Daf Yomi Yevamos 27
I was having coffee with Bill. I needed a new shul president. Let’s face it, I was asking a lot of him.
“Rabbi, why me? There are loads of other people who could do the job,” Bill said.
“Maybe,” I replied, “But, Bill, you are the best man for the job!”
Shmuel taught: We aim for the best chalitzah (levirate marriage annulment), as the following case demonstrates. There were two brothers married to two sisters (Sisters A & B) and each had an additional wife (Co-wives A & B). The brothers died, leaving their widows to perform the levirate marriage (yibum) with their surviving brother. With whom should he perform the yibum or chalitzah? (Reminder: When one does yibum or chalitzah, one automatically frees the co-wife.)
Choice #1: Do yibum with Sister A. This is not possible, because he has a bond of potential levirate marriage with Sister B and one may not marry two sisters.
Choice #2: Do chalitzah with Sister A. This would dissolve his relationship with Sister B, because one may not marry the sister of one’s ‘divorced’ wife. It would also dissolve his relationship with Co-wife A, since she is the co-wife of Sister A. However, it would not dissolve his relationship with Co-wife B, since she is two degrees of separation away from him and there is a more superior path he could take, as follows.
Choice #3: Do yibum with Co-wife A. This would theoretically work, but practically her co-wife, Sister A, is forbidden to him, since he has a bond of potential levirate marriage with her sister, Sister B. And so therefore yibum is not possible.
Choice #4: Do chalitzah with Co-wife A. This would dissolve his relationship with Sister A, her co-wife. It would also dissolve his relationship with Sister B, his now ‘divorced’ wife’s sister. But he would have to do chalitzah still with Co-wife B, who is three degrees of separation from him (albeit still forbidden to him). This path is the most superior, since yibum would have been possible with Co-wife A and Co-wife B, had the sisters not been in the picture.
Shmuel’s rule is that whenever you have two options, you must take the better option. They might both be acceptable, but if one is more preferable, then it makes the other the relatively bad choice.
We think of free choice in life as the ability to choose between right and wrong. But sometimes the choice is between good and great. According to Shmuel, when faced with such a decision, if you choose the option that is just good, then you’ve made the wrong choice, the bad choice.
In the realm of Jewish communal responsibility, you might have an opportunity to step up and lead and you’ve thought to yourself, ‘They don’t need me. Anyone could take care of it.’ That may be true, but if you could do the better job of leadership, then you are the right choice and ‘anyone’ is the wrong choice.
The same is true in your own personal life choices. If you have two options, free choice often means the decision to go with the better choice. Taking the easy route and telling yourself that the okay choice is still acceptable sometimes means failing the test of free choice.
Maybe you’re choosing where to live. There’s nothing wrong with living in any particular place, as long as it’s not Sodom and Gomorrah (downtown Amsterdam?). But there are okay choices and better choices in terms of Jewish community and education for your children.