Daf Yomi Yevamos 58 - Guest Post from Nigeria
Greetings! My name is Ya’ara Daniela, and Rabbi Friedman was kind enough to let me take the Life Yomi challenge and submit something for my birthday (9 Kislev). I had several weeks to prepare, but it was hard to find my own voice. Every time I sat down to write, it came out like this:
Ya’ara is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer serving in Lagos. Nigeria. She converted to Judaism in 2005. She loves to study and is an enthusiastic fan of Life Yomi! But, sometimes, she has to admit that the teachings of the Sages don’t always mesh neatly with her feminist upbringing. “Rabbi Friedman,” she complained, “this tractate can be troubling! Why are the consequences for women who transgress so much more dire than for men? Why is the sotah [suspected adulteress] the one who’s put to the test of bitter waters, when I’m not even sure if ‘soteh’ [the male form] is a word?”
Isn’t it taught in a baraita with regard to the verse: “And the man shall be clear from iniquity, and that woman shall bear her iniquity” (Numbers 5:31), that when the man is clear from iniquity the waters examine his wife, but if the man is not clear of iniquity the waters do not examine his wife? (If the man has engaged in relations prohibited by rabbinic law, the waters are ineffective.)
Of the many lessons to be gleaned from today’s daf, for me, two stand out. One is that while customs change, values don’t. In today’s world, adultery isn’t punishable by death (and, indeed, the Sages were careful to construct their rulings in a way that made it very difficult to make a capital sentence necessary for all but the most heinous crimes). The sotah examination itself was abolished by Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai all the way back in the first century CE (tractate Sotah, 9:9). But the personal and spiritual costs of inappropriate behavior are just as serious today as they ever were! For both women and men, intimacy outside marriage has equally serious consequences for their relationships with their spouses, for their reputations and characters, and for their relationships with G-d.
The second lesson is that a person who accuses someone of iniquity when he is guilty of the same brand of wrongdoing himself isn’t going to get much satisfaction in court. When I was a slightly wild teenager, I took up smoking. My parents were furious – but as smokers themselves, they had a terrible time trying to find a logical argument to get me to quit. (Don’t worry, my mother and I have both quit since then.) A colleague of mine is habitually late to work, and her employees have begun to follow her example. She’s annoyed by their lateness, but she has lost the authority in this specific area to order them to come to work on time! Personally, I am always embarrassed when one of my employees is less than perfectly polite to a customer – and that helps me be especially careful to curb my own tendency to impatience, because if my employees ever hear me give in to my baser impulses, I know I’ll never be able to correct them again. Demanding the waters of examination just doesn’t work, if the person who demands them is guilty of the same iniquity him- or herself. The best way to get people to behave appropriately is to model appropriate behavior.
I feel like I should end this reflection with an inspirational question related to today’s daf… but what I really want to say is, I’m thrilled to have had the chance to participate in the Life Yomi challenge! If I can do it, you can do it. Who’s next?