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In this week's parashah, the Torah teaches us how one can rid himself of an unsatisfactory wife by means of a Halachic divorce.
In the Talmud (Gittin 90a), we find a difference of opinion. The Beis Shammai hold that one should not divorce his wife unless she has committed adultery. The Beis Hillel hold that he may do so "even if she burned his food."
Reb Shabsi Yudelevitz zt"l, a renowned speaker, once visited a synagogue in New York whose congregants were mainly rich, young lawyers. At first, the gabbai (the man in charge of the shul) would not let Reb Shabsi speak on Shabbos, explaining that the congregants did not like long speeches. He only acquiesced when Reb Shabsi promised to stop after two minutes, even if he was in the middle of a sentence!
Standing before this group of New York lawyers, Reb Shabsi began to relate that there was a very interesting legal dispute in the Supreme Heavenly Court recently. It seems that the thin wall between Gan Eden and Gehinom (the Garden of Eden and Hell) became cracked, due to the extreme heat coming from the side of Evil. The righteous souls in the Garden of Eden insisted that the wicked souls in Hell repair the wall since it was their sins which caused the fire which did the damage in the first place. However, the souls of the sinners argued that for their part the wall could remain broken since they had no objection to some of the torturous heat escaping through there. If it bothered the righteous ones who were suffering from the suddenly increasing temperature, then they could just as well repair it themselves. This difficult case was brought before the Supreme Celestial Angels to decide.
The audience found the topic particularly interesting and was listening intently. Suddenly, though, Reb Shabsi turned to descend from the platform. The congregants shouted that they wanted to hear the end of the story, but Reb Shabsi explained that the gabbai had insisted that he would not speak more than two minutes and he could not break his word. The angry congregants shouted at the gabbai to allow the interesting guest from Israel to speak as long as he wanted or else they would fire him.
Having received permission to continue, Reb Shabsi related that it was the sinners in Hell who won the dispute in the Heavenly Court of Justice. When everyone asked him why this was so, Reb Shabsi wryly explained, "Because all the good lawyers were there!"
Having found favor in their eyes, this original speaker was invited to speak again on Sunday at the congregant's weekly learning session. They were just finishing the tractate in the Talmud which teaches the laws of divorce, Gittin, and they came across the disagreement between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. They asked their guest, "Rabbi, this seems very strange. Although Beis Shammai's opinion is a bit extreme, at least it is logical. But Beis Hillel is hard to understand. How do they allow a person to divorce his wife just because she isn't a good cook?"
Reb Shabsi, who had come to this synagogue to raise funds for a Torah institution in Israel, knew that he had just been given the opportunity he was looking for. He began to explain. "Imagine the following scenario," he began. "A husband is away at work, toiling to support his family. His beloved wife is in the kitchen, toiling to prepare a delicious supper for him. Suddenly, she gets a phone call from a friend whom she hasn't heard from in years, and she gets involved in a long conversation. When she finally returns to the kitchen, she finds that the food has burned. She feels terrible, but doesn't think they can afford to just dump the prepared food and start again. Now there are three types of women. One of them prepares a new meal just for her husband. He comes home and sits down to eat, but notices that his wife is not eating with him. She explains that she doesn't feel well and has no appetite. When he is finished and goes off to watch television, she sneaks into the kitchen and eats her share of the burnt food without him even knowing. Tell me," asked Reb Shabsi, "what do you think of her?"
"She is a saint," all of the congregants cried.
"O.K. Now there is another woman who is not so saintly. She decides that if the food is burnt, then we both eat burnt food. So, when her husband comes home, she tells him the bad news that the food is 'a bit more well done than he usually likes it,' but, 'that's life.' These things happen some time. And they both sit down to eat the burnt meal. What do you think of her?"
"She's no saint, but she's not very evil either. About average, we would say."
"Very good," the Rabbi continued. "Now listen to the story of the third wife. She tells her husband that supper is burnt and gives him to eat of it. But she does not join him, explaining that she doesn't feel well and has no appetite. Then, while he's watching TV, she sneaks into the kitchen and prepares herself a fresh, delicious meal, which she eats all by herself. What do you think of her?"
"Rabbi, she's a witch," everyone shouted at once. "He should give her her walking papers and send her away as soon as possible!"
Triumphantly, Reb Shabsi explained the Gemara. "That's exactly what the Beis Hillel are telling us. Examine his words carefully. He didn't suggest divorcing a wife who is, unfortunately, a bad cook. He said, 'even if she burned his food.' That means that she prepared a good meal for herself. It was only his food that was ruined. Such a klafte (wretch) deserves a divorce, don't you agree!"
The lawyers enjoyed the explanation very much and Reb Shabsi decided it was time to "talk turkey." "You know," he said, "we, the People of Israel, are considered Hashem's beloved wife. He, too, does not want to be mistreated. I came to the USA to collect for Torah institutions in Israel and I also find that there are three types of 'wives.' One says, 'all of my tzedakah (charity) money goes for Torah.' This 'wife' is a saint. One says, 'half-half. Part of my money goes for Torah and part goes for the UJA.' Not a saint, but not particularly evil either. But some say, 'I have no money for Torah because I gave all of my money to the UJA.' How do you think Hashem feels about a 'wife' like that? If you don't want Him to divorce you, G-d forbid, I suggest you give generously to Hashem's Torah institutions in Israel and around the world!"
It was one of the best collections Reb Shabsi had ever made.
By the way, the Sages discuss a similar thought when they interpret the verse (Yesha'ayahu 43:22), "But you have not called upon Me, O Ya'akov; because you have been weary of Me, O Yisrael." They say (Yalkut Shim'oni, Yesha'ayahu, remez 457), "He works all day long and is not tired, but when it is time to pray before Me he is suddenly tired."
The Rabbis are describing the workaholic who has unbelievable strength and seemingly unending adrenalin until it is time to learn Torah or go to shul to pray. Then, suddenly, he is totally exhausted. Hashem is insulted and says that "you have not called upon Me because you are weary. It is only My food that you burned, not yours."
In this month of Elul, may we examine ourselves properly and correct our ways so that we will be granted a wonderful new year complete with all of Hashem's spiritual and material blessings.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network