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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The key to successful relationships? Never Say Never

Beitzah 10

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in honour of the birthday of Liza Muradova, by her daughter, Susan.  Till 120 in good health!

“I can’t believe you came late to my recital,” Maddie screamed at James, “You’re always late.  You don’t care.  All you care about is yourself and your work.”
James knew he was in the doghouse that night, but he was willing to try anyway. 
“That’s not true,” he answered her; “I’ve come to all your recitals this year on time.  I was all ready to leave the office and arrive here with loads of time to spare, when Jack realized that his car wouldn’t start.  He asked me for a lift home and honestly, I thought I could still make it here on time, but the traffic near his place was awful.”

Nowadays we don’t need to slaughter on Yom Tov, because we can prepare all the meat we need prior to the festival and refrigerate it.   In times gone by, however, if one wanted to eat meat on the 2nd day of the festival, one needed to slaughter on demand.  But in order to handle certain items on Shabbos or Yom Tov, one must designate them before the onset of the holy day for use on the holy day.  

The Mishnah discusses the following scenario:  Prior to the festival, I went to the chicken coop and found a black chicken in one house and a white in another and designated them both for use on Yom Tov.  On the day of the festival, I come to the coop to pick up my chickens but find a white chicken in the black house and a black chicken in the white house.  Can I assume that they just switched places and these are the two that I originally designated for use on Yom Tov?

Rabbah teaches that we cannot make this assumption.  Instead, we assume that the original chickens wandered away from the birdhouses, as they often do.  If I don’t find them in the same houses that I originally designated them, I cannot use them on Yom Tov.

The Gemara suggests that this decision that the original chickens are gone and the different-coloured chickens are new occupants would accord with Rabbi Chanina’s principle of assumptions, which states: If we have one assumption that follows a majority versus another assumption that follows proximity, we follow the majority assumption.
On the one hand, the majority assumption would point to the fact that most birds wander out of their birdhouses and regularly enter other birdhouses.  On the other hand, the proximity assumption would indicate that we should assume that the birds that I have just found were originally in the vicinity and were probably the ones I initially designated for use on the holy day.  Rabbi Chanina’s principle rules that we follow the majority and assume the former: the birds probably came from elsewhere.

Maddie’s immediate reaction to James’ late arrival to the recital is to assume the worst in him.  If he failed to get there on time, that means he doesn’t care.  But that’s the simplest or ‘nearest’ assumption.  Rabbi Chanina warns us that it is not the best assumption.  Instead, she must look at his track record and make the majority assumption: on most occasions in the past, he has shown up on time.  On this occasion, if he is late, then he probably has a fair excuse. 

What’s worse is that she then applies her conclusion too generally.  She accuses him of “always” being late.  He points out that most of the time, he is on time. 

Sadly in our relationships, we are often tempted to seek the ‘nearest’ answer to a problem and assume the worst in our spouses, children or friends.   Instead, says Rabbi Chanina, we must assess the ‘majority’ of instances and decide from there how to judge the current conflict.  Chances are, you will find that your spouse has a pretty decent track record and the once or twice that s/he has failed is excusable.

Avoid words like always and never, because they’re probably grossly inaccurate.  “You never pick up your socks!”  If your teenager put her socks in the hamper even once, that would make “never” an exaggeration.   Instead, before chastising those close to you, think about all the wonderful things they have done for you.  Count up the majority of cases and then say what you need to say.  Most certainly, once you realize that the majority of occasions far outweigh the present oversight, the tone of your conversation will be far different!

Always remember Rabbi Chanina’s principle: Don’t be tempted by the proximity. Follow the majority!

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