February 14, 2023

Nedarim 66

In my commentary on yesterday’s daf I emphasized the importance of fulfilling both mitzvot being adam l’makom and mitzvot bein adam lechaveiro. Then, in my class at Midreshet Lindenbaum on ‘The Thought of Rav Soloveitchik’, I quoted from his 1970 talk on the Asseret HaDibrot (as recorded in ‘The Rav’ Vol. 1 p. 196) where he said that, ‘God is worshipped not only by offering sacrifice, prayer, and frustration, but also by practicing a moral social life. This is achieved by displaying kindness to one’s fellow man, extending help to the needy, and treating one’s subordinates decently’.
With all this in mind we now come to today’s daf (Nedarim 66a-b) where we read how Rabbi Yishmael personally paid for the clothes and medical expenses of those in need – with the specific example mentioned in the Gemara being the provision of clothes and medical expenses for a woman who sought to get married.
Similarly, we are informed of a situation where Rabbi Yehuda ate food that he was given for the sake of shalom bayit between a couple which he justified by explaining, ‘if, to make peace between husband and wife, the Torah states “let My Name, which was written in holiness, be erased in the cursed-waters” even when it is uncertain that this will resolve the doubts and associated issues in a marriage, how much more so [must I ignore my own honour to help the honor of others]!’.
What this comes to teach us is that Rabbis and religious leaders must do whatever they can and whatever it takes to improve Shalom Bayit within a home. For example, there are those like Rabbi Yishmael who maintain a fund or who give of their own money to support those in need. Moreover, as I explained in my talk some years ago titled ‘Shalom Bayit lessons from the Dayan zt’l’ (see bit.ly/3jxgBgZ for the transcript), this overall emphasis on Shalom Bayit was central to the teachings, halachic decisions, and personal involvement of my teacher Dayan Lopian zt’l.
However, for fear of being misunderstood, I’d briefly like to explain what I mean by Shalom Bayit, because while there are many instances where work can be done, guidance can be offered, and support can be provided to assist couples to improve their relationship, there are some instances when Shalom Bayit for a marriage requires the end of the marriage because the couple who are currently together are causing distress to each other and, where children are involved, often the children too. Admittedly, we often don’t think of Shalom Bayit this way. But it is essential to emphasise that Shalom Bayit means different things in different circumstances, and that the Shalom Bayit outcome for one may well be the Shalom Bayit impediment to another.
I’d like to briefly conclude by speaking about situations where children choose a different religious path to their parents. Admittedly, while each case is unique, this can cause some parents to feel disappointed. But even if such a feeling were to be justified, this certainly does not mean that because their child has made this choice that the shalom bayit in their home should be undermined. In fact, I was deeply inspired when I recently met a family who responded to a similar situation by actively going out of their way to strengthen the bonds within their family!
Overall, if we take Torah seriously we must take Shalom Bayit seriously, and a clear message that comes through from yesterday’s and today’s daf is that general acts of kindness to others, supporting those in need, and doing whatever we can for the sake of Shalom Bayit, is something that all of us must endeavour to do for the sake of peace in the world because, as Rabbi Sacks powerfully put it, ‘Peace in the home is where world peace begins’ (Faith in the Future p. 133).
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