By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 116 – A Woman’s Flash of Rage
One of the circumstances under which we cannot accept a woman’s own testimony that her husband died, is when there was fighting and friction between them. One opinion holds that the reason for this is our concern that she may hate her husband so much that she is intentionally lying in order to “remarry” and make herself eternally forbidden to her husband. The other opinion says that our suspicion does not go that far, but we are concerned that as a result of her ill will she may be prone to relying on conjecture instead of careful, precise knowledge.
In any event, the Gemara asks a very basic question: what is considered that they were in the midst of a fight? At first, the Gemara suggests that if the wife said “Divorce me!” to her husband, that is the threshold of friction at which point we can no longer rely on her own testimony. However, that suggestion is immediately rejected. Why? Because “all women say that!” Rashi explains that when women get angry it is a completely normal phenomenon that in their fit of rage they may say, “Divorce me!” Since that is such a run-of-the-mill, normal type of exchange, albeit quite unpleasant, in no way can that serve as an indication of a level of friction and enmity at which we could no longer accept her testimony.
That is just not considered “ketatah”.
What is considered ketatah, concludes the Gemara, is if she said, “My husband divorced me in the presence of so-and-so and so-and-so!” We checked with those two people and they flatly denied that claim. Since this is a highly irregular thing for a woman to say, this indeed indicates serious friction in the marriage, to the extent that we can no longer rely on her own testimony vis a vis her husband’s supposed death.
At first glance, it may seem surprising that the Gemara says that “all women also say ‘Divorce me’!” Particularly so when one takes into account the fact that one of the inviolable rules of Shalom Bayis is that a husband is never, ever allowed to threaten divorce. This basic point is echoed by almost every seifer or shiurim-series that addresses the topic of Shalom Bayis. It is a basic, universally emphasized directive. And for good reason. After all, doesn’t the Gemara (Bava Metziah 59a) say that a man must always be careful not to upset his wife, for since her tears are always at the ready, the likelihood of violating the prohibition of onaas devarim with her is high indeed.
The Steipler Gaon zt”l wrote in a letter that “the primary hope a woman has in her whole world is that she should she have a husband who loves her, and if she sees that this is not so, it is practically a situation of pikuach nefesh because of her intense pain and sorrow over her lonely state as if she were a widow during her husband’s lifetime.”
Clearly, if you consider this statement of the Steipler Gaon in the context of that Gemara about never causing hurt to your wife, it makes a whole lot of sense why all the Shalom Bayis experts make such a big deal about never ever mentioning the word get or divorce to your wife. Yes, that is perfectly understandable.
However, what we still don’t have so clear is how it could be that when it comes to the wife, a complete about-face occurs! For her, says the Gemara, it is the most normal thing in the world to say, “Divorce me!” What? Hath not a man a heart? Are men assumed to have elephant-skin covering their feelings that they are thus impervious to such a biting, hurtful comment?
What can shed a lot of light on this, is a Gemara in Brachos (51b). Well, that is assuming that we have the benefit of Rav Eliyahu Goldschmidt’s zt”l explanation thereof. The Gemara tell us a short, true story about Yalta. But, first, a bit of background about her. Yalta was a very, very chashuveh woman. She was the daughter of the Reish Galusah (the Reish Galusah possessed king-like authority, power, and stature), and the wife of Rav Nachman who was of the very greatest Amoraim of his generation. Besides her impressive lineage and family prestige, Yalta herself was heavily involved with communal affairs. So, yes, this was one seriously chashuveh lady.
Now for the story.
Rav Nachman was accustomed to the opinion that maintains one should offer one’s wife to drink from the kos shel bracha of bentching. One day, Rav Nachman had an extremely illustrious visitor: Ulah. Ulah was one of the undisputed Gedolei Torah of that generation. So much so, that Rav Nachman addressed him with extreme respect. Upon concluding their meal together, Rav Nachman honored his eminent guest to lead the bentching. Ulah happened to be of the opinion that there is no reason whatsoever to offer from the kos shel bracha to the woman of the house. He held that the bracha of the woman is transferred to her via her husband. Being unaware of Rav Nachman’s differing opinion and thus that to which Yalta was long-accustomed, Ulah did not leave over any wine from the kos shel bracha for Yalta.
Well, that didn’t go over too well with Yalta. By the time Rav Nachman managed to query Ulah on his divergent custom and the latter provided his scholarly explanation thereof, Yalta realized that she had just been deprived of partaking from the kos shel bracha and she flew into a rage; literally. She got up, says the Gemara, went to the wine cellar, and proceeded to smash 400 (!) jugs of wine.
And that’s not all. When Rav Nachman saw how incredibly upset his wife was, he asked Ulah to send her a different kos in lieu of the original. Ulah did so, accompanying it with the explanation that all of the wine that was on the table during bentching is included in kos shel bracha. Well, if they thought that would pacify her, it didn’t. Her response, although much of the flavor gets lost in translation, was, “From itinerants we get words and from rags we get lice.”
It’s not within my comfort level to write what would appear to be the modern equivalent of such a statement, so it’ll just have to be left to your imagination. Suffice it to say that this is not exactly how we would expect anyone to speak to a Gadol b’Torah, certainly not someone as great and chashuveh as Yalta! Yet, the Gemara does not take her to task over this seemingly incredibly inappropriate behavior. Not even the slightest hint of censure or disapproval!
So what exactly happened here? Rav Eliyahu Goldschmidt explains (Dear Son, page 146) that because of their sensitive, emotional nature, women may at times experience such an intense emotional stress that it explodes like a pressure cooker that was left on for just a bit beyond its limited capacity.
That is why, explains Rav Goldschmidt, in describing Yalta‘s fit of rage, the Gemara employs the term zihara, which literally means a flash of light; as opposed to the word kaas, rogez, or rischa. Because, really, this was not an anger management issue. Rather, this incredibly intense reaction was a light beacon for Rav Nachman to be able to see that there was something weighing upon his wife so heavily that the emotional strain was completely unbearable for her. She simply exploded. Not with anger, per se, but from the overwhelming strain of emotional distress.
Now, this is obviously not meant as an excuse for any woman who really does have anger management issues to be able to poo-poo away every hurtful comment she makes by saying, “What do you want from me? I am a woman, after all, and you hurt my feelings; so that’s what happens!” That is most certainly not the point of this story of Yalta.
What the point is, is that it is practically inevitable for every woman to have such an outburst from time to time. Yalta was as chashuveh and as great a tzadeikes as they come. Much, much (much, much, much…….) greater than any great Rebbetzin that we may possibly conjure up in our minds. If it could happen to her, that means it could happen to anyone; yes, anyone. And, as we see in today’s Daf, that outburst can often take the form of a woman demanding, “Divorce me!” Furthermore, there is no way to predict when it will happen. It can come all of a sudden and take you completely by surprise like a flash of lightening that suddenly tears through the black, night sky. Therefore, when it does happen, you have to make sure to keep your wits about you to not get hurt or insulted by it.
Realize, and this is the main point, that whatever your wife my say to you or about you in these fits of flashing rage – even something as seemingly extreme as “Divorce me!” – does not at all reflect her true feelings about you. It is her pain talking; not her.
Consider the following, true account.
A man, we’ll call him Yaakov, was sitting in his study doing some work. Without any warning, his wife, we’ll call her Reizy, barged in and started lambasting him for this that and the other. Having recently learned some very important skills in Shalom Bayis, Yaakov maintained his composure and just remained silent. He allowed Reizy to get her whole tirade and diatribe against him off her chest. After a few, seemingly-interminable minutes, Reizy completed her invective and exited Yaakov’s study with a slam of the door.
“Oh boy,” thought Yaakov to himself, “this was a big one. Alright, I’ll just finish up a couple of things here, and then I’ll begin to try sorting things out with Reizy. It’ll probably take me up to six hours to do so, but it needs to be done.”
Lo and behold, after a very short time, Reizy came back into Yaakov’s study, but this time she was all contrite and apologetic. “I don’t know what came over me,” Reizy stammered, “to say such things to you. Of course, none of what I said is true, and it’s not your fault at all. Please forgive me for having spoken like that. It’s not true at all. You’re always so nice and considerate…”
An unmarried man (or a married one who has not yet learned how to negotiate such situations) can find such a thing extremely difficult to believe. As a matter of fact, he may even be suspicious of such behavior. At the very least, he may wonder if his wife is perhaps emotionally unstable. How could it be possible for a person to spit out such a vindictive attack and within a few moments be all contrite, apologetic and full of praise for the erstwhile object of their diatribe?!
The answer is, in the words of one woman, “I don’t know what came over me. I felt as if I was possessed by a demon.” No, she is most definitely not possessed by a demon. But she is not able to control herself under the circumstances. Women’s emotions are very powerful and run very, very deep. At times, a strain on those emotions can become so unbearable that it literally causes an explosion. When that happens, she has no ability whatsoever to stop it. At the same time, it is crucial to realize that she doesn’t really mean it; at all! It is not her talking, it is her pain.
Therefore, a wise and mature husband will not allow such “assaults” to upset him at all. On the contrary, he will take it like a man and react only with care and concern and with a compassionate desire to ease her pain however much he can. He will happily remain silent in order to afford his wife, whom he loves so much, the opportunity to get it all off her chest. Then, he will profusely apologize for whatever it is that she has accused him, even if those accusations are completely fabricated. Because, again, that is not the point at all. She is hurting, deeply. She cannot control it. He wants to help her feel better and he’ll do whatever he can to do that.
Nine times out of ten, if the husband keeps his cool and reacts only with silent compassion, the wife will afterward proffer her own profuse apologies for having wrongly accused him, just as in the story of Yaakov and Reizy. Even if she doesn’t, though, perhaps because she is too embarrassed, you still won’t take it to heart; for one thing is absolutely certain, whatever she says in those fits of flashing rage do not at all represent her true feelings about you. Even if she does say “Divorce me!” On the contrary, what she is really saying is, “I so badly need you to forever show me how much you love me!” When you realize that, it becomes a whole lot easier to take it like a man.
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.