August 16, 2022

Ketubot 35

There is one biblical word that has been the focus of attention in recent dapim (Ketubot 30a, 33a, 34b, 35a): אָסוֹן – literally translated as a ‘disaster’ or ‘calamity’, but understood by our Sages to mean ‘fatal injury’. And the reason why these dapim have focused on this word is because their main subject has been the personal and financial liabilities for harm – which has then led our Sages to analyse the meaning of Shemot 21:22 and Shemot 21:23 which discuss the personal and financial liabilities for harm and that both invoke the word אָסוֹן.
But while אָסוֹן is generally used with reference to a ‘fatal injury’, it is not a physical or legal description of a fatal injury, but instead, it is a word describing the emotional reaction to an unexpected and undesired calamity involving a fatality. For example, Yaakov refused to give permission for Binyamin to leave home for fear that an אָסוֹן would occur to him (see Bereishit 42:4, 42:38 & 44:29).
Reflecting on the meaning of the word אָסוֹן, Rabbi Hirsch (in his commentary to Bereishit 42:4) explains that it refers to ‘an event that overwhelms us’, and then he suggests that there is a connection between the word אסון and אוזן (ear). As he suggests, this is because the ear absorbs many things, and an אסון is about the absorbing of an event that overwhelms us.
However, I would like to add a further layer of interpretation to the words of Rabbi Hirsch because the part of the inner ear (אוזן) is responsible for us keeping our balance, while an אָסוֹן is an event that occurs in our life that overwhelms us and that throws us off-balance.
Based on this, if someone has sadly suffered an אָסוֹן that has thrown them off-balance, then one of the most helpful things to do is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘lend them your ear’ (אוזן) – of course, only if they wish and are ready to speak – and thereby provide them with some measure of support to help them in their process of rebalancing themselves and their lives.
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