Rachel’s Test Gittin 24
Our Mishna on Amud Beis teaches:
If a man has two wives with identical names and he writes a bill of divorce intending to divorce the older one but then changes his mind, he may not use that bill to divorce the younger one.
The Hon Ashir in the Mishna notes that the description of a case where the bill is written to divorce the older wife, rather than the reverse scenario or wives of the same age, is essentially unnecessary. However, the Mishna presents this case to highlight the tendency for jealousy and discord between the older and younger wives, which could lead to divorce.
This teaching is based on a passage in Gemara Megillah 13a:
“And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai sat in the king’s gate.” Achashveirosh sought advice from Mordechai on how to compel Esther to reveal her family and nationality, not knowing Mordechai was her uncle. Mordechai’s advice to Achashveirosh was: “A woman is jealous of the thigh of another woman. Therefore, you should take additional wives, and she will feel jealous and insecure, making her more compliant.” But even so, Esther did not reveal her origins, as it is written: “Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people.”
Beis Yaakov (Vayetze 67) explains this principle in the context of Rachel’s infertility and divine intervention. Despite Rachel’s plea for Yaakov to pray for her, his prayers were blocked due to some imperfection. Yaakov could only align with the pure will of Hashem, so he could not pray for something undeserved. This is the true meaning of Yaakov’s response in Bereishis 30:2, “Am I to be in the place of God?”—meaning, I cannot defy His will. When Rachel offered her maidservant to bear children in order to fulfill the mitzvah of producing the Twelve Tribes, it was a complete contradiction to the norms of jealousy. This act served as a rectification and repair of her character deficiency, and subsequently, their prayers were no longer hindered.
It is an interesting concept that for certain righteous individuals, their unwavering commitment to God’s will can actually hinder their ability to pray for mercy or special consideration. They impose upon themselves the requirement to correct their character before their prayers can be heard.
The Toxicity of Divorce Threats Gittin 25
In our Gemara on Amud Aleph, we discuss a specific type of incomplete divorce document known as “aroma of a Get” (ריח גט). Although these documents are not legally binding and do not result in a valid divorce, they still have implications. A Cohen, for example, would be prohibited from marrying the woman even though she is not officially divorced.
Most Rishonim, except for the Rambam, understood this prohibition to be of biblical origin (see Rashi on 24b, “chutz”; Tosafos Gittin 82b compared to Rambam Geirushin 10:1). While it is challenging to precisely explain this mechanism, those who view it as a biblical prohibition can conclude that the thoughts and emotions behind a divorce can be so toxic that they have an impact even before the divorce is finalized. Various baale mussar, mystics, and chassidim have expressed the prohibition of a Cohen marrying a divorced woman along similar lines (see Shem MiShmuel Emor 6:8, Likkutei Halachos, Laws of Divorce 3:8, and Akeidas Yitschok 66:1).
Even the mere thought of divorce can create a certain status, leading to surprising practical halakhic effects. For example, according to Rashbam in Bava Basra (146b, “Nafla”), once a man decides to divorce his wife, he no longer inherits from her. Therefore, if she unexpectedly dies before he grants the divorce, but it is evident that he intended to divorce her, her children inherit from her instead of him.
One of Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s Ten Commandments of Marriage is “Never Say Divorce.” While the empty and angry threat of divorce often arises from genuine despair and anguish, continuously stating it is not helpful.
Expanding on this topic, in Psychology of the Daf Megillah 14, I wrote the following:
The verse states: “And the king removed his ring from his hand” (Esther 3:10). Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said: The removal of Ahasuerus’s ring for the sealing of Haman’s decree was more effective than the forty-eight prophets and the seven prophetesses who prophesied on behalf of the Jewish people. Although they were unable to lead the Jewish people back to the right path, the removal of Ahasuerus’s ring brought them to repentance.
Aside from the obvious lesson that people sometimes only repent at the last minute, in the most dire circumstances, the Gemara hints at a different kind of last-minute repentance – repentance in marriage.
A strong marriage is built on emotional independence, where each partner maintains the right balance of love and respect for each other’s boundaries. Many individuals are emotionally and sometimes physically bullied by their spouse because deep down, the other spouse knows they will never leave. When the threshold reaches an intolerable point, the person may choose to leave, have an affair, or experience a nervous breakdown, finally leading to a discussion of the problems. However, it is often too late to easily repair and rebuild trust and love.
Fear of divorce prevents people from making constructive changes, engaging in mature dialogues about roles, expectations, disappointments, and addressing unacceptable but necessary thoughts and feelings. This avoidance leads to marriages that are stagnant and unfulfilling, and according to certain arguments, it may be permissible from a halakhic standpoint to end such marriages.
Perhaps this is what the Gemara hints at when it states that “Ahasuerus’s removal of his signet ring did more to bring the Jews back to Hashem and teshuva than all of the forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses.” The point being that only when the Jews felt they were in dire danger did they finally take stock of their behavior and relationship with God and make the necessary repairs. Similarly, in marriage, only when one spouse genuinely considers divorce and shows the independence of spirit and willingness to leave, does the other spouse fully grasp the seriousness of the situation and begin to reform their ways.
People have the capacity to make healthier and more adaptive choices, even if they struggle with personal issues. When individuals try new patterns of behavior and find success, it reinforces positive change. Marriages are dynamic processes that allow for personal growth and transformation. Although motivation is crucial, individuals can become motivated if they have the right information and guidance and are open to the possibility of personal growth and change. Even individuals with personality disorders can sometimes recognize their illogical thinking and distortions. It may require individual therapy to reduce reactivity, heal past traumas, and exert tremendous willpower, but change is possible, and it is worth pursuing. The love that emerges after repairing a marriage is deeper and more meaningful, akin to the special place occupied by baalei teshuva that even tzadikim cannot attain (Berachos 34b.)
As a therapist, I refrain from advising clients on whether they should stay married or get divorced. Instead, I provide them with the tools to make informed decisions and take the next right step. I emphasize that change occurs one step at a time, allowing for a gradual process of recovery.
Divorce can be likened to an amputation; sometimes, when an infection has progressed too far, it becomes necessary. However, it is a painful and last resort, and there may be lingering emotional pain. Nevertheless, if it is required to save a life, it becomes the only viable option.