There’s a problem. Our Mishna here implies that saying “Behold a shvuah that I will eat by you” means that he is swearing to not eat by the person whom he is addressing. But the Mishna in Maseches Shavuos implies that the expression “that I will eat” is interpreted in the positive sense. It’s a machlokes in the Gemara how to resolve this problem. Abayei holds that it depends. Say that Reuvein was being pressured by Shimon to join him for a meal, and Reuvein says, “Yes, I’ll come and eat by you.” Shimon, perhaps concerned that Reuvein didn’t really mean it, presses again, “Really, I want you to come eat by me!” Reuvein, getting a bit exasperated and needing to get on with his day, says, “I will eat by you! Behold a shvuah that I will eat by you!”
In that case, says Abayei, Reuvein’s shvuah is understood at face value, that he is swearing to eat by Shimon. However, what about the opposite case? Shimon is still asking Reuvein to eat by him, but this time, Reuvein is not forthcoming (maybe he had an unpleasant experience last time…). “No, I will not eat by you.” Shimon really wants Reuvein to have a meal by him, though; and he tries again, “Come on Reuvein, have a meal by me!” Reuvein says, “No! I am not eating by you! Behold, a shvuah that I will eat by you!”
In this latter case, says Abayei, Reuvein’s shvuah is understood to mean, “A shvuah should be upon me if I eat by you!” In other words, it’s all about the context, and in the framework of this context it only makes sense to understand that Reuvein means to swear that he is not going to eat by Shimon.
It’s an interesting scenario, isn’t it? Here you have this poor guy, Shimon, practically begging Reuvein to eat a meal by him, and Reuvein so badly does not want to do so that he swears that he won’t! Quite an imbalance in relationship, wouldn’t you say? But, as funny as it may sound, this type of thing happens all the time. Well, that is, the imbalanced relationship part; we certainly hope that the shvuah part doesn’t happen too often.
It is probably more frequent to encounter this phenomenon amongst young children whose social savvy is not developed. She wants to be friends with a certain girl, but that girl is really not interested in being friends with her. And the latter may even express that fact in aggressive tones or actions. The fact that these girls are but four years old does not change the fact that the stress they are dealing with is real, and can be intense.
Even as children mature and gain a greater sense of the world in which they live, it can still be an issue. Perhaps not as openly, but certainly under the surface. Even adulthood is not spared this challenge. It is simply a part of life; that a particular individual may have an interest in cultivating a friendship or relationship of some sort or other (think: business, chevrusah, etc.), and the other party is simply not forthcoming. And although we may be inclined to view the former as the poor underdog and the latter as a somewhat cruel brute (exaggeration, but still…), the truth is that this reality of imbalance can be no less a challenge for the pursued than the pursuer.
Because that really is what it can feel like. As if the “needy” individual is pursuing him/her. And it can be quite discomfiting. Such that, in a time and place where that was somewhat of an accepted norm (albeit not necessarily a good norm), that tension could eventually explode in a fit of out-and-out swearing to have nothing to do with the “needy pursuer”.
All drama aside, the basic fact is that this phenomenon of interpersonal imbalance vis a vis interest in a particular relationship, can be a challenge. A very real challenge. And, full truth be told, this challenge is not limited only to potential-not-happening relationships, but even within relationships that already do exist. You could have two people that are friends already – really and truly – but the degree of closeness that each friend feels towards the other is not equal. Friend A feels extremely close to friend B, and wants to be around him a lot, etc., whereas friend B – although s/he likes friend A – doesn’t feel nearly as strongly. That could possibly cause issues. And here comes what might be a controversial statement: this can exist in a marriage as well. Certainly doesn’t have to. Hopefully it won’t. But it can, and it sometimes does.
Of course, ideally, husband and wife should be bound and unified as one heart and soul – without the slightest imbalance whatsoever in their emotional connection to and with one another – but, and please forgive me if this sounds a bit blunt, it doesn’t do anyone any good to blur the lines of reality with the romantic paintbrush of wishful idealism. In other words, sweeping the reality under the carpet and pretending that it isn’t there can potentially cause more problems than it solves.
On the other hand, that isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Sometimes dormant issues are better left just that, dormant. As the saying goes, let sleeping dogs lie. Whether in a friendship or marriage (or otherwise), it may in fact be the best course of action to take no action at all. Even if one of the parties notices that this imbalance exists within the relationship, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Leave it be. It’s not causing any problems. Who cares that she doesn’t realize the full extent to which you love her? Perhaps you’ll say, “But I want to be loved as much as I love!” Ok, but consider this: if you make an issue of it, you just may wind up causing the exact opposite of what you want.
She may come to feel burdened, pestered, and antagonized by what she perceives as your unreasonable neediness, and whatever love she does have for you may thus become compromised. Not good. Same thing the other way around as well. Say a husband notices that his wife seems to adore and love him far more than he does her. He feels guilty. And there’s an interesting thing about a guilty conscience: it loves to confess; no, it practically begs to confess! But that isn’t necessarily a good idea. What good will it do?!
So, yes, letting the sleeping dogs lie is often a very good policy. So what did I mean when I said that blurring the lines of reality with the romantic paintbrush of wishful idealism does no-one any good? That’s where you’ve already got an issue. The volcano is active. As in the situation wherein friend A takes note of the fact that friend B doesn’t seem to fully reciprocate the powerful feelings that he (A) has for him (B).
In a perfect world, every friendship would follow the paradigm of Dovid and Yehonasan, and every marriage would follow the paradigm of, of…hmm…that’s interesting…no example of a perfect marriage in the Torah comes to mind (maybe the Tanach experts can weigh in on this one?). Well, maybe Boaz and Rus; but those were quite exceptional circumstances, to say the least. In any event, you get the point. Life is not perfect, and within that reality of imperfection, relationship imbalances can exist.
So, since today’s article has already gotten too long to embark on a discussion of practical steps one can take to address this issue, we’ll leave it at what may very well be the most basic, fundamental point: mature acceptance. From both sides. Recognizing that imbalances within relationships is a normal part of the reality within which we inhabit, and does not indicate malfunction or dysfunction within the relationship (unless the imbalance is severe in which case active intervention may in fact be called for), is a very important awareness to cultivate. That way, instead of a molehill becoming a mountain; you can just plant some beautiful, manicured grass on the hill (after shemita, of course), and enjoy a picnic there as you watch the exquisite sunset.
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.