Three dapim ago (Yevamot 105b) we read the dramtic story which Jeffrey L. Rubenstein calls, ‘The Shaming of Abdan’ (see https://bit.ly/3NgJZkV for his article on the topic). Significantly, this story concluded by informing us that due to Abdan’s impudence, he contracted tzora’at, his two sons drowned, and his two daughters-in-law made declarations of refusal (mi’un) to his sons. In fact, Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak goes as far as to state: “Blessed is the Merciful One who shamed Abdan in this world.”
In today’s daf (Yevamot 108a) we are told more about the ‘mi’un’ of his daughters-in-law and where we find that the same term used concerning the Rabbis who are sent to ‘investigate’ (למיבדקינהו) them is also used with reference to the yevamah (בדקה) who appeared in the Beit Midrash with a halachic query on Yevamot 105b amidst the drama involving Rebbi, Abdan and Rabbi Yishmael.
Significantly, while the word ‘mi’un’ is used in these stories – thereby implying that these daughters-in-laws were minors who had been betrothed to the sons of Abdan by their mothers or brothers after their father’s death but who rejected the marriage – the word here seems to be speaking about refusal within or post marriage, leading the Meiri to state that these women refused intimacy with their husbands because they had contempt for them (as expressed by their words to a group of women who informed them: חזו גברייכו דקאתו- ‘look, your husbands are approaching’, that, נינהוו גברייכו דידכו – ‘let them be your husbands!’), while the Maharsha suggests that these were the wives of the two sons of Abdan who drowned and who refused to fulfil the mitzvah of Yibum because they were uninterested in maintaining the name of their late husbands.
Admittedly, even with this commentary this story remains cryptic – with some even querying its historicity. Still, what seems clear is that there is a connection between the treatment of the yevamah in Yevamot 105b and the story of Abdan’s two daughter’s-in-law; that these two daughters-in-law had contempt for their intended or real husbands, and that one of the reasons why they had such contempt was based on the behaviour and attitudes of Abdan which, it would appear, had at least in some way or another been adopted and perhaps even further exaggerated by his sons.
Of course, most of us are not – as Abdan was – an emissary of a great Torah sage. Still, what we can learn from here is that if you are a father of sons then how you behave towards all people – and especially towards women – is likely to be modelled and perhaps even further exaggerated by your sons. Unfortunately, Dad’s often think that the only time when they are giving their son’s relationship advice is when they sit down and have a ‘man-to-man-chat’, but the fact is that whenever a father speaks or interacts with his wife or with other women, his sons are listening and watching. Is this what led to the death of Abdan’s son’s and the contempt that his daughters-in-law had for them? It is not clear. However, while the word אבדן means to ‘lose’ something, it is also a mix of the words אב (father) and דן (judge) – and I believe that within the many layers of this story, a lesson is being taught about fatherhood, and the example that fathers must set for their sons, as well.