April 19, 2022

Yevamot 40

As we are in the midst of the festival of freedom, and having just had our Pesach Seder, it seems apt to reflect on the gift of freedom while – at the same time – considering a lesson from the Mishna (Yevamot 4:7) and the subsequent Gemara found in today’s daf (Yevamot 40a).
If a man (let’s call him Efraim) chooses to fulfil the mitzvah of yibum with his brother’s widow, then he [technically] takes responsibility of his brother’s financial assets once he marries his sister-in-law, and if his father were to subsequently die, he then inherits both his portion of his fathers’ estate, as well as that of his deceased brother.
But what, asks the Mishna, should be the inheritance of Efraim if he chooses not to perform yibum and instead elects to perform halitzah? Should he be penalized for failing to fulfil a mitzvah which is intended to give further longevity to the name of his deceased brother?
The answer presented in the Mishna is that when his father dies, Efraim is to be treated like any other of his brothers, to which the Gemara adds and says that while one may have presumed that failing to choose the option of yibum might have made Efraim deserving of some form of economic sanction in terms of receiving a lesser inheritance from his fathers’ estate, the law is that he is treated like all the other brothers.
What we learn from here is that especially when it comes to making decisions about marital relationships, people should feel free to choose on the basis of whatever criteria is important to them, and even if they make a decision that is not to the liking of their family, they should not be financially penalized for doing so.
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