October 23, 2022

Ketubot 90

While I strive to learn the daf every day, I also strive to live with the daf every day. Consequently, I often find myself noticing making connections between the words in our daf and the events of the day including today – Erev Yom Kippur.
In terms of today’s daf (Ketubot 90b), it describes a situation when a man was married to two wives with whom he had children – where one of his wives died during his lifetime, and another died after his death. According to Ben Nannas, ‘the sons of the first wife can say to the sons of the second wife: “you are the children of a creditor; take the ketubah [money] of your mother and go away”’, while Rabbi Akiva disagrees and states that ‘the estate already jumped away from the sons of the first wife and fell to the sons of the second wife’.
On first glance, and without even getting into the specific details of how the estate of this man should be divided, it seems clear that there is tension between the children of these two women who share the same father. In particular, the way in which Ben Nannas rules how the sons of the first wife say to the others ‘take the ketubah [money]… and go away’ expresses a lacking of a generosity of spirit.
Admittedly, I don’t think that Ben Nannas was instructing these children to use these exact words. Instead, I suspect that he is of the opinion that in this and similar situations, tension and resentment can exist to such an extent that people find themselves speaking this way. And why? Because families can be messy, and especially when parents remarry, tension and resentment can exist between children even when they have done nothing wrong towards each other.
Yet while this admittedly often occurs, it need not be this way, and today – Erev Yom Kippur – is an ideal time to reflect upon and consider better ways to deal with complicated and messy family situations.
Of course, there can be reasons – as our daf describes – when people seek what they think they deserve and pursue this goal assertively. Yet oftentimes the very thing that binds such people together – namely a shared parent – becomes a source of sharp conflict.
But this idea goes further because, to quote the prophet Malachi (2:10), הֲלוֹא אָב אֶחָד לְכֻלָּנוּ – ‘Do we not all have One Father?’. Yet notwithstanding this foundational belief, we often act very unkindly towards each other: Jews of different groups and denominations oftentimes use language about each other that betrays a cruel spirit. When it comes to politics, we seem to prefer character assassination over thoughtful engagement. And in terms of how Jews relate to non-Jews, there are occasions when certain snide remarks and even racist language is used which directly contradicts the above-mentioned words of Malachi.
As we know, one of the prayers that we recite on Yom Kippur is the Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, our King), and the reason we do so because we seek God’s pardon and forgiveness. But there is no escaping the fact that if we don’t take seriously the words of Malachi of ‘Do we not all have One Father?’ then it seems clear that we aren’t taking the ‘Avinu’ part of ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ sufficiently seriously either.
Given all this, as we ebb towards Yom Kippur, here are two concrete suggestions. Firstly, if you do have a complicated family, do what you can in the coming hours to think of better ways to deal with the situations you face and, if you can – using wisdom and judgement – express this sentiment with a simple gesture such as calling or messaging a family member whose relationship with you is messy and wishing them well over the fast. And secondly, not just on Yom Kippur but beyond, live as if you really believe that God is our shared parent and thus every other human being is part of your extended family, because while saying ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ is easy, I suspect we are meant to live in a way that reflects these words as well.
Wishing those of you fasting an easy and meaningful fast, wishing you all a Gmar Chatima Tov, and here is a link to Shulem Lemmer’s stunning rendition of Avinu Malkeinu – https://youtu.be/anPJFBzVC2c
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