Daf Inspired: Kesubos 109 – “It’s Just Not Fair!”    


yehoshua-bermanBy Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

He’s surrounded and he’s got no way in.  This is definitely not how he was planning for his vacation to end.  How is he supposed to be able to access his property now?  After having been abroad for so long, he can’t remember the location of the path he owns that provides him with the right of way to his field.  Greatly exacerbating his predicament is the uncooperative stance of the guy who owns all the fields immediately adjacent to his.  From all four sides!

Although Admon holds that the latter is coerced into giving his hapless neighbor something – the smallest and least valuable path available – the Chachamim disagree.  Admon’s sevara is that when all the dust settles, so to speak, since all the fields surrounding that of Mr. I’ve-been-away-so-long-I-can’t-remember-where-my-path-is belong to one person, Mr. Well-I-don’t-remember-either-so-tough-luck; the latter definitely has to give him something.  His neighbor’s path is definitely somewhere amongst his fields, so you can’t get off scot-free.  You’ve got to give him something, albeit the least-valuable option.

But the Chachamim don’t accept that sevara.  Why not?  Because the situation is that these surrounding properties didn’t always belong to this one guy.  They used to belong to four different people.  Therefore, the new owner can say to his stuck-in-the-middle neighbor, “Listen, if you keep quiet about it, fine (and I’ll sell you a new path now for a decent price – Rashi -); but, if not, I am just going to sell these fields back to their four original owners, and from them you’ll get nothing!”

And that everyone agrees to.  If the surrounding fields would in fact be currently under ownership of four different individuals, then he really would be sorry-out-of-luck; because each one can rightfully claim, “Nuh-uh, not me mister.  You’ve got the wrong guy!  Your path was never through my property.”  And he would have no way of proving otherwise.  So, say the Chachamim, the current owner can use that as his joker-card to force his neighbor’s hand to purchase a path from him or, as the Mishna says, “fly through the air”.

And that’s that.

I’ve got a confession to make.  If I would be in the shoes of Mr. I’ve-been-away-so-long-I-can’t-remember-where-my-path-is, I would be flaming mad.  I mean, how unfair can you be?!  He’s got my path!  It is for sure by him!  I know it, he knows it, and the dayanim know it!  So how can he cruelly manipulate me into paying him money that shouldn’t be coming to him?!  Of course, the din is the din, and there’s nothing Beis Din can really do about it if the opposing litigant has a winning claim, irrespective of how unfair it may seem.  But, still, someone in that situation could not be blamed for feeling, “It is so not fair!”

I think that there’s a major lesson to be learned here.  And that is, life’s not necessarily fair.  Things happen in life – a whole lot of them – where the balance of fairness is tipped.  It gets skewed.  Sometimes a lot.  And to live in the real world, we need to be prepared for that.

There’s a Gemara (I seem to remember in Maseches Shabbos) that tells of an Amorah whose daughter died.  During the shiva, he shed not one tear.  Or thereafter either.  His wife was upset by this and said, “What, is it a chicken that you just had removed from your home?!”  His retort, though, is very telling, “Should I suffer the loss of a child and the loss of my eyesight?!”  The Gemara there says that crying out of anguish can damage eyesight.

He didn’t want to suffer more than he was already suffering.

When a person is subject to unfair treatment – if he hasn’t learned to accept that such eventualities are part of life and how to roll with the punches – the angst that he may experience in inwardly stewing and churning about the terrible injustice to which he was subjected, can often be far worse than the suffering of the unfairness itself.

And that’s terrible.  Isn’t it bad enough that you had to suffer the unfair treatment?  Why should you have even more suffering through the excruciating brooding and agonizing over it?  But that is what happens when a person was never trained to accept unfairness as a part of life, and is still stuck in the naïve, constricting world of “But, it’s just not fair!”

Regarding children, this can become a particularly sticky issue.  Parents naturally feel a very strong urge to always protect, defend, and advocate for their child.  It can be very, very difficult to see your child being dealt unfair treatment – whether by teachers, peers, siblings, or otherwise – and do nothing about it.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Parents most definitely should act as their child’s protector, defendant, and advocate.  It is without a doubt one of the major components of your job-description as a parent.  However, and this is one of those big however’s, you must concomitantly retain cognizance of the fact that one day, “katan zeh gadol yihiyeh”, your little boy or girl is going to be grown up and will have to go it on their own.  To face that big, sometimes scary, real world out there where everything is not always so rosy, cheery, sheltered, and nice.

Or fair.

And if he or she was never allowed to experience some amount of unfairness during his formative years – and given the skills and tools for how to deal with it – he may wind up having to deal with a not-insignificant handicap in terms of being able to navigate the cloudy-gray world of all types of social, fiscal, familial, and communal circumstances and situations.

Therefore, every parent would do well to thoughtfully consider whether a particular situation warrants intervention or not.  Not every time that an older, stronger sibling wrested away her toy is it absolutely necessary to referee.  Sometimes, it may be worthwhile to not call up the school over a perceived injustice.  And if your kid was not even given a second look during the play tryouts because the directors already knew who their “favorites” are, it may be possible that leaving things as they are is the best thing for your child at this time.  That is, assuming you use the opportunity to teach the child appropriate coping skills to deal with the situation.

Of course, all these examples are just that, examples.  Just as no two children can be made out to be the same, so too can no two situations be made out to be the same.  Every time, it is a judgement call that needs to be made.  (No, not if your kid is being beaten up chas v’shalom – we’re obviously not talking about such obvious scenarios).  In the world in which we live, there’s a lot of gray.  And it can be a thick gray.  On the one hand, we definitely do want to and must serve as our child’s guardian defender and most ardent advocate; but, at the same time, our overarching goal is to ultimately lead this child to a point of capable independence, to be able to successfully navigate the real world on their own.

Before closing this thought and wishing everyone a gut Shabbos and Yomtov, there’s one more point I’d like to mention.  And what better way to do it than with a story.

A Yid I know was once wrongfully accused of money-laundering and was locked up in jail overnight.  He is an eldery, Rabbinical figure and was understandably in not the best of moods as a result of his ignominious plight.  At the jailhouse, before he was placed into the cell for the night, an officer noticed his despondent countenance and asked him why he’s in such a poor mood?  “Because I know I am innocent!  I’ve done nothing wrong and I am being put in a jail cell as if I am a lowly criminal!”

The response was one that could almost certainly occur only in Israel, “Well, esteemed Rabbi, it seems that there is something else you must have done, and that is the reason why the Almighty is having you put into this cell right now.”

“When he told me that,” this Yid concluded, “I gave him a kiss on his head and said, ‘You have consoled me’!”

You see, even though unfair things do in fact happen in life, ultimately, everything is with a cheshbon.  The Master Choreographer has a perfectly precise scorecard, and everything, but everything, is accounted for.  Remembering that fact can be very helpful in successfully coping with unfair situations when they do inevitably arise.  To remember that even though it seems totally unfair, ultimately everything that happens to us is just, even though it may not be readily apparent to us why.  Because we know that Hashem is running the show, and is making sure that everything works out just as it needs to.

So, with that, have a great Shabbos and Yomtov!


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 rbsa613@gmail.com.

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