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Monday, 3 November 2014

Are you making G-d redundant in your life?

Daf Yomi Yevamos 30

I was participating in a roundtable discussion concerning end-of-life issues with members of the medical, legal, governmental and religious professions.
“At a certain point,” one of the experts said, “we just need to let these people go.  They’re practically dead already with no chance of recovery.  And we need the beds for patients that we can help.”
His thoughts were echoed by another member of the panel.  “It gets to a point where they become almost redundant.  We can’t save them and they’re using up resources we could better use elsewhere.”
I was shocked.   We had been through all the rational and religious reasons for continuing to provide the care.  But I couldn’t contain myself.  “What about their loved ones?” I blurted out. 

Mishnah 1: There were three brothers.  Two were married to two sisters and the third was married to an unrelated woman.  One of the brothers married to the sisters died and the third brother did the levirate marriage with the widow.  Then he died.  Now the remaining brother is faced with two potential widows who might require the levirate marriage.  This is the law: One of the women is his wife’s sister and he may not marry sisters.  And the second is exempted as her co-wife.   However, if brother three had only betrothed, but not consummated the marriage with brother one’s widow before he died, the unrelated wife requires chalitzah (annulment of the levirate marriage) from brother two and may not levirately marry him. 

Mishnah 2: There were three brothers.  Two were married to two sisters and the third was married to an unrelated woman.  The third brother died and one of the other brothers did the levirate marriage with the widow.  Then he died.  Now the remaining brother is faced with two potential widows who might require the levirate marriage.  This is the law: One of the women is his wife’s sister and he may not marry sisters.  And the second is exempted as her co-wife.   However, if the brother had only betrothed, but not consummated the marriage with brother three’s widow before he died, the unrelated wife requires chalitzah (annulment of the levirate marriage) from brother two and may not levirately marry him. 

The Gemara asks: Why do we need this second Mishnah?  It’s the same case!  Indeed, if in the first Mishnah where the wife’s sister was the unrelated widow’s co-wife you prohibited the unrelated widow, here where the unrelated widow is the co-wife of the sister, wouldn’t we say certainly it’s the case? 

The Gemara answers: The Tanna (mishnaic rabbi) taught the second Mishnah originally and felt that the case of the first Mishnah should be permissible and so he omitted that case.   He then reassessed and deemed it a prohibited practice.  And since the new teaching was beloved to him, he inserted it first.  Nevertheless, a Mishnah (the second, albeit now redundant Mishnah) does not move from its place. 

When you love someone or something, you don’t simply throw them away because they’ve become apparently redundant.  Most of us wouldn’t approve of pulling the plug on a loved one simply because they’re no longer serving a purpose, G-d forbid!  And if that’s true of our relationship with our mortal loved ones, how much more so is it true of our relationship with the Almighty.

Every mitzvah that you do connects you with G-d and strengthens your bonds of love with Him.  The reason G-d gave us many mitzvos is in order to have many opportunities to connect with him.  The fact that a mitzvah might have become seemingly redundant over time doesn’t mean we just dump it.  If you love G-d, you love His teachings, you love his mitzvos.  And just like the Tanna who couldn’t bring himself to dump a Mishnah just because he had a newer, more relevant Mishnah, we don’t dump mitzvos just because they seem no longer relevant.

Take the mitzvah of kosher wine, for example.  We are not permitted to drink wine that a non-Jew touched, because in days of yore, the idolatrous gentiles might have thought about using that wine for their libations.  Therefore, all such wine became prohibited.  Honestly, how many of your gentile friends worship idols?  Shouldn’t we just discard that archaic practice?  No!!  It’s another opportunity to show our love for G-d.  Mitzvos don’t become redundant.

Another good example is second day Yom Tov.  Nowadays, we have a fixed calendar and so we no longer have any doubt as to which is the correct day of the festival in the diaspora.  Maybe it’s time to dump it?  No!!  Loving G-d means loving mitzvos and mitzvos never become redundant.

People dump things that they feel to be a burden.  If that’s how you feel about mitzvos, that’s so sad.   Every mitzvah is an opportunity to connect with the Almighty.  We’re so fortunate to have an abundance of opportunities to show our love for Him.  Enjoy and appreciate each and every mitzvah opportunity!