By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 73 – Ratzon, True Individuality
One of the many sources quoted to challenge Rabbah’s position is the Braisah that casts the machlokes regarding a case where a man was mekadeish an isha through the medium of biah with the stipulation “al m’nas sheh’yirtzeh Abba” – as long as my father desires the shidduch. According to the Tanna Kama, even if the father does not wind up desiring the match, the kiddushin is nevertheless effective, and they are married. Rabi Shimon, on the other hand, maintains that the kiddushin is only valid if the father winds up desiring the match; if not, then not.
Apparently, asserts the makshan, there is an opinion that the condition is cancelled by dint of the act of consummation that followed it – directly contradicting Rabbah’s position that in a standard such case no-one would hold that the condition is cancelled.
The Gemara deflects this kashya, though, by explaining the Braisah like this: both the Tanna Kama and Rabi Shimon agree that the condition is binding, despite the subsequent consummation, and if it is not fulfilled the kiddushin does not take effect. The machlokes between them is precisely how to interpret the stipulation “al m’nas sheh’yirtzeh Abba”.
According to the Tanna Kama, the implication of those words is “as long as my father does not object”, whereas Rabi Shimon holds that it means “only if my father gives his verbal consent”. What happened, in fact, is that the father did not express any verbal objection, nor did he utter any verbal consent either. He was quiet. According to the Tanna Kama, even though “the father did not desire” – meaning, he did not express verbal consent – the kiddushin is valid, because that is enough to be considered a fulfillment of the condition. But according to Rabi Shimon, who holds anything less than outright verbal consent does not fulfill the condition, the father remaining silent doesn’t cut it. The condition was not fulfilled, so the kiddushin does not take effect.
It’s interesting, this discussion about what constitutes “ratzah ha’av”. Different people express desire in different ways. For some people – such as those that are introverted and reserved – a silent posture, perhaps coupled with a slight nod, can be an expression of great enthusiasm and excitement; and for other people, such behavior may indicate disapproval, discomfort, or distress. It is not that some people have certain emotions and others don’t; it is that different individuals have different ways in which those feelings are manifest and expressed. (I think it is safe to assume that the machlokes between the Tanna Kama and Rabi Shimon is not whether silence is an expression of consent or not, but an issue of how do we define such a stipulation min ha’stam).
A complicating factor is the role of societal norms, or – perhaps more accurately – perceived norms. The ironic thing about that is the hypocritical stance that certain societies may assume – on the one hand, purporting to encourage and champion individual expression, while, at the same time, in actuality espousing and engendering an overarching societal atmosphere of conformity. And the irony of ironies and hypocrisy of hypocrisies is when those same societies point their accusing finger of blame at other societies with the claim that the latter is the great offender against individuality and plurality of expression.
I once met someone whose process of becoming a baal teshuva took place in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In discussing his journey to Torah Judaism, he mentioned numerous factors that he feels were an important part of what brought him back to his roots. One of them, interestingly enough, was the fact that “everyone in my generation was engaging in wholesale abandonment of their Jewish identity, and I couldn’t stand it.” He also mentioned how much it bothered him that everyone, but everyone wore blue jeans when he was in college. So he decided that he is not going to wear them for twenty years.
That was the late 60’s. The time when the cry from America’s youth for individualism and plurality had reached an incredibly feverish pitch. And it led so many of them, maybe the overwhelming majority, to engage in quite off-the-beaten-path behaviors; even from a completely secular, Gentile point of view. Like Rashi says regarding the eitzah Bilam gave to Balak (in parshas Balak 22:5), partzu geder ha’olam. The amazing thing about it, though, is that they were all engaged in more or less the same types of pritzas-ha’geder activities, dress, and behaviors – all in the name of individuality and pluralism! Apparently, the hypocrisy struck that particular individual as being a discordant note of flagrant sheker, and helped to generate an impetus within him to seek the truth elsewhere.
Really, it’s not so surprising. When a society chooses superficialities as its chief barometer of individualistic expression, leaving the depth of nefesh a second class role at best, it’s no wonder that the product that they are going to come out with is not going to be all that impressive. To say the least.
From a true Torah point of view, though, it is the “ratzah” that occupies the strongest significance in terms of defining who and what you are. The internal, deep ratzon emanating from the depths of your soul is the most important factor on which to focus attention. Not the particular items that make up your wardrobe, the type of car you drive, or whether or not your way of talking projects a “cool” image.
In fact, conformity in that regard – as far as keeping things basic, simple, and respectful goes – can actually be a great facilitator of true individualism. By stripping away the external trappings of superficiality, individuals may organically find themselves inward-directed. To assess themselves in terms of who they really are, discover and clarify their essential ratzon, and choose the particular approach that is most suited to expressing that ratzon.
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.