By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 18 – A Person Cannot Make Himself into a Rasha
The shtar needs a kiyum. If the eidim themselves do not come in to substantiate their signatures, we have no way of knowing if the document is legitimate. So they come. But there’s a serious glitch because what they said is this: Yes, those are our signatures, all right; and we did in fact sign on this shtar, but we were coerced to do so. Verdict? We believe them and the shtar is disqualified. So says the Mishna.
However, and this is a big however, Rami bar Chama provides a very important condition to this halacha. If the eidim said that they were coerced to sign under threat of death, then we in fact believe them; but if they said they were coerced under threat of monetary harm, we do not believe them. Meaning, explains the Ran, we accept the first part of their statement that they signed on the shtar, and we ignore the second part wherein they said that they were coerced to do so.
Why? Good question!
Because, says the Gemara, a person cannot make himself into a rasha. Meaning, explains Rashi, a person cannot testify something that would confer upon himself a status of rasha and pasul l’eidus. Since, elaborates Rashi, an individual is a karov to himself, and kerovim are pasul l’eidus, his testimony about himself is completely invalid. Therefore, what they said about the shtar (e.g. that they indeed signed it) we accept, because that is a testimony about someone else. But what they said about having been coerced under threat of monetary harm, we do not accept since to falsely sign a document under threat of only monetary harm is a serious transgression.
That is why the shtar is valid, despite there being no other source for kiyum, when the eidim said that the coercion to which they were subject was but a threat of monetary harm.
This halacha of ein adam meisim atzmo rasha is reminiscent of the Mishna in Avos that says, al tehi rasha bifnei atzmecha, you shouldn’t be a wicked person in your own eyes. The context of that Mishna is teffilah. Rabi Shimon emphasizes the importance of davening in a heartfelt manner. The mefarshim explain the connection as follows. If someone considers himself a wicked sinner, he will feel very lowly and unworthy, and it will be extremely difficult for him to feel like he can stand before Hashem and pour out his heart (or do other mitzvos properly, for that matter).
Perhaps it is not too bold to suggest, perhaps b’derech melitza, that the basis of this Mishna that one should not think of himself as a sinner is the halacha that ein adam meisim atzmo rasha. You don’t have ne’emanus vis a vis conveying a status of a wicked sinner upon yourself. You are a Yid, and a Yid has a chezkas kashrus, a chazaka of being an upright person. Adam karov eitzel atzmo – you are too nogeiah b’davar to uproot that chazaka. You may have all sorts of ulterior motives to think so, not the least of which being a person’s tendency to be very hard on himself, particularly when it comes to feeling inadequate to stand before the Borei Olam.
This is not a contradiction to leiv yodeiah maras nafsho. A person indeed knows better than anyone else what is bothering him. But beyond that, as far as pronouncing judgment about what that says about him, that a person cannot do for himself. The possibility that you may be too hard is very real. For that, you need an outside, objective viewpoint. Often, a person can be surprised to discover that what he (or she) may have considered to be a serious failure was in actuality a tremendous success, at least from the vantage point of the unbiased third-party (and the same can be true in the reverse as well). So, before you go beating yourself up over this that or the other, it may be worth your while to run the matter by someone you respect and trust. For all you know, where you see rasha they may very well see tzaddik. After all, if it can happen in Beis Din, it can happen anywhere.
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.