Thursday, June 16, 2011

Acting in Good Faith

This story is adapted from one cited by the Aruch and attributed to the amora Rav Chanina or the amora Rav Ami, depending on the girsa.


Lovely looking and adorned in enchanting jewelry, a girl was on her way home to her father, when she began to lose her bearings and feel faint. She needed something to eat or drink. Wandering about, she spotted a well, to which was affixed a bucket hanging from a rope. She grabbed the rope, hoping to lower the bucket into the water and fill it. But in the event, she was pulled down by the weight of the bucket and made to fall into the well. She had had her fill of water and sought to make her way out of the pit. But she was confronted with the reality that there was no way for her to maneuver her way out. Out of sheer desperation, she then let out cries and screams.

This went on for some time, when suddenly a passerby caught wind of the girl’s agonizing cries. He drew himself close to the source of the shouts but could not make out the identity of the being emitting them. It was too dark. He yelled into the pit, addressing himself to the being emitting the cries, and asking whether it was human or otherwise. The girl rang back that she was indeed human and desperately needed help in finding her way out of the pit. The passerby, in turn, was determined to discern whether this was in fact the case. He demanded of her that she swear to the verity of her statement, with which demand she complied and swore. He thereupon inquired with her as to how she had gotten down there and received her candid retelling of the turn of events. At which point he asked her whether she would be willing to be wedded to him, if he should pull her out of the pit. Immediately thereupon, she indicated her agreement to do so.

But no sooner had he pulled her out and caught a glimpse of her than he developed an urge to couple with her forthwith. Sensing this, she hesitated not a moment to ask him from what people he hailed. Answering her, he told her that he was a Jew from such-and-such a place and, also, a kohein. Responding in turn, she gave the location of her home, adding that – like him – she was a member of a highly reputable Jewish family. Then she scolded him, complaining that someone who is holy and exalted enough to have been designated by G-d for special status (as a kohein) among all the Jews – that someone like this should not be acting in so animal-like a fashion and trying jump right into (illicit) relations while circumventing the legitimate process of chupa and kidushin.

She sought to egg him on to follow her to where her father and mother were situated, so that she might become betrothed to him in an acceptable (respectable) way. Instead, he offered to enter into a compact with her, committing themselves to one another for marriage. Receiving her commitment, he made it a point to ask her who would bear witness to their pact. Hearing his quest, she felt hard pressed to offer a satisfactory solution. But just at that moment, as if out of nowhere, a weasel suddenly passed by in front of them. Prompted by this, she went on to insist that Heaven, the weasel, and the pit would attest to the fact that nothing deceitful had been lurking between them.

Satisfied, they took leave of each other and went their separate ways. The girl remained steadfastly faithful to her pledge. She received a steady stream of inquiries from would-be suitors seeking her out; but in case after case, she held firm in her declination and wavered not an iota. Things grew increasingly intense, with the pressure mounting for her to acquiesce in the proposals made in behalf of the most admirable of young men. It got to the point where she felt she had no way out, other than to resort to the tactic of warding off her pursuers by feigning lunacy and engaging in modes of conduct unbecoming a true Jewish princess. She would tear at the clothing of anyone who dared to approach her and rent her own clothing as well, resigning herself to lying in tatters.

Before long, the locals had caught on and ceased to entreat her. No longer would they queue up in front of her door but backed off entirely, as ever before. Alone she sat, with barely anyone one with whom to chat, awaiting his anxiously anticipated arrival.

With him, on the other hand, it was an entirely different story. Arriving home, he quickly put what had transpired out of his mind and settled in with the hustle and bustle of ordinary life. He took to a livelihood and gave free reign to his desire to marry. He married a woman who, in due course, became impregnated and bore him a child, a son. Three months had passed, and the child was bitten by a weasel and succumbed and died. She became pregnant again and bore him a son, another one. But this child fell into a ditch and succumbed to his injuries, dying from them. She took her husband aside and said to him that, if their children had died a normal death, she would have recited tziduk hadin and left it at that. But they had both died a death strange in the extreme; and for this there had to be some kind of an explanation.

She sensed that he had a story to tell her and adjured him to let her in on it. Whereupon he recounted for her benefit the whole train of events, commencing with his hearing the cries of the girl coming from the hole and culminating in his agreement to return to her for marriage – with a weasel and a pit bearing witness. Taking a divorce from him, she admonished him to go back to the woman who had been appropriated for him as a wife, by the Creator of the Universe.

He made his way over to her town and inquired with the locals as to her whereabouts. He was told that the woman he was seeking had gone mad and suffered from uncontrollable seizures. He was given to understand what she did to anyone who as much as attempted to approach her. So to her father he went and there and then gave vent to the story in its entirety. He expressed himself earnestly, taking upon himself full acceptance of any defects with which she might be smitten. The father appointed a witness, testifying to all that the man had undertaken. And thus did this kohein venture to approach the sad and forlorn woman, whom he had treated unfairly and of whose trust he had proven himself unworthy.

On being approached, the woman initially reacted in what had become her typical fashion: by trying to rip at his clothing and forcing him to keep his distance, on pain of sustaining damage to anything he might be holding. Undeterred, the man engaged her in conversation and made especial mention of the weasel and of the ditch whose testimony had so much earlier been invoked. She responded in kind, saying to him that she had stood by her word and refused entanglement with other parties, with whose entreaties she had been helplessly flooded. In their minds and in their hearts they found comfort and repose, as they basked in a profusion of calm and serenity. They engaged in procreation and were fruitful and multiplied – with both offspring and an abundance of possessions.

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