June 21, 2022

Yevamot 102

Six months ago in my commentary to Megillah 16a (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/megillah-16/) I spoke about the importance of us being prepared to cut our losses and walk away from bad situations. In fact, I even quoted Annie Duke who has written an entire book on the subject (‘Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away’). And why do I mention this? Because I think that it has something to do with some fascinating teachings in today’s daf (Yevamot 102a).
As we know, a major topic of discussion throughout Massechet Yevamot has been ‘Halitzah’ – which is a ceremony described in the Torah (Devarim 25:7-10) that disconnects a Yavam and a Yevamah. Specifically, the Torah tells us that part of this ceremony involves the Yevama removing a shoe of the Yavam (וְחָלְצָה נַעֲלוֹ מֵעַל רַגְלוֹ) and declaring: כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִבְנֶה אֶת בֵּית אָחִיו – ‘This is what shall be done to the man who will not build up a family for his brother’ (ibid. v. 9). Understood this way, the word ‘halitzah’ means to remove – and in this case, a shoe.
However, in today’s daf we find a series of challenges, initiated by Rav Kahana, to this explanation of this word. True, we find in in Vayikra 14:40 with respect to a house with tzora’at that the word ‘halatz’ is used to mean ‘remove’, but as the Gemara continues to explain, the word is also used elsewhere in Tanach (Bemidbar 31:3, Iyov 36:15, Tehillim 34:8, Yeshayahu 58:11) where it means ‘to prepare’, ‘to support’, and ‘to strengthen’.
Addressing these challenges, the Gemara proceeds to teach us that sometimes the way we prepare for an upcoming challenge or opportunity is by removing ourselves from our current mindset. And the way we support people is to help remove them from what is pulling them down. And the way we strengthen people is by giving them independence. What this means is that the act of ‘removing’ ourselves from bad situations can be the best way to help ourselves, to support ourselves, to strengthen ourselves, and to prepare ourselves for our next chapter in life.
What this means is that ‘Halitzah’, while also a biblical ceremony disconnecting a Yavam and a Yevamah, has much to teach us in terms of getting out of bad situations – namely that removing ourselves from such situations is not a sign of weakness, but is – in fact – the way we can prepare, protect, support, and strengthen ourselves.
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