By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 4 – The Pockets of Your Heart
It can’t be an easy dichotomy to maintain. Everything is ready. The chasunah is all set up. The tables are set, the food is all cooked and baked; the kallah is all dressed up. And, suddenly, tragedy strikes. The father of the chassan or the mother of the kallah dies. What to do?! What can you do in such a situation?
Chazal determined that because postponing the wedding at this point will cause serious problems, we place the niftar in a private room and allow the chassan and kallah to continue on to the chuppah as planned.
The marriage is consummated, and burial of the niftar takes place immediately thereafter. Shiva will not begin, though, until after sheva brachos is completed since the latter already came into effect by dint of the chuppah taking place.
But it is far from a regular sheva brachos situation.
Even though the week of sheva brachos is like a chag for them, the halacha is that private forms of aveilus do apply. Therefore, aside from the initial consummation of the marriage, the chassan and kallah are barred from being together for the remainder of the sheva brachos (even before the later takanah instituted that dam besulin is treated like dam nidah). Not only that, they are not even allowed to be alone with one another. Even yichud is prohibited for them because of the aveilus!
Quite a dichotomy, isn’t it?
On the one hand, they are celebrating with family and friends; with singing, dancing, and great food. But, on the other hand, the chassan just lost his father or the kallah just lost her mother. And it is not as if they can just completely push it out of their minds for the time being. They can’t. I mean, how could they, considering the fact that the aveilus is deeply affecting their practical ability to be together?!
However, the fact is that Chazal determined that, given the circumstances, this is the best way to go about it. And that fact serves us as an indication of the tremendous kochos ha’nefesh that a person really has. Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt”l put it this way: “Everyone has different pockets in their heart. You have a pocket for the sad times and a pocket for the happy times. That way, even when they intermingle in time, you can manage to deftly navigate between the two by selecting which pocket to open up at any given moment.”
Obviously, that doesn’t mean that it is easy. Certainly not. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But, nevertheless, it is within a person’s inherent capabilities. Being aware of that fact is the first important step to becoming empowered to actualize that latent strength.
Sometimes the cholent of happy and sad in our lives can become overwhelming, like when on your way to the chasunah of your sister you hear about a terrible terrorist attack R”l. Inwardly, it can be like a fight between the two emotions, and it’s a question of which one will win. It feels as though the two emotions are just hopelessly irreconcilable, like a lose-lose situation wherein you’re either going to have to be cruelly unfeeling in order to be able to experience the simcha properly, or you are going to have to just lose out on experiencing the simcha in order to properly feel the tragedy that took place.
Both options are simply untenable, and this internal conflict can feel like a trap with no way out.
That’s why it is very important to be aware of this pockets-of-the-heart reality which can help us to manage these types of difficult tensions, without necessarily providing an actual resolution to the conflict. Because, really, that is the answer, that there doesn’t have to be an answer. You don’t need to resolve or reconcile the two emotions.
Rather, when you hear bad news, c”v, you open the pocket of compassion and sadness and store that information there. If you are in a time and place that is inappropriate to dwell on it now, you store it there for future reference, like the next time you’ll be davening or saying Tehillim. For now, though, you zip up that pocket and open up the joyful happiness pocket to do the mitzvah of having simcha.
So, no, this is not an easy thing to do, but if we start to habituate ourselves to this pockets-of-the-heart mechanism, it can go a long way in helping us to navigate the often-turbulent paths of life.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.