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Monday, 30 March 2015

Is your spouse a reasonable person?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 55
Malcolm was fuming.  It was already 7pm and Jenny promised she’d be home from work by 6.  He had an important community meeting to get to that she knew he couldn’t be late for.  He had tried calling her a million times, but her cell phone was off.  He couldn’t believe she had let him down like this.  Where was she?

Jenny finally came through the front door and Malcolm was ready to blow.
The Mishnah states: Even though they said that a maiden collects two hundred, and a widow, one hundred, if a groom wanted to add even one hundred times that amount, he may add.   If she were widowed or divorced, whether from the betrothal point or complete marriage, she still collects the entire amount.   Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria says: From marriage, she collects everything, but from betrothal, the maiden collects two hundred and the widow, one hundred, because he only wrote in this grand amount in order to bring her into total marriage.

The Gemara notes: Let us conclude that Rabbi Nathan is the one who declared that the Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, for we have learned that Rabbi Nathan posits that we follow assumed intent.   Rashi explains: When someone does not give clear instructions, the court makes an assessment and decides what a reasonable person would have intended. 

Rewind: Jenny was stuck on the freeway on her way home from work.  There was a massive ten-car pileup that had slowed traffic down to a halt.  Meanwhile, she’d had a busy day and her cell phone had died.  She knew how important it was for her to get home but there was just no way she was getting anywhere anytime soon.  

Malcolm should have realized that if she hadn’t called, something must have happened.  Not to be home on time was out of character for Jenny.  She was generally a reasonable person and so he should have given her the benefit of the doubt, and worried about her welfare, instead of thinking only about his own needs.

Too often, we are quick to pass judgement on people from our spouses to our neighbours, from our relatives to our colleagues and friends.  People who we know are reasonable, we assume that they are acting out of line.  But why would we assume ill intent?  That makes no sense – we know them to be otherwise reasonable!  So when your spouse says or does something that you feel is unreasonable, stop for a moment before getting upset and remind yourself that s/he is generally a reasonable person – that’s why you married them – so something else must be at play here! 

Or maybe it’s a colleague who has your nose out of joint.  If you know them to be otherwise reasonable, then be a little more sympathetic before you jump to bite back at them.  Maybe they are dealing with a medical issue in the family, maybe they’re under severe financial stress, maybe their child is misbehaving at school.  Granted, some people are regularly unreasonable – for those people, you just need to learn how to bite your lip and not take their problems personally.  But for people who are otherwise reasonable and acting unreasonably, certainly don’t take it personally – try to find out why they’re acting out of character; maybe you can help them or just be a shoulder for them to lean on.

If someone in your life is acting strangely, don’t assume the worst in them.  You know that they are generally reasonable people and so assume reasonable intent!  May you merit the strength of character to always judge people favourably, especially those close to you who might just be having a bad day, week, or year!