By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 78 – Embarrassing but Necessary, What to Do?
Al ha’chadashim anu boshin – it’s embarrassing enough, exclaimed Rabban Gamliel, that she cannot sell properties which she inherits whilst fully married, and now you want to include even properties that came into her possession when she was only betrothed?!
That is what Rabban Gamliel answered the Chachamim when they challenged him with the argument, “If the husband has acquired his wife, should he not also acquire her property?!” Meaning, once nisuin takes place and she is fully married to him, the husband should acquire a full lean on her properties that should prevent her from being able to sell them. So, they argued, why is it that you hold that, in the event the properties came into her possession before nisuin, if she sells them the transaction is valid and irrevocable?
To that challenge Rabban Gamliel rhetorically responded, “About the new [properties] we are embarrassed, and you want to come along and add the old [properties]?!” In other words, it is bad enough that her sale of properties she inherited after nisuin is invalid, and you want to say that that should be the case even for properties that she inherited whilst only betrothed?!
The expression Rabban Gamliel employs – al ha’chadashim anu boshin – is curious. The mefarshim are bothered; what exactly is it that Rabban Gamliel is so embarrassed about? The takanah that a husband acquires a powerful lean on his wife’s property (baal ochel peiros) was enacted in order to thereby impose an obligation on the husband to redeem his wife in the event that she would be captured, irrespective of whether or not that cost is equal to the benefits he gains from her properties or exceeds that sum. This is a straightforward, widely-known halacha, so what is it that is bothering Rabban Gamliel so?
The mefarshim take different approaches to this. Some say that it is the lack of fair proportion that Rabban Gamliel found irksome. The benefit that husbands get from their wives properties is an often, frequent, and dependable occurrence; whereas a woman getting captured and needing to be ransomed is not all that common, to say the least. Others explain that it is the extent of the takanah that Rabban Gamliel had a hard time with; for the husband to have rights to collect the profitable gains of her properties is one thing, but that she should not even be able to sell those properties is quite another!
Whatever the explanation may be, the consensus of most of the mefarshim is that Rabban Gamliel indeed concurred that that is the halacha – that a fully married woman who inherits a property cannot sell it, even b’dieved – just that he felt that it was a source of embarrassment. In other words, it is something that had to be done, but we’re not happy that we had to do it. Chazal’s scope of vision was much broader than we can conceive. Despite the seemingly quirky nature of a particular detail of a given law, they saw that if not for that facet thereof, it just won’t hold water. So, even though it may appear strange, unfair, exaggerated, or disproportionate, Chazal determined that there was no choice but to enact and legislate the law in that form. Maybe that part of the law is indeed a bit embarrassing, but we would suffer much worse embarrassment without it!
Embarrassing situations and circumstances are a part of life. Let’s face it, there is just no avoiding it. Sometimes embarrassments are just that: embarrassments. And that’s it. Something embarrassing happened. You tripped and fell in the mud. You sent a private email to the wrong person. Or maybe you forgot to shut off your cellphone before davening, and in the middle of Shmoneh Esrei everyone can hear your kid’s voice saying (with increasing volume), “Daddy pick up the phone!” When those types of things happen, we don’t really have much recourse other than to say “gam zu l’tovah; it should be a kaparah” and move on with life. Sure, you can make a mental note in your head to be more careful with watching where you walk, checking the address in the “To” bar of your email, and make it an ingrained habit to always shut off the phone for davening. But those are all of a more technical nature. Inherently, the situation and the embarrassment you suffered was not something in which your free will choice was all that much engaged.
But there are other types of embarrassing situations in life. Or, perhaps better put, potentially embarrassing. It’s up to you. You can choose option A or option B. Option A will entail a heavy degree of embarrassment, and option B will spare you that suffering. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Well, almost; except for one small point. In your heart you know that option A is the right thing to do and option B is a cop-out. Of course, you’re heavily biased to choose the option that will obviate any awkwardness and discomfiture, and your yeitzer hara is thus working overtime to provide you with a hundred and one excuses, rationalizations, and explanations to justify – no, mandate! – going with option B.
But the voice of truth is hard to still. It can be soft and quiet, but persistent it is.
Consider the following true-to-life scenario. She’s married, thirty eight years old, and has six children. Life is good, although finances are often an issue. But not unbearable. The real sore point in her otherwise happy life is her weight. And we’re not talking about a few extra pounds. She is severely obese and her doctor has warned her many, many times of the terrible risks of heart disease and a host of other problems to which she is subjecting herself by not addressing this issue properly. She’s tried diet after diet after diet. Multiple exercise programs. Support groups. You name it. So far, nothing has worked.
Nothing, that is, except for the one method that she knows will work.
For years already she’s realized that what she really needs is a shadow. An unbiased, outside third-party who will closely supervise and monitor her diet for her. Fully engaged and fully involved. In her heart she knows that it will work. She also knows that nothing else holds any real hope. But the embarrassment is just overwhelming. The thought of having such a person being intimately and aggressively involved with every aspect of her eating habits is simply mortifying. Just thinking about it makes her go pale and break out into a sweat. Not to mention her husband and children! How humiliating it would be for her to have them see that she needs a food babysitter all the time!
So for years she’s swept that idea deep under the dusty rug of her mind. Mightily struggling against that incessant voice that tells her this is her only real way out. And, in the meantime, the problem has become more acute. From month to month, the urgency of it grows. Without letup and without mercy.
Perhaps we could borrow Rabban Gamliel’s expression – albeit with a bit of tweaking – to express how she’s feeling. Boshah ani al ha’yeshanim elah sheh’atem megalgelin alay es ha’chadashim – I am embarrassed enough as is with everything that I’ve already tried, and you want me to try this?!
Yes, the wording is slightly different, and the practical application is not the same either; but there is one, basic commonality: it’s embarrassing, it’s uncomfortable, but it needs to be done. Period.
So what should she do? What thought patterns can she cultivate in her mind to ease the difficulty and overcome the hurdle of stinging shame? One way, perhaps, is to reassess how she defines shame. What is truly shameful anyway? Ultimately, what should be a bigger source of embarrassment – allowing a serious problem to fester and mutate, or admitting that you need serious help? What really is an expression of weakness and what constitutes true courage? When considered from that angle, although it doesn’t completely remove the difficulty of overcoming the sense of embarrassment, one cannot help but realize that doing what is right and needs to be done is the truest expression of gevurah. What greater gibor (or in this case, giborah) could there be than someone who is prepared to admit weakness and limitations in order to do the right thing? Sweeping the problem under the rug may afford an ephemeral impression of independence, but that is all it is. A fleeting illusion. And it is an indulgence that will almost certainly lead to much, much greater shame.
Real strength and real power is expressed by admitting to oneself and to others, “I need help. I cannot go it alone.” Because by so doing, she is conquering one of the most powerful inhibitors that exists: shame and humiliation. To overcome that sense of embarrassment in order to the right thing – that which one knows is what needs to be done – is the mark of a truly courageous individual. And, ultimately, taking that step – although not easy at all – will not remain a source of embarrassment and shame; on the contrary, it will leave for posterity an imprint of gevurah that will serve as an inspiration to all who are lucky enough to witness it.
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 email@example.com.