May 23, 2024
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Chariot of the Soul: Daf Yomi Kiddushin 19

Reuven was desperate. He’d lost his job and his savings were completely depleted. How would he put food on the table for his dear family? He was willing to do anything! He decides to pay Shimon a visit.

Reuven: Sir, I’m here to ask you for a loan.

Shimon: Of course. How much would you like to borrow?

Reuven: I’m asking for $100,000 to start a business.

Shimon: That’s a hefty sum. What if you don’t have the money to pay me back?

Reuven: I promise you; I’ll pay back the money I owe you. I’ll tell you what. If I don’t repay you within six months, you can lock me up until someone steps up to pay the money owed to you.

Shimon: Fine, I accept that condition.

Six months later, Shimon summons Reuven asking for his money. Downtrodden, Reuven explains that his business failed, and he doesn’t have the money to repay the loan right now.

“So, I’m locking you up and incarcerating you in my dungeon then,” Shimon responds. “That’s what we agreed.”

“You can’t do that!” exclaims Reuven. “I was just exaggerating. You have no right to imprison me!” Unable to resolve their conflict, they head off to the Rivash for a halachic decision.

***

When a man and woman get married, there are certain minimum expectations he must provide for her. Today’s daf discusses a case where the man stipulated that he would not provide those essentials. Is the betrothal still valid?

תַנְיָא הָאוֹמֵר לְאִשָּׁה הֲרֵי אַתְּ מְקוּדֶּשֶׁת לִי עַל מְנָת שֶׁאֵין לְךָ עָלַי שְׁאֵר כְּסוּת וְעוֹנָה הֲרֵי זוֹ מְקוּדֶּשֶׁת וּתְנָאוֹ בָּטֵל דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי מֵאִיר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר בְּדָבָר שֶׁבְּמָמוֹן תְּנָאוֹ קַיָּים

רש”י

בדבר שבממון—דניתן למחילה הוי תנאי קיים אבל עונה דצערא דגופא הוא לא איתיהיב למחילה

One who says to a woman: You are hereby betrothed to me on the condition that you have no claims upon me for food, clothing or marital relations, she is betrothed, and his condition is void; this is the statement of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yehuda says: Regarding monetary commitments (i.e., food and clothing) his condition stands.

Rashi: Since one may waive monetary commitments, the stipulation stands. But marital relations are considered bodily oppression and thus not subject to waiver.

While Rabbi Yehuda maintains that food and clothing may be excluded from the marriage agreement, marital relations may not be ignored. Presumably we’re dealing with a situation where she is financially independent and does not need his monetary support. Marital relations, however, only he can provide. Stipulating that he will not engage is a form of physical oppression, and it is prohibited to harm the body.

Based on our Gemara, the Rivash listened to Reuven and Shimon, ruling in favor of Reuven. When he took out the loan, even if he had meant his stipulation seriously, it was invalid. For a person has no right to agree to harm his body, and imprisonment is a form of bodily persecution. In fact, continued the Rivash, even if Reuven would give Shimon permission to slap him in the face, it would be forbidden. Because we do not own the right to harm our bodies. Just think of the practical implications of that ruling: One must think twice between engaging in certain full-contact sports where bodily harm is inevitable. It is forbidden to harm another human being physically, even if he has granted permission!

Judaism attributes unparalleled significance and value to the human body. A principle of our faith is belief in the resurrection. When Mashiach comes, all the souls will return to their bodies. Why? Because it would be unjust to reward only the souls in heaven. They didn’t do mitzvos on their own. It’s a partnership between your soul and your body. A soul cannot put on tefillin or accompany a senior citizen across a busy street. They served God together and both must be rewarded.

That’s why harming the body is so egregious. The body is the vehicle for your heavenly service. If the body is not operating at peak capacity, then the soul is unable to maximize its potential. A classic Chasidic aphorism says, “A small hole in the body is a large hole in the soul.” How does that work?

I was 47 years old when I sustained my first-ever sports injury. Growing up, I’d participated in every extreme sport from rollerblading on the halfpipe to skiing and snowboarding to canyoneering, skydiving and hang-gliding. And Baruch Hashem, no problems ever. Then one day, it was winter break, and we took the kids to a roller-skating rink. Everyone was having a wonderful time, when suddenly the wheel snapped off my skate and I came tumbling down. An X-ray the next day confirmed I’d broken my leg and needed surgery. Now, in the big scheme of life’s ups and downs, it was a minor hassle. Yes, it hurt. But being confined to the house in a wheelchair was more of an inconvenience than anything else.

Well, that’s what my rational mind decided, at least. Meanwhile, my soul was crying out for the mitzvos it could not perform. For several weeks, I didn’t daven with a minyan. We didn’t invite guests for Shabbos. I was unable to video and send out the daily Transformative Daf messages, meaning many people weren’t learning Torah. It was all well and good for me to shrug it all off and deposit it in the “that’s life” folder, but my mitzvah performance was seriously curtailed by the accident. It might not have been that big a deal to “physical me,” but “spiritual me” was suffering in a major way. That’s the meaning of, “A small hole in the body is a large hole in the soul.”

As I sat by the side of the rink with a bag of ice on my leg, my wife Batya said, “Did you notice that we were the only adults in the rink?” I did. But my attitude was, “Boy, what a good dad I am—here on the rink enjoying the activity with my kids. I can’t believe all those other parents sitting by the side engrossed in their smartphones!” Looking back, I’m not sure anymore that I was the cleverest adult in the room. When I was able to start getting around on crutches, I heard countless stories of folks who had broken bones and couldn’t work or travel for weeks or months. They swore they would never engage in the kinds of activities that had led to their accidents.

They had a point. I’m pretty sure that incident will end up being etched into history as my final time on skates—or for that matter, engaged in any physically risky activity. I love that kind of thing, but it’s just not worth it. In addition to the repercussions for work and travel, I cry for all the mitzvos I missed out on because of a silly little skating accident. There are other, more meaningful, ways I can bond with my beautiful children. But my body is simply too precious and spiritually essential to place in any position of danger. It’s just not worth it. My soul needs it way too much, to fulfill its mission on Earth.

Your body is a special gift from Hashem. Look after it. Feed it healthy food. Keep it well-oiled with the right diet and exercise regime. Don’t ever abuse it with unsavory substances. Your soul only has one body, and it has so much to accomplish with it. May you always treat it with the respect and care that the chariot of the soul deserves!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf, the series that brings the Gemara to life with practical messages for everyday living! He is the founder of the Center for Torah Values and teaches at Touro University.

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