Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Conditions with God, Stormy Marriages and Snooping on Your Spouse Gittin 76-82


Going Through the Motions

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph delves into various scriptural formulae for conditional statements. One of the verses mentioned by Rashi (“Iycha”) is from Yeshaiyahu (Isaiah 1:19). As we have recently concluded the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and exile, let us carefully examine this verse:

אִם־תֹּאב֖וּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם ט֥וּב הָאָ֖רֶץ תֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃ 

If, then, you agree and give heed,

You will eat the good things of the earth; 

וְאִם־תְּמָאֲנ֖וּ וּמְרִיתֶ֑ם חֶ֣רֶב תְּאֻכְּל֔וּ כִּ֛י פִּ֥י ה דבר

But if you refuse and disobey,

You will be devoured [by] the sword. —

For it was GOD who spoke.

The Malbim, known for his attention to subtle distinctions between words, points out the use of two Hebrew words: “תמאנו” (refuse) and “תאבו” (desire). Technically, either word could have been used alone in the conditional clauses: “if you desire” and “if you do not desire,” or “if you refuse” and “if you did not refuse.” However, the Malbim explains a fine distinction between “תמאנו” and “תאבו.” The former primarily refers to a verbal expression, as refusing or not refusing is conveyed through words. In contrast, “תאבו” represents an internal desire or lack thereof.

In matters of observance, the Malbim explains two factors: the expression of intent and the actual intent. Sometimes, a person may express intent to fulfill a commandment but lacks the genuine internal intention. Conversely, a person may physically refuse to obey, yet internally wishes to have the moral fortitude to fulfill the commandment. This verse addresses both internal and external motivations. It emphasizes that mere desire to fulfill the commandments is insufficient; one must actually follow through with action. Hence, it states, “אִם־תֹּאב֖וּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם” (“if you desire, (internally), and you obey (externally)”), and only when both conditions are met will the reward be granted. Similarly, it warns that if one “תמאנו” (internally refuses) and disobeys, they will face consequences.

The Hebrew word for “disobey” also carries a subtle distinction. The verse uses “מריתם” (to subvert) instead of “מרדתם” (to rebel). This choice indicates that even a momentary redirection and lack of performance, caused by a sense of refusal internally, will lead to suffering the consequences, regardless of the desire to overcome the gap.

The challenge for any thoughtful and devout individual lies in maintaining authenticity amidst ritual obligations for obedience. Often, one may find themselves in situations where they must observe various commandments and rituals not out of personal desire but out of necessity. Disregarding observance is not an option, yet practicing mitzvos without genuine intent is also unacceptable. Merely going through the motions can be detrimental to the soul, while rebellion impedes growth and the development of characteristics essential for a religious lifestyle.

While there is no easy answer to this predicament, an important step is to engage in mindful and humble communication with God. If performing a mitzvah out of duty is accompanied by resentment, taking a moment or two to talk to God about it can bring about meaningful insights and transformations.


Unconditional Love

Continuing our theme from yesterday, let us further explore the material related to the three weeks. In our Gemara on Amud Aleph, we delve into the significance of the Get (divorce document) entering the wife’s domain. If a husband places a Get in his courtyard with the intention of the wife acquiring it, it will not be valid, as he still owns the courtyard. Instead, he must physically place it into her hand.

The verse in Yeshaiyahu (50:1) states:

כֹּ֣ה ׀ אָמַ֣ר ה אֵ֣י זֶ֠ה סֵ֣פֶר כְּרִית֤וּת אִמְּכֶם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שִׁלַּחְתִּ֔יהָ א֚וֹ מִ֣י מִנּוֹשַׁ֔י אֲשֶׁר־מָכַ֥רְתִּי אֶתְכֶ֖ם ל֑וֹ הֵ֤ן בַּעֲוֺנֹֽתֵיכֶם֙ נִמְכַּרְתֶּ֔ם וּבְפִשְׁעֵיכֶ֖ם שֻׁלְּחָ֥ה אִמְּכֶֽם׃

Thus said GOD:

“Where is the bill of divorce

Of your mother whom I dismissed?

And which of My creditors was it

To whom I sold you off?

You were only sold off for your sins,

And your mother dismissed for your crimes.”

The Benei Yissachar (Ma’amar Chodesh Sivan) applied the lomdus of our sugya exegetically. Bereishis Rabbah (11:5) asks, how can God bring rain on Shabbos; isn’t it carrying from one domain to another? Bereishis Rabbah answers that the entire world is God’s private domain; therefore, for Him, it is all His courtyard.

Using this idea, the verse is understood as follows, “It is not possible to divorce the Jewish people as all of the world is my courtyard. And, if the Get is given in hand, where is this material Get? There is no physical evidence?”

While this is a clever derash, there is also a metaphysical and psychological resonance to this idea. Can God really cut off His creations? Creation is an act of love, and even though sin may lead to consequences, are they truly punishments or simply a loss of divine protection leading to suffering? This is an age-old debate, but it remains meaningful nonetheless. It is significant to consider that God cannot ever truly detach from us; rather, it is us who detach from Him.


Boundaries and Privacy

In our Gemara on Amud Aleph, the discussion revolves around domains that are defacto considered personal, allowing the woman to acquire the Get even if she is technically still on her husband’s property. One such location is analogous to the Babylonian equivalent of a pocketbook. Even if this item is on the ground (see Tosafos), and the ground belongs to the husband, it is understood to be designated for her personal use, enabling her to acquire the Get.

This contemplation leads me to reflect on the concept of boundaries and privacy within a marriage. As a therapist, I have observed that snooping in a spouse’s email or cellphone rarely leads to positive outcomes. Some might argue that snooping is necessary to discover potential issues, but the problem is that suspicion already indicates trouble within the relationship. Instead of resorting to snooping, addressing the issue requires collaboration and open discussion. If satisfactory answers are not received, then there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Demanding disclosure without being prepared to handle the consequences can cause unnecessary trauma. Theoretically, catching the person stops denial, but often denial is powerful and even when caught there are various rationalizations. The heart always knows when there is a problem in the relationship and one should stick with their gut, insisting that there is a disconnection that needs work, without resorting to spying.

Unless you are serious that you will demand a divorce if you find out certain matters of unfaithfulness, why push for a disclosure before the relationship can handle it. You might think, “If I find out about such and such, we are done!” Don’t be so sure. The statistical fact is that most marriages survive an affair, aside from lesser “crimes” such various on line activities. I am not minimizing the hurt, pain, anger or need for resolution. Just realistically after the initial rage and wish for vengeance, cooler heads often prevail.

Moreover, assuming that knowing everything about one’s spouse is beneficial can be misleading. Imagining a world where spouses can read each other’s minds raises questions about the desirability of knowing every negative thought or deed. In the modern world, our devices are like extensions of our brains, recording our most intimate thoughts. Halakha tends to adapt to technological advancements slowly due to its conservative nature, as evident in how mail eventually received its own boundaries of privacy in Rabbenu Gershom’s era via a cherem. Similarly, emails and cell phones would likely be subject to similar regulations if they existed during that time. The idea of privacy and the boundaries surrounding it evolve with technological progress and societal norms.

Ultimately, building trust and addressing disconnections within the relationship should be prioritized over invasive measures. Healthy marriages require open communication, respect for boundaries, and a willingness to work on any issues that arise.


Marital Therapy and God

Our Mishna Amud Beis discusses a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel regarding an “old Get”. An old Get is a Get that was written, but before it was given, the husband and wife were alone together. Beis Hillel is concerned that should they have momentarily reconciled, and then the Get was given sometime later, perhaps she got pregnant in between. If so, it would have the appearance of a child out of wedlock. Therefore, one should not divorce with an “old” Get. Bais Shammai is not concerned about this.

Tosafos (“Beis Shammai”) based on a Yerushalmi, says this is Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel in accordance with their positions regarding the permissibility of divorce, discussed in the last Mishna of Gittin (90a). Since Beis Shammai holds that one is only permitted to divorce if there are grounds to believe that adultery was committed, there is much less likelihood of reconciliation. After all, typically such a situation would not engender a sudden reversal. Therefore, Beis Shammai is not concerned that they were sexually intimate when they were alone, and so there’s no concern of a child appearing to be out of wedlock. On the other hand, since Beis Hillel holds that it is permissible to divorce even over irreconcilable differences, it is more likely that if they had been alone together, there might’ve been a temporary reconciliation leading to pregnancy, and with a Get written much prior, the appearance of a child out of wedlock.

This dispute between Shammai and Hillel is not so simple. Some poskim understand that the entire discussion is in regard to a second marriage because a first marriage is considered sacrosanct. This is based on a discussion in the Gemara (Gittin 90b) which quotes a verse in Malachi as follows:

״כִּי שָׂנֵא שַׁלַּח״ – רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: אִם שְׂנֵאתָהּ – שַׁלַּח. רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן אוֹמֵר: שָׂנָאוּי הַמְשַׁלֵּחַ.

The prophet Malachi states in rebuke of those who divorce their wives: “For I hate sending away, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16). Rabbi Yehuda says: The verse means that if you hate your wife, send her away. Do not continue living with a woman whom you hate. Rabbi Yoḥanan says: The verse means that one who sends his wife away is hated by God.

וְלָא פְּלִיגִי: הָא בְּזוּג רִאשוֹן, הָא בְּזוּג שֵׁנִי.

And the Gemara explains that they do not disagree. This statement is with regard to a first marriage, i.e., one should tolerate his first wife and not divorce her, and that statement is with regard to a second marriage, in which case the husband should divorce his wife if he hates her.

There are poskim that interpret this Gemara to mean that even Bais Hillel only argues with Beis Shammai by a second marriage (see Shulkan Arukh EH 119:3 and commentaries).

The Rokeach (Seder Nashim Gittin) makes a derash based on this. He says Malachi was a prophet regarding the second Beis HaMikdash. The second Beis HaMikdash is like a second marriage. Therefore, just like a second marriage does not require a major betrayal to justify ending it, so too the second Temple was destroyed, simply for the sin of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred. On the other hand, the first temple was only destroyed when the Jews committed major betrayal, such as idolatry and murder.

We have discussed many times the parallels between God’s relationship with the Jewish people and a marriage. This kind of symbolism and imagery are greater than a metaphor; it is somehow or another, something basic, and real. The patterns of the relationship dynamics, sometimes stormy, sometimes irrational, are in a real way, an illumination of God’s relationship with us, as well as our sometimes strange and conflicted relationships with our spouses. How else can we explain this most histrionic and seemingly unbalanced statement of Moshe (Shemos 32:32):

וְעַתָּה אִם־תִּשָּׂא חַטָּאתָם וְאִם־אַיִן מְחֵנִי נָא מִסִּפְרְךָ אֲשֶׁר כָּתָבְתָּ׃

Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!”

If we were doing couples therapy on Moshe and God, I shudder to say what kind of diagnosis we would give Moshe! (By the way, or not so by the way, that is exactly why I don’t believe much in diagnoses. Because all they really are, are clusters and patterns of human behavior that all of us do. It is only “pathological“ when it is on the extreme. We all, at times, engage in extremes as well. Beware of labeling your spouse with some kind of pathology when all they are is just being human and having feelings.) Returning to our discussion about Moshe, we must wonder: Really, was this good communication skills? The answer is, at that time, Moshe was not being an erudite communicator, he was being emotional. He was wrapped up in a deep and complex relationship with God and the Jewish people. Don’t ever underestimate what it means to be human and what it means to have feelings. It seems that God does not underestimate this either.


The Get of Luban

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the importance of properly naming the city in the Get. This brings to mind an interesting slice of reality from about 100 years ago. In the Introduction to the eighth volume of the Iggeros Moshe, there is a biography of Rav Moshe that goes on for dozens of pages, and has the veracity of being written by his grandchildren. One of Rav Moshe’s first rabbinic positions was to serve as Rabbi of the town Luban. To give you an idea of the powerhouses of learning that some of these Lithuanian Jewish towns contained, they said that the wagoner of the city knew Shas and Poskim, and the shoemaker (whom Rav Moshe lived by for a time) spent so much time learning, that no one knew when he actually found the time to repair shoes (see page 37).

One of Rav Moshe’s early rabbinic rulings was how to spell Luban in a Get (p.17). This is an important historical note. As we just remarked that this town was chock full of lamdanim, and thus if a divorce had been written in the last several hundred years, it is a fair presumption that someone would remember how Luban was halakhically spelled. We must assume that there hadn’t been a divorce in Luban for many hundreds of years! Rav Moshe lived through tumultuous times, such as the communist revolution and the upheavals subsequent from the haskala and industrial revolution. During these modernizing and turbulent times, the idea of divorce either became more manageable, or the institution of marriage and family was undermined, or both.

In the end, it is fair to assume that at least part of the absence of divorce in Luban (and possibly other shtetlach) was due to stigma and social pressure. Is this a good thing? How many women (and men) were suffering in a dysfunctional marriage but felt no way out? On the other hand, there is a protective aspect to social pressures and sanctions. Perhaps people took marriage more seriously and treated their partners with greater regard, as the sacredness of the institution was more deeply felt. We may surmise that the way they sacralized other parts of their lives, submitting to duty and fear of God on a scale that is less frequently found today, so too they treated marriage with deference.

Were they happier and more fulfilled, or were they less happy, living in frustration? I don’t know, but we cannot turn the clock back. Today we have to find happiness and fulfillment living our lives as Jews of a modern world, with its perks as well as its drawbacks. We have less of a sense of the holy, but we have more freedom and resources. Choose wisely.


Halakhic Reasoning and Myopic Dangers

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph engages in a discussion to determine what occurred to a wife of a Cohen who was taken captive. Rabbi Dosa does not assume she was raped even though she may have been molested in other ways:

אָמַר רַבִּי דּוֹסָא: וְכִי מָה עָשָׂה לָהּ עַרְבִי זֶה? מִפְּנֵי שֶׁמִּיעֵךְ לָהּ בֵּין דַּדֶּיהָ, פְּסָלָהּ מִן הַכְּהוּנָּה?!

In explanation of this statement, Rabbi Dosa says: And what did this Arab do to her when he took her captive? Because he fondled her breasts he disqualified her from the priesthood? As long as it is not determined that her captors actually raped her, she is not prohibited from partaking of teruma.

This reminds me of a key issue regarding Rabbinic thinking and sexual abuse. When you think in a legalistic halakhic sense, sometimes you risk missing the forest for the trees. Decades ago, when there began to be more community awareness regarding sexual abuse, revered poskim and batei din made a tragic error. They applied halakhic reasoning to social and psychological situations. If a molester “only” touched a child inappropriately, since halakhically this was not as severe as sexual intercourse, it led to an unconscious minimization of the psychological and religious trauma. In fact, without naming names of certain notorious rabbinic molesters, they themselves were well versed in the halakhic distinctions, and perhaps rationalized their behavior, because they were not violating a cardinal sin. Similarly, because we have this generally valuable notion that people can repent, in the old days when there was naiveté about the patterns of abusers and the unbearably strong compulsion they experienced, it was thought that if somebody was sincerely penitent, they would no longer be perpetrators. These errors, while understandable in a certain sense, caused incalculable and unfathomable damage. Persons who experienced intense trauma felt belittled and minimized, because technically the perpetrator did not do what was considered halakhically a high crime.

Of course, today, there is much greater awareness and sensitivity. Most poskim and dayyanim are more respectful of the subjectivity of trauma, understanding that the halakhic lens which operates in terms of legalism cannot always capture the individual circumstances and terrible damage that a perpetrator can do, all within certain boundaries. In fact, I have worked with victims who were never even sexually touched but were clearly in some way being subtly groomed by teachers or mentors for some kind of vicarious gratification, all the while never technically violating a prohibition.

The lesson in all this is to be attuned to subjective distress. We simply do not know what will be the next crisis that we will look back a few decades later and say, “How could we have missed the boat?“. However, we can do our best to learn from the past.


Conditional Conditions 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph and Beis discusses the dynamic of a Get given on a condition. Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin in Resise Hegyonos (Parashas Re’eh) uses this Gemara to explain a Midrashic comment on the following verses (Devarim 11:26-27):

רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה׃ 

See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: 

אֶֽת־הַבְּרָכָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְע֗וּ אֶל־מִצְוֺת֙ ה

The blessing, if you obey the commandments of your God

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 36:2) comments:

אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בַּר פָּפָּא אַשְׁרַי וְאַשְׁרֵיכֶם כְּשֶׁנִּתְקַיְּמוּ כָּל הַתְּנָאִין הַלָּלוּ שֶׁהִתְנֵיתִי עִמָּכֶם.

Said Rabbi Chanina bar Puppa, (God says, “Fortunate, and fortunate are you (the Jewish people), when you fulfill all the conditions that I have made before you.”

It is not clear what Rabbi Chanina bar Puppa is coming to emphasize and clarify. Rabbi Zevin says that the Hebrew word used here, Ashrei, really means something closer to “established reality“. (Similar to the legal validation on a contract known as “Ashrasa Dedayni”.) Such a term, however, is contradictory to a conditional term, and established reality is not dependent on any contingencies, while a conditional term, by definition, is.

When it comes to conditions similar to the one discussed in our Gemara, Rabbi Zevin says that there are two types of conditions. One is an inclusion clause, and the other is an exclusion clause. For example, if somebody gives a woman a Get stating, “You are divorced so long as you never speak with that man“, such a divorce is immediately valid and will remain valid so long as she does not violate the clause. If she violates the clause, retroactively the Get will be invalidated. On the other hand, if the Get is given stating, “You are divorced so long as you pay me $1000“, the divorce will not be valid until she makes the payment. In the former case, the Get is activated immediately and will remain active so long as the condition is not violated. In the latter case, it is subject to the fulfillment of the condition.

So, according to Rabbi Zevin, the same reasoning applies to the blessings promised to the Jews on the condition of their fulfillment of the Torah. There are commandments and prohibitions. The blessings for the Commandments are contingent upon their fulfillment. They are not fully activated until the Commandments are fulfilled. However, the blessings that are contingent upon negative prohibitions are immediately fulfilled so long as the prohibitions are not violated. Therefore, the language of the Midrash “Fortunate are you, (that is, you have an established reality),” applies to the blessings that will be conferred so long as no violations are made. The other language about conditions applies to the blessings conferred upon fulfillment of the commandments.

This gives us a different way of looking at our relation to commandments versus prohibitions. It would seem that by merely staying away from violations, we already are bringing certain blessings that are promised because we have done nothing to violate the condition. On the other hand, other blessings will remain in suspension so long as we do not actively pursue fulfillment of the Commandments.


About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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