By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 81 – Thorny Problem, Simple Solution
He wants to sell one of the properties. It’s a fantastic deal, and he desperately wants to close. There’s one little problem, though. The property is not his. Well, it is, but it isn’t. They belonged to his deceased, childless brother; and since he was the one who did yibum with the almanah, he inherited all of his brother’s property. However, and this is a big however, the lien of her kesubah remains on the property that had belonged to her late husband. Since the yavam assumes no personal responsibility for the payment of his yevama’s kesubah – even in the event that he dies or divorces her – Chazal barred him from selling any of his late brother’s properties; irrespective of the fact that they now legally belong to him.
So he’s stuck.
But, says the Gemara, it’s not a lost cause. There is something that he can do. Although it’s a bit drastic, strictly speaking he’s within his rights to do it. If he is not a Kohein, he can give her a get and remarry her with the stipulation that her kesubah will now be his responsibility, thus freeing him to do business with all of his properties as he pleases. The Rosh writes that, essentially, he could write her a new kesubah with this stipulation and there would be no need for the get, just that the assumption is that she would not agree to that unless she has no choice. If he’s a Kohein, though, that option is obviously out. A kohein cannot marry a divorcee, irrespective of whether that divorcee is his own or someone else’s.
So what can he do?
He should throw a really nice party – with plenty of drinks – says the Gemara, and persuade her to permit him to sell those properties, as long as he leaves sufficient properties to cover the value of her kesubah. Now, whether or not he is eliciting this consent while she is under the influence of alcohol, is not so clear. Rashi says, “to persuade her during the wine party”. That would seem to imply that the alcoholic effect is being employed to his advantage, but it is not an ironclad diyuk.
If someone were to sign a contract or make some other type of binding agreement while seriously inebriated, there would probably be a lot of room to challenge the legality of such a transaction. That being so, it doesn’t really make sense to posit that what Rashi means is that he should get her good and drunk. Even if alcohol is part of the picture, it almost certainly is just to loosen her up and put her in a positive, agreeable frame of mind; no more. And, it is quite possible that the wine is just part of the general, pleasant ambience of the party, not a specific mechanism on her directly.
In any event, there is a remarkable point to take of note of here. Let’s assume for the moment that the properties in question would register, in contemporary terminology, at a total value of $250,000. Perhaps a bit modest, but most definitely not insignificant. Now, from the non-Kohein case (with the help of the Rosh) we saw that she is no pushover and she understands what that value potentially represents for her in the future. She is not willing to just allow the yavam to write her a new kesubah. She is very happy to leave things as they are, “thank you very much”, and have all her late husband’s property essentially locked in for her to be able to collect her kesubah with no problem, should the need ever arise. Therefore, the non-Kohein’s only recourse (at least, generally) will be to give her a get (before takanas Rabbeinu Gershom, she could not stop him from doing that) and remarry her on his terms.
And yet, this same woman is able to be swayed by a little bit of food and wine! Make her a nice party, get her into an amenable mood, and no problem! She’ll sign on the dotted line, and you’ll be able to do business with the properties as you so please. Phenomenal, isn’t it? I mean, how much do you think this party costs already? It can’t come to more than a mere fraction of a percent of the total value of the properties in question. So, it’s almost as if you’re convincing her to trade a million dollars for a chocolate éclair!
The funny thing is, though, that as funny as it sounds, most of humanity falls for these things all the time. Think about it. What is one of the primary ways the world of marketing pulls us in? They make promotional, limited-time offers. Open up a new account with our bank and you’ll get a limited-edition, silver embossed, leather iPad cover! Or how about the realtors who serve coffee and cake when they conduct an open-house show? What; do they really think that I am going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars because they gave me a hot drink and a delicious piece of cake?!
Well, yes. They do. And they aren’t wrong, are they?
The fact of the matter is that these things work. If it didn’t, businesses wouldn’t be investing so much of their money and resources into pushing these promotional offers. We can learn a lot about our human psychology from the tactics that the marketing world uses to grab our attention and secure our patronage, and recognizing that we are indeed pushovers for a little bit of pampering is not a point that should be lost on us.
Of course, most mature, intelligent people will not get conned into buying a house when they had no intention to do so just because someone offered them some drink and good food. Nor is a person likely to open a new bank account for which he has no need just to get an exclusive-looking, status-symbol item. But when you are in the market to purchase a new home, or you are looking to open an account, that little bit of indulgent treatment can make all the difference.
Intellectually, there may be no sense at all to making a decision that represents tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the basis of a snack that probably cost no more than $1.50; but our emotions have an awful lot to do with the choices we make, and when those feel-good buttons have been activated, chances are that we will find ourselves heavily inclined to go with the one who provided that good feeling. It’s no guarantee, but it’s a heavy-hitter.
If a husband does a good business, it is generally beneficial for his whole family, wife certainly included. Although things seem to have been much more rigidly defined and demarcated in Chazal’s time, there’s no question that a woman would generally find it to be constructive if her husband is making good money. Just what? She is not a patsy either. She understands the meaning of financial security, and having that money-nest of her late husband’s properties sit right where it is, is a valuable commodity to her. To an extent, it is a conflict of interests, with the latter exerting greater force than the former.
But that can change in the blink of an eye. All he has to do is a bit of good, old-fashioned buttering-up, and he can sway her over to his side of the equation. He throws a beautiful party in her honor – perhaps even gives her a bit to drink – and suddenly her current husband’s financial success becomes the more important factor. She is open to seeing his side of the matter, and agreeable to acceding to his desires.
The practical game-changer that we can take out of this is that a solution is sometimes much more within reach than we may have thought.
Human conflict is ubiquitous. Whether between countries, societies, communities, families, or individuals, it is a major, major part of the collective, human experience. That being the case, learning the art of conflict resolution ought to be one of our uppermost priorities. Conflicts can be small or gargantuan, acute or mild, broad or localized. Sometimes conflicts are relatively simple, and the resolution is not at all difficult to attain. Other times, conflicts can be deep-seated and complex. The issues at hand touch at the core and are very involved.
Whatever the particular conflict-situation may be, it is very helpful to bear in mind one basic fact: the decisions human beings make are usually very much impacted by their emotional state, and a bit of pampering and good treatment can go a long way in positively influencing how that person feels. Whether what is called for is a full-blown party or just a box of chocolates – or anything in between – will have a lot to do with how major of an issue it is and how strongly the other side feels about it. The main thing to remember, though, is that taking that extra step is an extremely worthwhile and minimal investment relative to the enormous gain of positive, conflict resolution.
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 comprehensivechazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.