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Monday, 30 March 2015

Your presence is more important than all other presents

Daf Yomi Kesubos 56


An awed hush descended on the shivah house.   Rav Moshe Feinstein had just entered.  The other visitors shuffled to the right and to the left to make a path for the venerable sage.  They cleared a space next to the mourners and he sat down.  All eyes were focused on the rabbi waiting to hear what he would say, how he would explain the shocking death of an innocent child.   After fifteen minutes of absolute silence, Rav Moshe got up and left.  The second he departed, the parents began weeping bitterly.
‘What is it?’ inquired a concerned friend.
‘That was the most meaningful and touching visit all week,’ the mother replied.

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.

It was stated: Rav and Rabbi Nathan differed.  One maintained that the Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria and one maintained that the Halacha does not accord with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria.
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. 

The Gemara asks: Does Rav not agree that we follow assumed intent?! 
The Gemara concludes: Rather, they both agree that we follow assumed intent. The one who posits the Halacha (follows Rabbi Elazar) is understood.  The one who posits the Halacha does not accord with him, the first opinion in the Mishnah is also a matter of assumed intent, since he writes the exorbitant amount in order to engender feelings of closeness, and indeed he drew her near to him (as a result of his generous gesture).

In this case, they did not even complete the marriage!  How could the Gemara suggest that the feelings of closeness were engendered between the couple?  And yet they were.  Once the groom was prepared to write the clause into the ketubah, he demonstrated that he cared.  Even if later, nothing actually happened to complete the marriage.

Sometimes you don’t need to actually do anything to help someone through a crisis.  They just need to know that you are there.  When you show up to the hospital to visit a patient, you have achieved a world of good, even before you open your mouth.  You have taken time from your busy day to be there for them and that rejuvenates their spirit.

When you go to pay a shivah visit, the Halacha is that one should not say a word until the mourner begins to speak.  If the mourner just wants to sit there in silence, then you should just sit with them in silence.  After sitting there not saying anything for ten minutes, you might start thinking to yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’  You are there to simply be with the mourner during their time of sorrow.  Nothing more.   Sometimes they might feel the need to speak, sometimes they are being comforted simply by your presence.   You comfort them by taking their cue.


It’s not always about what tangible gifts you offer others.  The most wonderful presents are nowhere near as important as your simple presence.  Pick up the phone to someone going through a crisis even when you have no idea what to say.  The Almighty will guide you.  And even if nothing is said, they will know you care.  May you merit being there for people and being a source of comfort for others through their vicissitudes of life!