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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Knowing when to let go

Daf Yomi Gittin 3


Moshe Rabbeinu was exhausted.  He had led the Children of Israel through the wilderness for months; and time after time, they had tested his patience with their complaints against Heaven.  In desperation, he turns to Hashem and asks him to share the burden.  The Almighty tells him to separate seventy elders, upon whom the Divine spirit will rest.  Moshe does so and all of a sudden, prophecy abounds. 

Two of the elders, Eldad and Meidad begin to prophesy and prophesy, revealing many secrets.  Most of the people are spellbound, but Yehoshua says ‘Enough!’ when he hears their deepest revelation: Moshe will die and Yehoshua will take over the leadership of the people.  Running to his teacher, Moshe, Yehoshua knows that they must put a stop to it all.  But Moshe calms him down. “If only the entire Israel were prophets!” he exclaims.

One may not write a gett (divorce) on material attached to the ground.  If, however, he wrote it, and then detached it from the ground, signed it, and gave it to the wife, it is kosher.

So a fellow comes along and writes out the gett on a branch that is still attached to the tree.  Granted, some people want to get away as cheap as possible when it comes to divorce, but why would he write the gett on a branch and leave it there?  If he would simply detach it, it would be kosher; so why would anyone contemplate leaving the gett-branch attached?

We are obviously dealing with a person who has issues with letting go and giving up control.   After years of emotional abuse, the wife finally musters up the courage to ask for a divorce.  What does he respond?  ‘Sure, you can have a divorce.  But I’m writing it here on this branch and so you can be divorced, but you’re not going anywhere.’  That’s the ultimate ‘chained’ woman.   Such an attitude is completely unacceptable and therefore the gett is not kosher.

Sometimes in life, people know that they must move on, but they are unable to let go.  It may be a case of divorce.  Divorce is never pretty; the Talmud tells us that the Holy Altar sheds tears when a couple divorces.  But if it must happen, the Torah sanctions divorce.  Once the man and woman have made the decision to go their separate ways, they should indeed go their separate ways.  Neither should hold the other hostage with negotiations over finances, children or the gett. 

And certainly they should not attempt to control the other person’s life – I knew this couple once who got divorced and she insisted on approving whom he dated!  That’s a case of writing the gett on material connected to the ground.  A divorce must be a clean break you can walk away from and get on with your life.

It’s not only about literal divorce; some people have issues letting go in other areas of their life.  If you are a successful professional or business owner, you know how to delegate work to various departments without feeling the need to look over everyone’s shoulders.  In other words, success often means letting go.  You understand that their success is your success.  And you are genuinely happy to watch them thrive with their new responsibilities.

I know rabbis who left their pulpits but maintained close relationships with many ‘important’ people in their shuls.  Keeping good relationships is wonderful, but it mustn’t infringe on the new rabbi’s position.  When they ask you to officiate at their wedding or funeral, you must politely remind them that there’s a new rabbi on the block.  That was the incredible humility demonstrated by Moshe Rabbeinu.  He was genuinely happy to see his students prophesying and ultimately taking over.  He was able to let go of the ‘gett’ and move on.

Letting go of your adult children is similarly an important attribute.  Some parents find it challenging to let go when their children grow up.  Once your kids are married and out of the house, their business is not your business!  As difficult as it is to let go, you need to take that branch and let it go.  In this case, if you’ve nurtured the branch well, rest assured that they will always be there for you.  But from your end, you must give them the space to grow with their spouse.


You can’t say goodbye when the gett is still attached.  When it’s time to move on, you must have the courage to let go and move on.  May you always give the people in your life room to be and grow!