Ki Seitzei – Mental Health

In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei we find the mitzvah of yibum (levirate
marriage). The mitzvah of yibum applies when a married man leaves this world without children and the obligation to marry his widow falls upon one of his brothers. The Torah says that the reason for this mitzvah is “that his name not be blotted out of Israel” (Devarim 25:6). The Sforno explains: “For regarding the child born of this union, Hashem, The Exalted One, will consider it as if born as a result of the original marriage of the deceased, and the deceased brother does not have to remarry her.”

If none of the brothers wish to do yibum there is a mitzvah called chalitza which divorces or severs the link between the widow and her brother-in-law(s). This process is done by the woman taking off the shoe of her brother-in-law, which the Chizkuni says acquires for her the inheritance of her deceased husband, which the brother would have received if he had done yibum. She then spits in front of his face on the ground and says: “This is the way to treat the man who does not want to build his brother’s house” (Devarim 25:9).

The Chizkuni says she spits in front of him in order to humiliate him for being disgusted by her, in essence saying: ‘after you don’t desire me I don’t care for you; rather, you are no better than this spittle.’ The Chizkuni says the statement she makes is also to humiliate him in order to settle her mind. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

There is an obvious question that arises from this Chizkuni. How can this woman embarrass her brother-in-law like this, especially in the public eye, in front of the court and witnesses? He is still a human being, and we know that embarrassing someone is like killing them. It is better for one to jump into a furnace then willingly embarrass someone. Furthermore, doing it in public warrants no share in The World to Come, so how can the Torah justify such a thing and deem it a mitzvah which must be done if the alternative mitzvah of yibum is not fulfilled?

We see from here the importance the Torah gives to mental health. The Chizkuni says the reason for doing this is in order to emotionally calm the widow down (לישבה דעתה) . It is therefore considered worth the cost, under certain circumstances regulated by Torah law, to embarrass someone else for the mental health of the other.

We find a similar concept by loshon hara (slander). Loshon hara is a very severe sin which is the cause of the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash. Yet we find “there are time when Jewish Law permits listening to negative information which is no relevance to the listener or any of his acquaintances. Where the speaker feels the need to express his [or her ] anger or frustration for relief of emotional pain, one is doing an act of chesed (kindness) by hearing the person out and expressing understanding of his [or her] feelings” (See Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day, page 252). We see from here that one is permitted to vent if he or she feels he or she needs to and it is a mitzvah of chesed to listen to him or her and express understanding of their feelings.

We again see how sensitive the Torah is towards mental health even at the expense of what would normally be loshon hara.

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