May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, z”l.
This week we learned Bava Batra 118 and 119. These are some highlights.
Bava Batra 118: Should a young couple hide the fact they are expecting a child because of fear of the evil eye?
Our Gemara teaches about the evil eye. Flaunting good fortune is dangerous. If you tell all of the many children you have or great wealth you possess, someone might look at that good fortune critically. His negative view will cause loss. Joshua advised the tribe of Joseph, who were blessed with many children, to hide in the forests. In this way, they would not be impacted by the evil eye. What about a young couple who are expecting a first child? Should they hide the fact that the mother is pregnant? Should they fear the evil eye?
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Even Ha’ezer chelek gimel siman 26) ruled that the young couple had no reason to fear the evil eye and they could tell others of their good fortune. The concept of danger from an evil eye is true. Our Gemara mentions it. Gemara Bava Metzia (107b) has the statement of Rav that 99 percent of the dead in a cemetery passed away because of the evil eye. However, the evil eye is only applicable to cases of unusual good fortune. If someone has a blessing that is part of the normal and natural way of the world there is no danger of the evil eye. It is normal for a young couple to become pregnant. Such a blessing is natural and expected. Natural good news can be shared and there is no reason to fear anything bad happening because of it. Furthermore, the evil eye only negatively impacts those who believe in it. If you do not believe that an evil eye can cause you any harm, it will not be able to cause any damage to you.
Why is there a power to the evil eye? Why should someone who thinks ill of me cause me to suffer loss? Is it possible that a person who does not deserve misfortune will suffer a setback because of the views of a person? Chazon Ish (Likutim s.v. Le’izdahuri) raises these questions. He explains that everything is from the hand of Hashem. Only when Hashem decrees that a misfortune should occur will it happen. If Hashem has not decreed that any misfortune should occur, no evil eye can cause a person to suffer. Only when Heaven has already decreed that a misfortune should occur will Hashem allow a person’s evil eye to precipitate that misfortune (Mesivta).
Bava Batra 119: Should a man break an engagement if he finds out that the bride is really 40 years old?
Our Gemara relates that if a woman marries before she reaches the age of 20 she will have the ability to bring children to the world until the age of 60. If she marries at 20 she will be fertile until age 40. If she only first marries at age 40, she will not be able to naturally bring children into the world. The daughters of Tzelafchad were very righteous. They waited for a suitable spouse. They had children, through a miracle, even though they did not marry before the age of 40.
A man got engaged to a woman. He had been told that she was 31. He later discovered that she was 41. Should he break the engagement? Shu”t Chatam Sofer (Chelek Vav Siman 46) initially ruled that the engagement should be broken. It was all a mekach ta’ut. He had intended to marry someone fertile. Such an old wife might not be able to bring children to the world. However, he also quoted authorities who argue that bodies have changed. Nature has changed. In our era, a woman who marries at a mature age can still have children. Therefore, perhaps the engagement should not be broken. Shu”t Ha’elef Lecha Shlomo (Even Ha’ezer Siman 9) was asked a similar question.
A man had a single child, a daughter. His wife died. He wanted to remarry so as to have a son and fulfill the mitzvah of peru u’revu. He got engaged to a 40-year-old woman who had never married before. People came to him and taught him our Gemara. They told him he was making a mistake. His objective was to bring more children into the world. As a 40-year-old never-married woman his bride would not be fertile. They told him to break the engagement. He asked Rav Shlomo Kluger what he should do.
Rav Kluger told him not to break the engagement. The daughters of Tzelafchad married at 40 and above. They merited to have children. While generally we have a rule that we are not to rely on a miracle, that is only true for a big miracle. If you are a righteous individual you may rely that a small miracle will happen. The husbands of the daughters of Tzelafchad married them, even though they knew their ages, because they knew of the virtue of their wives and were sure that the small miracle of having children at an older age would occur. Rav Kluger therefore told the groom that he could rely on the small miracle and he should go ahead with the marriage. This groom had already connected with his bride. He had sent her presents. Were he to break the engagement there would be great shame. It is a terrible sin to shame someone. The merit of avoiding shaming her would itself be significant enough to enable them to have children. He also advanced other arguments for them to continue and marry. He concluded by arguing that since the man was listening to the advice of a sage, in marrying this woman, it would all work out. Listening to a Torah authority was a merit that would cause her to have a child (Mesivta).
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.