By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 85 – Torah Im Derech Eretz
The daughter of Rav Chisdah. She was Rava’s wife, but that is how the Gemara refers to her all over. For one reason or another, she was once present at a din Torah being adjudicated by her husband. The defendant was a woman with whom Bas Rav Chisdah was familiar, and she informed Rava that about this woman one must be concerned that she may lie even under oath. Rava accepted his wife’s report and applied the halacha accordingly; namely, that the shvuah reverts to the plaintiff who swears that his claim is true and is then authorized to collect.
On a different occasion, Rav Pappa – who was a talmid (and later the successor) of Rava – informed his rebbi that the plaintiff’s document was forged. When Rava rejected this report, Rav Ada bar Masna – another talmid of Rava – asked, “Should not Rav Pappa be at least as trustworthy as the daughter of Rav Chisdah?!” To this, Rava answered, “I know Bas Rav Chisda extremely well (that she never lies -Rashi-), but I don’t know Rav Pappa that well.”
Certainly a plot twist that we wouldn’t have expected, is it?
It brings to mind the anecdote about the Steipler when he once gave someone advice regarding what to look for in a shidduch for his daughter. “The two main qualities you should be focusing on,” said the Steipler, “are that the boy should be a masmid, and that he should have good middos.” Surprised, the man asked, “But why do I need to investigate into the boy’s middos if he is a masmid? Doesn’t that say it all?” To that, the Steipler responded, “A shtender doesn’t have needs and never complains.” In other words, the synthesizing of two very distinct personalities – which is the characterization of married life – is much more complex and demanding than when one is essentially on his own, just with his Gemara and his shtender (or even a chevrusah).
Another way of putting it is that one cannot be certain of someone’s true character until that individual is forced to deal with the nitty-gritty, day-in-day-out of life. That is when his true mettle is put to the test. It’s a lot like that famous saying of Chazal, “By three things is a man known, through his cup, through his wallet, and through his anger.” When there is desire, pressure, and conflict, that is when you can really tell about a person. By how he acts and manages himself in those situations.
Rava may have known his talmid to be brilliant, studious, and perhaps even very righteous – regarding things like devotion in prayer and the like – but he did not know in him in everyday life situations. Therefore, he could not accept what his talmid said as a matter of fact.
Individuals lucky enough to grow up in the milieu of Yeshivos and Kollelim, who subsequently enter the workforce to one extent or another, may become startled and dismayed by what they perceive as being a sharp drop in their morality. All of a sudden, things that were never much of an issue for them, may now pose as major yeizter hara’s. And that can be disheartening. “What’s wrong with me,” he may think, “have I really fallen so much since my Yeshiva days?!”
Although there is no question that limud ha’Torah does provide one with a bulwark of spiritual strength – which is one of the reasons why it is so important for everyone to maintain a strong connection to learning throughout life – the fact is, though, that dynamic shifts that may occur within the spectrum of one’s moral challenges does not at all necessarily indicate a precipitous plunge from one’s former ethical standing. Rather, it may simply be a function of the fact that certain spiritual muscles have never really been flexed or developed.
Therefore, instead of viewing new, unsavory onslaughts of the yeitzer hara as a negative reflection of self; on the contrary, one can and should view it as a major opportunity for personal growth. Because, in truth, that is really what it is. Despite the fact that we don’t look for challenges; when despite our best efforts to avoid them, they come anyway, it is to afford us the opportunity to achieve the next stage of our development as people. Even, or perhaps particularly, if we stumble at times in the process. As the pasuk says, sheva yipol tzaddik v’kam. The mefarshim explain that it doesn’t just mean that a tzaddik gets up despite having fallen so many times, but that the stumbling itself is an inherent part of the growth process.
Learning Torah is what purifies us, guides us, and inspires us. But it is not a stand-alone. Even though Rava knew that his talmid was a phenomenal talmid chacham, that itself was not enough to guarantee sterling character. It is the application of that Torah-inspiration in the very practical situations of life which is what brings us to the complete growth for which we have been put into this world.
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.