April 9, 2022

Yevamot 32

Today’s daf (Yevamot 32a) makes reference to the biblical verse (Devarim 25:9) describing the halitzah procedure where the woman makes the declaration: כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִבְנֶה אֶת בֵּית אָחִיו – ‘this is what is done to the man who will not build up his brothers house’.
Significantly, in these words the woman speaks not only in the present (i.e. who is not building up his brother’s house), but also in the future (i.e. who will not build up his brother’s house), and this prompts our Sages in today’s daf to teach us כיון שלא בנה שוב לא יבנה – ‘since this man has chosen not to build up his brother’s house [now], he will not build up his brother’s house [in the future]’ – meaning that once a man refuses an opportunity to perform yibum and, instead, performs halitzah, from then on he cannot change his mind and say that he is now prepared to marry his deceased brother’s wife for the sake of building up his brothers house.
Yet while this rule is clearly very specific, there is a nevertheless a broader message which we can learn from here about opportunities, about how some opportunities repeat themselves, and about how others are one-offs – such that if we do not seize a given opportunity, it will not repeat itself.
Carpe Diem – seize the day – is a powerful message in Judaism and in life. In fact, especially as we approach Pesach it is worthwhile remembering the teaching of our Sages that the Exodus was an opportunity with a limited window of time, and that had the Israelites not left Egypt when they did, they may have never left. True, some opportunities do come around again, but some do not.
Of course this is a message that we should always remember, but it is a particularly poignant message when we are confronted with death. Last night there was another terrorist attack in Israel – this time in Tel Aviv – where two people were murdered, many injured, and many more lives shattered. Yet while we must all continue to be cautious, we must also remember the lesson of Carpe Diem.
And this is why the prospective yavam – whose family recently suffered a bereavement – is told that while he has every right to choose halitzah, the opportunity of yibum will no longer be available to him; yes – some opportunities repeat themselves, but yibum is a one-off.
Ultimately, the way we overcome the fear that terrorists seek to paralyse us with is by seizing the opportunities that we do have in life, and the way we respond to such stark and shocking reminders about the fragility of life is by maximizing every moment of life. They may wish to pull us down, but we will continue to build ourselves up.
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