I have often said that halachic sayings and teachings contain and seek to convey Jewish values and philosophy, and upon studying today’s daf (Yevamot 37b) I was struck by Abaye’s statement who said of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov that כל ספיקא כודאי משוי ליה – ‘[he treats] every uncertainty as being certain’.
As should be clear from the lines preceding this statement (Yevamot 37a), today’s daf wrestles with a variety of questions concerning the permissibility of marriage involving those with uncertain lineage. Yet what I would particularly like to dwell upon is the desire of treating every doubt (ספק) as a certainty (ודאי), because while this may be an understandable halachic policy for Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, I believe that there is something flawed – at least in terms of Jewish thought – of being unable to acknowledge and live with doubt especially in terms of marriage.
When someone meets another, they may want to think that their relationship comes with a guarantee. But just as faith in God can still exist with some doubt, so too, faith in people can exist with some doubt. In fact, it is precisely the strength of the faith that we have in God and in people that gives us the confidence to live with the doubt that we may have.
Interestingly, this reminds me of the debate surrounding whether Shehecheyanu should be recited at a wedding. Some authorities, such as Rav Yaakov Emden (Mor UKetziah 223), take the view that Shehecheyanu should be said at weddings even though when a marriage begins, there are uncertainties about how things will turn out. Others, however, disagree and they take the view that given the uncertainty in any given relationship, Shehecheyanu should not be recited.
In response to such concerns, Rabbi Elazar Horvitz (Responsa Yad Elazar Orach Chaim 21) offers what I believe is a powerful and profound reply:
“Based on this logic, how are we ever able to recite the Zman (ie. Shehecheyanu) blessing on anything that brings us joy, such as when it starts to rain, or when someone buys a house, or in response to the birth of a child? [In such cases] we have no idea if this ‘good’ is truly going to be good for the long run, or whether it will develop into a more bitter experience from which bad things could emerge from this good [moment]? … [In fact], according to this reasoning…how would it ever be possible for a person to bring a thanksgiving offering for any good or any miracle that occurred to him, since it is possible that this good [moment] will eventually lead to bad outcomes. Therefore, it is necessary to say that a person only has [the ability to judge] what his eyes see and what his heart understands. And so, ‘based on his current situation’, a person must thank and praise God for the good that He has done to him.”
It is important to be clear that Rabbi Horvitz is not saying that relationships come with guarantees, and nor is he saying that we should consider every uncertainty as being certain. Instead, what he is saying is a very simple idea that, as Chazal state elsewhere (see Rashi on Bereishit 6:6), בשעת חדותא חדותא ‘at a time of joy, be joyous’, and בשעת אבלא אבלא, ‘at a time of mourning, mourn’.
Ultimately, true faith means that we must be able to live with doubt. while celebrating the good times that we have and, at the same time, acknowledging that not every event necessarily works out the way we wish it to be. And if we are truly committed to our faith, we will have the confidence to live with the doubts that may arise in our life.