order to do what he did. Maybe it’s a makom sheh’ein ish – no one is stepping up to do what needs to be done – and this guy decides that someone has to do it, so he’ll try to be the ish, and get up there and say a hesped for this niftar. Afterwards, he may be assailed by doubts whether or not he did the right thing. “Maybe it was presumptuous of me? After all, there were so many people there far closer to the niftar than I was. Also, there were many Talmidei Chachamim there far more eminently suited to say a scholarly and moving hesped than I! Perhaps, I didn’t do a good job. Maybe I just made a fool of myself. Or maybe I said the wrong things and upset the family…”
And so on and so forth.
When it comes to sensitive situations such as these, it does take a bit of healthy gumption to “dive into the deep end” and do what needs to be done. And if things don’t go just right, the person who went out on that limb to do it may very well be inclined to wonder, “Why did I have to go and get myself involved?! Why did I have to be frumer than everyone else? If all the other people there didn’t feel it necessary to stand up and say a hesped (or escort the niftar all the way to the kever, etc.), then why should I have made myself different?”
That’s the emphasis, then, of v’ha’chai yitein el libo – the living should take to heart. In other words, don’t just think about the here and now. Take the future into consideration. Just imagine for a moment that it was your own funeral, and no-one was standing up to say a hesped. Imagine the intensity of the pain and anguish you would feel! Or imagine if no-one bothered to partake in the mitzvah of carrying your body to the kever and just left it to those whose job it is to do that. How do you think it would feel if only a handful of people bothered to follow your casket all the way to your kever? Only a few, lonesome individuals to wish you your final goodbye.
When you think in those terms, Rabi Meir is coming to teach us, all those second-guessing thoughts about whether you should have or should not have done it immediately evaporate. What’s the shailoh!? Wouldn’t I also want someone to do the same for me?! I wouldn’t care if he’s not the closest relative or friend. If he genuinely means it and speaks from his heart, it would mean the world to me! So of course it was the right thing to do!
What emerges, then, is that there is a dual implication to this shtikl Gemara. In addition to conveying how important it is for a person to do chassadim for others, even if only as an insurance plan that such chassadim will be done for him in his time of need; it is also teaching us a brilliant barometer of how to measure when something should or should not be done.
Just picture yourself in that very situation with precisely this need.
I remember a particular aufruf when I was a bachur in Yeshiva. Believe it or not, I never liked them. Sure, I appreciated the festive atmosphere when the chassan would get his aliyah, but I couldn’t stand the kiddush after davening. That’s right, the kiddush. Why, you may ask? Good question. You see, the davening in Yeshiva would usually end around 10:30 am. The seudah would commence immediately thereafter and end roughly one hour later, perhaps a bit more. Certainly, by noon we were well finished with the seudah. That would leave us with plenty of time to have a good solid nap – after a full week of intensive learning – and to be able to have a solid learning seider later in the afternoon.
You have to understand. By the end of the week, we were extremely tired. Some guys were even makpid to get a bagel-plus over the course of Shabbos! And don’t think I am talking about the weaker bachurim. Even some of the very serious bachurim felt a need to sleep a lot over the course of Shabbos in order to have the energy to learn the whole week.
In any event, when there was an aufruf, that would throw everything off schedule. First we had to have a kiddush after davening. Just getting to the point where kiddush was actually made could take a solid twenty minutes or more. Then, of course, there was all the food that had to be eaten. And what would any aufruf be without the requisite speeches? By the time the kiddush alone was over and done with it could easily be 11:30 am or later. Then everything needed to be cleaned up and reset for the seudah. In a nutshell, on a Shabbos that there was an aufruf, the seudah could easily take until 1:00 pm before it was finished. And if you were one the bachurim to help clean up thereafter, it would be that much later.
So perhaps you’ll call me too Yekish, but I really disliked it when there was an aufruf. And there I was, on a particular Shabbos when there was an aufruf, sitting front and center, just brooding to myself during the Mashgiach’s speech about how much I can’t stand it that this kiddush is throwing everything off schedule. After he finished speaking, the singing began (or resumed), and although I am generally an enthusiastic participant of zemiros and the like, I was in no mood to sing. I just couldn’t stand it.
But then it hit me. A real epiphany. I suddenly imagined how I would want it to be at my own aufruf. As if a brilliant flash of lightening had gone through my head, my entire attitude abruptly changed. I literally went from sitting there like an old, grumpy fuddy-duddy to perhaps the most dynamic singer in the room. The moment my consciousness expanded beyond the current moment to include awareness of the future, particularly vis a vis myself, everything inside me changed. And you know what? I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
What triggered that sudden shift of focus, I really don’t know. As far as I can remember, I had not recently learned Kesubos 72a or any such similar sugyah. But what I can say is that I am extremely happy that it did. It’s a lesson that I try to carry with me ever since.
Granted, the type of scenario that I just describe is quite different from what the Gemara is talking about. The pasuk has to encourage and emphasize going to a shivah house and how it is even more important than going to a wedding or sheva brachos; probably because most people enjoy going to parties. But the truth is, that the primary point is to expand our consciousness and awareness so that we should possess the proper yardstick with which to measure and calibrate our actions. And it is such a user-friendly tool. Just imagine yourself in that very same scenario – a scenario that we will all one day find ourselves in – and think about how you would want it to be. You’ll immediately know just what to do.
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.