By Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R
On daf 80a in Zevachim, we encounter a discussion regarding a mixture of blood from two sacrifices (as the Gemara rules, a mix-up of two separate cups), whereby one sacrifice requires placement of blood on the four corners of the altar (such as burnt-offering Olah), while the other sacrifice only requires placement of blood on one corner. There is no way to meet the requirements of both these sacrifices precisely, as either one sacrifice will lose out on the required amount or the other will have more than the required amount.
The particular dilemma is that one is prohibited from intentionally adding or subtracting from the precepts of the commandments. There is a disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Eliezer rules that the blood is placed on all four corners, and regarding the blood from the Olah that does not require those extra placements, it is considered as if one placed an inert liquid such as water, and bears no halachic significance. Rabbi Yehoshua considers any additional placement or reduction in placement of the blood to be a potential violation, but favors placing the blood on only the corner to conform with the minimum requirement of both sacrifices. Even though this is still a violation of subtracting from a precept, since it is passive, i.e. through inaction, this is considered the proper decision. Notably, the halachah is in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua.
Oftentimes in life we find ourselves in “no-win” situations, especially in family matters. The Talmud has a quaint metaphor for this kind of problem — it is called “keirei’ach mi’kan u’mikan” — bald either way. The saying comes from a parable of a middle-aged man who was married to two women, one older and one younger. (This was in a time when polygamy was permitted.) The young wife pulled out his grey hairs so that he would appear young. The older wife pulled out his black hairs so that he would appear closer to her age. The end result, of course, was that he became bald!
How many times do we find ourselves in loyalty binds between family members, parents, in-laws, spouse, and child? These can be excruciating, and it can cause us to pull out more than a few hairs!
Taking the passive way out, such as Rabbi Yehoshua advises, can work some of the time, and at least we do not do anything overtly offensive. The only problem is that G-d tends to be a bit more forgiving than some demanding people. A spouse will feel hurt if you do not defend him or her to your parents, and a parent will certainly feel undermined if you support a child over the parent. Passivity just won’t be enough, because to borrow another Talmudic idiom, “silence is akin to admission.” Thus, if a relative badmouths your spouse, or a child criticizes his parent in front of you, and you are silent, you are tacitly betraying your spouse. But what if your spouse is wrong?
The tough but correct answer is: always back your spouse publicly; never undermine your spouse. If you disagree, discuss it privately. If you do this consistently, and do not have a history of throwing your spouse under the bus, your spouse will respect your candid responses. There are ways to do this without being a total liar. For example, let’s say your mother makes a comment about your wife’s spending habits and it touches a raw nerve because basically you agree, you can say, “Mom, please do not speak badly about my wife in front of me. It is rechilus.” (Rechilus is a particular brand of lashon ha’ra that incites hatred between people.)
You do not need to get into a debate about whether your spouse is right or wrong; it is simply wrong for you to hear such things being spoken and you should protest. The same in regard to your child who is disrespecting your husband, and you (not-so-) secretly think your husband is being unreasonable. You can say, “This is not the way to speak to your father, no matter how you feel. If you feel he is being unfair, take a few minutes to cool down and find a respectful way to discuss it.”
So be careful when it comes to family loyalty, and try not to get cornered!
Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R, is president of Nefesh International and is a clinical supervisor for high conflict couples, families, and individuals.