BlogYomi – Yevamos #39

In the 1990s, there was a recurring skit on Saturday Night Live called “Wayne’s World” featuring Wayne and Garth, who would proclaim “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

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That seems to be the refrain of our Gemara on דף ל״ט עמוּד ב, as we discuss whether we are spiritually worthy enough to perform יִבּוּם. To be succinct, the challenge in performing יִבּוּם is that the יָבָם has to undertake בִּיאָה not because he is physically or otherwise attracted to the יְבָמָה, or through any ulterior motive other than to perpetuate the name of his deceased brother through impregnating his widow. Apparently at one time were were collectively on a high enough moral plane to subjugate physical desires in favor of spiritual intent. When that was the case, יִבּוּם was preferable to חַלִיצָה. Nowadays, that our demons subvert the purity of our intentions, חַלִיצָה is preferable. This is the backdrop to today’s Daf:

בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה, שֶׁהָיוּ מִתְכַּוְּונִין לְשֵׁם מִצְוָה — מִצְוַת יִבּוּם קוֹדֶמֶת לְמִצְוֹת חֲלִיצָה. וְעַכְשָׁיו שֶׁאֵין מִתְכַּוְּונִין לְשֵׁם מִצְוָה, אָמְרוּ: מִצְוַת חֲלִיצָה קוֹדֶמֶת לְמִצְוַת יִבּוּם

Different points of view ensue (מֵעִיקָּרָא סָבְרִי לַהּ כְּאַבָּא שָׁאוּל, וּלְבַסּוֹף סָבְרִי לַהּ כְּרַבָּנַן) with the outcome that today Ashkenazim don’t do יִבּוּם anymore because we’re collectively not on a high enough spiritual plane, although there is a vestige of the practice in Sephardi communities.

מַאן תְּנָא לְהָא דְּתָנוּ רַבָּנַן: ״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ״ — מִצְוָה! שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה הָיְתָה עָלָיו בִּכְלַל הֶיתֵּר. נֶאֶסְרָה, וְחָזְרָה וְהוּתְּרָה, יָכוֹל תַּחְזוֹר לְהֶתֵּירָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ״, מִצְוָה

What does the Gemara mean by “״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ – מִצְוָה. That seems like a very cryptic line. So the Gemara is compelled to explain further.

מַאן תַּנָּא? אָמַר רַבִּי יִצְחָק בַּר אַבְדִּימִי: אַבָּא שָׁאוּל הִיא. וְהָכִי קָאָמַר: ״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ״, מִצְוָה. שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה הָיְתָה עָלָיו בִּכְלַל הֶיתֵּר. רָצָה לְשֵׁם נוֹי — כּוֹנְסָהּ, רָצָה לְשׁוּם אִישׁוּת — כּוֹנְסָהּ

נֶאֶסְרָה, חָזְרָה וְהוּתְּרָה. יָכוֹל תַּחְזוֹר לְהֶתֵּירָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ״, לְמִצְוָה

Abba Shaul is coming to tell you that unlike the pop song that claims “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife”, it is perfectly fine when the woman is מוּתָּר to marry and attractiveness is part of the calculus. In fact, all things being equal, one could make the claim that if the man is no bargain to look at, he’s doing his children a favor by selecting a wife, as the Gemara puts it, “לְשֵׁם נוֹי”. However, in the event of deciding to do יִבּוּם (hence בִּיאָה) versus severing ties through חַלִיצָה, the decision shouldn’t be influenced by the attractiveness of the יְבָמָה as may have occurred years earlier before she married your brother and was, as the expression goes, on the open market.

רָבָא disagrees:

רָבָא אָמַר: אֲפִילּוּ תֵּימָא רַבָּנַן, וְהָכִי קָאָמַר: ״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ״, מִצְוָה. שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה הָיְתָה בִּכְלַל הֶיתֵּר. רָצָה כּוֹנְסָהּ, רָצָה אֵינוֹ כּוֹנְסָהּ

נֶאֶסְרָה, חָזְרָה וְהוּתְּרָה. יָכוֹל תַּחְזוֹר לְהֶתֵּירָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן, רָצָה — כּוֹנְסָהּ, רָצָה — אֵינוֹ כּוֹנְסָהּ. רָצָה אֵינוֹ כּוֹנְסָהּ

Here I’ll go with the explanation according to Rav Steinsaltz, zt”l:

הָא אֲגִידָה בֵּיהּ, בִּכְדִי תִּיפּוֹק? אֶלָּא אֵימָא: רָצָה — כּוֹנְסָהּ, רָצָה — חוֹלֵץ לָהּ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ״, מִצְוָה.

The Gemara interjects that the logic of this last statement seems implausible. Does he really have the option to do as he pleases? Isn’t the יְבָמָה bound to the brother-in-law through זִיקָה? How would it be possible that she would be released from that זִיקָה without doing anything? Rather, I might have thought that that the statement regarding the יָבָם’s decision is a casual one: if he wishes he may marry her, or if he wishes not to he performs חַלִיצָה. Therefore the פָּסוּק has to be explicit: יְבָמָה יָבֹא עָלֶיהָ – that having intercourse with one’s sister-in-law and perpetuating your brother’s name is a מִצְוָה and not a casual choice. In doing so, it is preferable to חַלִיצָה.

The Gemara now cites a parallel to this change of state phase of the יְבָמָה from the sequence of events in קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה, where we transition from מוּתָּר to אָסוּר to מוּתָּר. At the 7:25 mark of the video, Rabbi Stern points out the marvelous sense of timing of the Daf and discussion about ״מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדוֹשׁ״ as coinciding with Pesach!

As we transition to דף מ עמוּד א, the Gemara states: אֵימָא רֵישָׁא: ״מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדוֹשׁ״ — מִצְוָה

שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה הָיְתָה עָלָיו בִּכְלַל הֶיתֵּר. נֶאֶסְרָה, וְחָזְרָה וְהוּתְּרָה, יָכוֹל תַּחְזוֹר לְהֶיתֵּירָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדוֹשׁ״ — מִצְוָה

Initially before you were מַקְדִישׁ this flour, it was חוּלִין and therefore מוּתָּר. Once you were מַקְדִישׁ it, it becomes אָסוּר. When you then do kemitzah, it becomes מוּתָּר as חוּלִין again. And the Gemara will go through the same Q & A as it did with the יְבָמָה:

בִּשְׁלָמָא לְרָבָא דְּאָמַר הָא מַנִּי רַבָּנַן הִיא — הָכָא, הָכִי קָאָמַר: ״מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדוֹשׁ״ — מִצְוָה. שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה הָיְתָה עָלָיו בִּכְלַל הֶיתֵּר, רָצָה — אוֹכְלָהּ, רָצָה — אֵינוֹ אוֹכְלָהּ (נֶאֶסְרָה, חָזְרָה וְהוּתְּרָה, יָכוֹל תַּחְזוֹר לְהֶיתֵּירָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן), רָצָה — אוֹכְלָהּ, רָצָה — אֵינוֹ אוֹכְלָהּ

And here again the Gemara asks the same question as it did with the casual nature of “if he wants to do יִבּוּם he can” – do you really mean to imply that it’s optional? That if he wants to eat the Matzah he can, and if not, not?

רָצָה אֵינוֹ אוֹכְלָהּ?! וְהָכְתִיב: ״וְאָכְלוּ אֹתָם אֲשֶׁר כֻּפַּר בָּהֶם״, מְלַמֵּד שֶׁהַכֹּהֲנִים אוֹכְלִים וּבְעָלִים מִתְכַּפְּרִין

Rather, it’s coming to tell you that it’s a מִצְוָה that he eats it, rather than another כֹּהֵן eating it (the latter being parallel to חַלִיצָה).

אֶלָּא: רָצָה — הוּא אוֹכְלָהּ, רָצָה — כֹּהֵן אַחֵר אוֹכְלָהּ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדוֹשׁ״ — מִצְוָה

And then comes the piece de resistance … coinciding with eating Matzah on Pesach:

The Gemara asks: But if boiled flour is invalid as a meal offering, then with regard to this statement that we said that boiled flour is unleavened, for what halacha is it relevant? The Gemara answers: It is to say that a person fulfills his obligation with it on Pesach. This is because even though he initially boiled it, since he subsequently baked it in an oven, it is called “bread of affliction” (לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכֹּ֗ר אֶת־י֤וֹם צֵֽאתְךָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ), and therefore a person fulfills his obligation with it on Passover.

אֶלָּא חָלוּט מַצָּה הִיא דְּקָאָמְרִינַן, לְמַאי הִלְכְתָא? לוֹמַר שֶׁאָדָם יוֹצֵא בָּהּ יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ בְּפֶסַח, אַף עַל פִּי דְּחַלְטֵיהּ מֵעִיקָּרָא, כֵּיוָן דַּהֲדַר אַפְיֵיהּ בְּתַנּוּר — ״לֶחֶם עוֹנִי״ קָרֵינָא בֵּיהּ, וְאָדָם יוֹצֵא בָּהּ יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ בַּפֶּסַח

The Gemara now jumps back out of the frying pan of Matzah and into the fire of יְבָמוֹת for the rest of the Daf, but let’s end it here on the high note of the topical confluence of Matzah.

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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