By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 24 – A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed
What is the extra chiddush that we see from the Mishna of two women who came out of Gentile captivity and each one said that neither one of them was violated? What yediah was lacking from the previous Mishnayos, and what we will see in the later Mishnayos, that this halacha is being mechadesh? The answer, explains the Gemara on today’s Daf, is that in this situation one may have thought that we should be concerned that these two women are engaging in what is called gomlin. Reciprocity. Or, in other words, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Since each one’s testimony is the clincher for the other to be able to marry a Kohein, we might have thought that we shouldn’t rely on that. Ka mashma lan the Mishna that we are not worried about that, and we do accept such testimony.
Sometimes, though, we are concerned about gomlin. If two new people come to town and each one says that they are both Kohanim, according to Rabi Yehuda we cannot accept such testimony because we must be concerned that perhaps they are not telling the truth and they made a deal between themselves that each one would help out the other to fraudulently attain this coveted status (with all of its attendant perks and bonuses).
The Chachamim, as well, have their cases where they are chosheish for gomlin. Two guys come to town selling produce. One of them says, “You should buy my friend’s merchandise, it’s pre-tithed and of much better quality.” If we see that the spokesman has all of his selling tools at the ready, we take that as a pretty solid indication that the two of them have something going between them. From locale to locale, they are likely take turns putting on this show so each of them will get good business.
In the context of our sugyah, this idea of gomlin seems to be cast in a negative hue. Generally, it seems to be about people who are acting like no-good-niks that are in cahoots with each other to pull the wool over others’ eyes. That doesn’t sound too good, does it?
But is gomlin really a bad thing?
Well, consider the following. The Gemara in Nedarim (24a) says that if Reuvein makes a neder that he will not take any benefit from Shimon unless Shimon accepts from him a kur of wheat and two barrels of wine for his son, it is a valid neder. We do not just assume that Reuvein was just saying that as a way of urging Shimon to accept. Why? “Because I am not a dog that I will benefit from you without you ever benefitting from me.” Likewise, the other way around. If Reuvein says to Shimon, “I make a neder that you cannot get any benefit from me unless you give my son a kur of wheat and two barrels of wine,” it is a valid neder, and we do not assume that Reuvein was just saying that as a way of urging Shimon to give Reuvein’s son a gift. Why? “Because I am not a king that I can always provide you with beneficence and never get anything from you.”
In other words, it’s completely normal for people to feel this way; part of being friends is that people help each other out. They do for one another. If you always expect for me to be a giver and you only a taker, well then that means that you expect me to be like a king. And guess what? I’m not! Likewise, if you always want to be the only one giving in our relationship and me only taking without ever being able to do for you, well that means that you want me to feel like a dog. And I’m not willing to live like that.
Granted, there are people out there that do possess kingly nobility and can give, give, and give some more without ever receiving anything in return. And there are even people who can narrow themselves into a position of constant taking without ever giving in return. But for the overwhelming majority of us, it is not like that. For most people, being involved in any type of friendly relationship means that we are both there for each other. Sometimes I help you. Other times you help me. We’re there for each other.
The Steipler Gaon writes that in marriage this holds particularly strong relevance. This is what he says: “In Maseches Yevamos Chazal say, “One who loves his wife as himself and honors her more than himself…about him does the pasuk say, ‘And you shall know that there is peace in your tent.’ Obviously, Chazal were not referring to the natural love that men feel for women (which stems from physical desire), rather they are talking about a love which is akin to the love friends feel towards one another. For she is his friend and the woman with whom he established a covenant of marriage, and they have shared matters, and each one helps the other and is helped by the other.”
Revealing, isn’t it?
What we see from the Steipler’s words is that not only is reciprocity ok, it is a major part of that which creates the deep bond between husband and wife. Clearly, then, our sugyah doesn’t mean to imply that the concept of gomlin is inherently bad; rather, it is talking about situations where people are applying it in an inappropriate way. But the inherent idea of friends wanting to help and be helped by one another is both completely normal and very positive.
Of course, this is something that needs to be properly understood. We all know that a key to a happy marriage, going back to that paradigm, is when the focus of each spouse is primarily on the wellbeing of the other. Furthermore, in relationships in general, aren’t we always looking to grow in our middah of generosity; of being a kind, giving person? Doesn’t that mean to do for others without any thought of recompense?
So, how do we strike the right balance between having a healthy, reciprocal relationship on the one hand, while concomitantly ever-working towards being a giving person?
Maybe this is a bit of an over-simplification, but I think that the following can at least give us a rough, working definition. If you are keeping score then you know you’re off. A relationship, particularly a marriage, in which a person is always mentally keeping track of how many favors he or she owes me, is bound to flounder and perhaps eventually fail. Friendships are not business deals or sales. If one is constantly referencing the “contract” with a checklist to make sure everything is being delivered then it means the outlook is not right. That is just way too much. It means the individual is too self-centered and inward focused.
You’ve got to get beyond that.
On the practical level, what this means is that when your friend (or spouse) occasionally doesn’t reciprocate a favor you did for them, you just let it go. If you’ve really grown in life, you won’t even take note of it. You’ve long thrown the scorecard out of your mind.
And, by the way, the same thing goes in the reverse. If in certain situations or life stages you discover that you are doing so much of the taking and your spouse is doing the lion’s share of the giving, you won’t get all out of sorts. You realize that just as you don’t mind carrying the weight of the relationship from time to time when that is what is called for, so too do you trust in the strength of your relationship that your friend is also happy to do so when that is what is needed.
What can justifiably bother you – unless you are the king type of person – is if an ongoing pattern of being taken advantage of has taken form. If one member of a relationship somehow slips into “dog” mode, wherein he or she has basically devolved into a self-centered taker, that can and most often should reasonably upset you. This is not a feeling that will suddenly pop up overnight – if it does that’s a pretty good indication that nothing is the matter and you just had a bad day – rather, it can be a subtle, but ever-present nagging feeling that develops over time.
Now, maybe some people will find it surprising that I wrote that it should bother you, instead of writing that it could bother you. The reason it most often should bother you is, as we see from the Gemara in Nedarim and the Steipler’s letter, the overwhelming majority of people are just not the king type. They cannot be in a relationship wherein their spouse is effectively taking advantage of them. And if you try to fool yourself into thinking that you are the king type when you’re really not (and chances are that you’re not), the outcome is unlikely to be positive. Putting it mildly. That’s why, most often, such a thing should bother you.
Particularly in marriage. As we see from the Steipler’s letter that each spouse helping and being helped by the other is a fundamental part of the love-bond between them.
Of course, the tricky part about all this – that is when you feel that something is amiss – is precisely pinpointing the problem. Sometimes, one friend or spouse may feel that the other has assumed an ingrained pattern of self-centeredness when in reality it is just a matter of misperception, or some other factor that is disrupting the harmony of their relationship. That’s why objective, outside input can often be called for.
So to sum up, no, gomlin is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a very good thing. Unless the friends are trying to use it to do something bad. But friends that have a healthy, balanced relationship in which each one helps the other, is there for the other – and no one is keeping score – that is a beautiful thing about which could most definitely be said, Hinei mah tov u’mah na’im sheves achim gam yachad!
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.