By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 101 – What it Means to Be a Jew
It is atypical, to say the least, for the Rosh to speak in such a way, but on this particular point, he apparently felt strongly that it needed to be conveyed in an emphatic manner. The issue is regarding the halacha that the first Mishna discusses: a man who accepted an obligation upon himself to provide sustenance for his wife’s daughter. The woman he is marrying was previously married, and has a daughter from that marriage. She, of course, wants to ensure not only her own well-being; she is also concerned, obviously, that he daughter have what to eat. She therefore makes an unambiguous stipulation with the man she is about to marry that he must undertake not only her support, but that of her daughter as well. For five years.
And he agreed.
Now, the question is, how much is he obligated to provide for her? That is the discussion dealt with in the Rosh. It is such an eye-opening piece (almost jaw-dropping, actually), that it really ought to be conveyed word for word. So here it is (to the best of my ability, that is; in translation, there sometimes is no choice but to paraphrase):
“Rabbeinu Meir Ha’Levi z”l wrote that the sustenance that the husband is obligated to provide for his step-daughter is only the amount that the Mishna (on 64b) delineates that a poor man is obligated to provide for his wife when she is living in quarters other than his home.
Even an extremely wealthy man is not obligated to provide sustenance for his step-daughter in accordance with the honor of his home; for that which Chazal say, “She goes up with him, but not down”, is exclusive to one’s wife, but not regarding her daughter.
And do not say that this is only if the step-daughter herself is poor (and is thus used to such sustenance), but if she is from a wealthy background he would have to provide her sustenance accordingly. Rather, even if she herself is wealthy (and is used to a high standard of support), he only has to give her the minimum amount of food possible. Because when we say that one must provide support according to what she is accustomed, that is only regarding one’s wife who retains those rights as a condition imposed upon a husband by Beis Din.
But regarding his wife’s daughter, where it is he who accepted the obligation upon himself to feed her, then we say “the one with the shtar has the lower hand”, and he only has to provide her with the minimal amount of food possible.
I do not find this (exposition of Rabbeinu Meir Ha’Levi on this point) to be illuminating. For one who provides payment or favors to a baal-ha’bayis in order that the latter should provide him with sustenance, as in the case of our Mishna, it is taken for granted that the former’s intention is that he will be supported as one of the household members. Not that the baal-ha’bayis will make him worse off than everyone else, that they’ll all be eating meat and drinking wine while he will eat seeds and drink water.
Chazal only stipulated a set amount for how much food needs to be provided if his wife is living not in his home but in other quarters. But if she is living with him in his home, then she goes along with him with whatever he eats, whether it is a lot or a little.
And we find regarding an employer’s obligation to provide food for his day laborers that Rabi Masyah ben Charash was machmir about this and said “Even if you will provide them with food like the great feast of Shlomo Ha’Melech, you will not have thereby fulfilled your obligation.” And Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that it always is determined according to the current, local standards. And this is also a standard that a person provides equally to all those who eat at his table.
Furthermore, we find that the Torah is machmir on a person regarding the sustenance that he provides to those who are nilvim eilav (with him for one reason or another – this is a broad term that includes one’s wife, children, household help, boarders, poor people who frequent his home, etc.), that he should be good to them together with him in food and drink. Therefore, one who accepts an obligation to provide for another is obligated to provide for him as he provides for the rest of his household members.”
As powerful as that may sound, in the original it is so much more ardent. If you can manage it, it is strongly recommended.
Now, I may be totally off (although I do not think so), but when I read this Rosh, I could not help but get the impression that he felt that this issue is not just a matter of determining the statutory halacha, but that it touches at the very heart of Torah morality.
The first indication of this is the way he begins his words with the expression “not that the baal ha’bayis will make him worse off from everyone else, that they’ll all be eating meat and drinking wine while he will eat seeds and drink water”. Rabbeinu Meir certainly did not suggest such a thing. The Mishna on 64b delineates a whole lot more food and drink than just some seeds and water! Clearly, at least that’s the way it seems to me, the Rosh is deliberately employing hyperbole to add strong pathos to his words.
Also, the Rosh’s argument that “we find regarding an employer’s obligation to provide food for his day laborers that Rabi Masyah ben Charash was machmir about this…” seems to be almost screaming, “If this is what we find when it comes to a man’s hired, day laborers, than how could anyone suggest that his wife’s daughter should be so much less?!”
Lastly, and perhaps most compelling, is the way the Rosh closes his words by saying – it should be noted without referencing a specific source – “Furthermore, we find that the Torah is machmir on a person regarding the sustenance that he provides to those who are nilvim eilav that he should be good to them together with him in food and drink.”
To the Rosh, then, this represents a broad, Torah concept. It is a central value. Of course, ultimately, one cannot really separate mussar and halacha in terms of what one is enjoined or not enjoined to do; for, as is clear from the words of the Chafetz Chaim (in his hakdamah to Shmiras Ha’Lashon), mussar is not a separate category of obligations, rather it is there to motivate one to fulfill that which one is halachikally bound to do.
Hence, the Rosh concludes, “Therefore, one who accepts an obligation to provide for another is obligated to provide for him as he provides for the rest of his household members.” It is an obligation. Full-fledged and absolute. It is not just the “right thing to do”. At the same time, though, this is one of those somewhat rare occurrences where the elucidation of the halacha contains within it the powerful mussar lesson of that halacha.
How we deal with and treat others is one of the most focal facets of our entire Yiddishkeit. Particularly those that are “nilvim eilav”. We have a tendency to think of the more ritualistic aspects of life (think: Teffilin, Shofar, Davening, etc.) as being our Yiddishkeit, and what constitutes the matter and nature of our interactions with the people in our lives is just life. But, really, that is a perversion. Plain and simple. Where exactly that warped way of viewing things emanated from is an interesting topic for discussion. Suffice it to say that it almost certainly has a lot to do with the neighbors alongside whom we’ve been living in galus for almost two thousand years now.
However, that is not the point. At all. What is the point is to try to regain the glory that rightfully belongs to us. And that is the awareness that being a Jew means v’chai bahem – all of life is characterized and defined by our being the People of Hashem, the People of the Torah. Ultimately, there is no “this is my life” and “this is the Yiddishkeit in my life”. Your Judaism is your life and your life is your Judaism. We are the luckiest people in the world that for us this is so.
And in that mind-frame, the interactions and dealings that we have with the people in our lives is key, focal, and central to everything that it means to be a good Jew. How we treat those that are nilvim eilav, in particular, is at the heart of the morality and value system that we live through the Torah that defines who we are. And it is a morality and value system that infuses every particle of our existence, of our doings and goings, with a significance, importance, and meaning that is, in a very real sense, the crowning glory of who and what we are.
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.