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May One Transgress To Restore Shalom Bayis?

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In this week’s parshah, Parshas Naso, the Torah discusses the halachos of a sotah. The Torah’s prescribed process includes grinding a scroll that has the parshah of the sotah written on it, mixing it with water, and having the sotah drink from it. Hashem’s name is included in the parshah. Generally there is an issur de’oraisa to erase Hashem’s name, but here the Torah explicitly permits it.

The Gemara says that Hashem allows His name to be erased for the sake of peace between a man and his wife. The Gemaras in Makkos 11a and Sukkah 53b relate that when Dovid HaMelech began to lay the foundation for the Beis HaMikdash, the waters of the deep began to flood the world. Dovid HaMelech was unsure whether it was permitted to write Hashem’s name on a plank and throw it into the waters so that they would subside. Achitofel then made this kal vachomer: if, for the sake of peace between a man and his wife Hashem allows His name to be erased, then surely He would allow his name to be erased for the sake of saving the entire world. Dovid HaMelech did so and the waters subsided.

The question has been raised whether it would be permitted to transgress other prohibitions for the sake of restoring peace between a man and his wife. The Rashba (Teshuvos 1:854) discusses whether one who swore that he would divorce his wife must keep his oath, or may he break it in order to restore peace between himself and his wife. The questioner argued that since we see that the Torah allowed one to transgress the prohibition of erasing Hashem’s name for the sake of peace in the home, perhaps other prohibitions would similarly be permitted as well.

The Rashba answered him this way: only regarding a scenario relating to a sotah is it permitted to erase Hashem’s name for the sake of restoring peace between a man and his wife. Permission is not granted to violate any prohibition in the Torah – including erasing Hashem’s name – under any other scenario that would bring about peace between a man and his wife.

The Rashba explains that this exclusive permission is granted because the Torah is “removing doubt and preventing issur.” Conversely, in the case whereby one swore to divorce his wife, we would enforce his oath and compel him to divorce his wife.

The Rama (Teshuvos, siman 100, os 10) quotes from Rav Hai Gaon, who says that it is only permitted to erase Hashem’s name in the cases of 1) a sotah and 2) saving the world, while it is impermissible to transgress any other aveirah in the Torah. Rav Hai Gaon uses the same terminology as the Rashba: by sotah it is “removing doubt and preventing issur.”

The Rama explains this as follows: According to some, the prohibition of erasing Hashem’s name only applies when it is done in a destructive manner. According to these views, one may erase Hashem’s name in order to fix it, for this is not destructive. Erasing Hashem’s name in order to restore peace between a man and his wife, or to save the world, is a constructive purpose. Therefore, under these circumstances, erasing Hashem’s name does not even fall under the prohibition. But one may never transgress any other prohibition, even if it will restore peace between a man and his wife. Thus one may not defy his oath in order to restore shalom.

In a different Teshuvah (11), however, the Rama says that we may apply this logic to transgress the aveirah of motzi shem ra (slander) in order to restore peace between two communities. In other words, one may disobey the aveirah of motzi shem ra if it will result in restoring shalom between others. He explains that this is because erasing Hashem’s name is a greater aveirah than motzi shem ra – and since one may erase Hashem’s name for the sake of shalom, he can surely transgress the aveirah of motzi shem ra. This seemingly contradicts what the Rama wrote explaining Rav Hai Gaon.

Perhaps the Rama does not rule in accordance with Rav Hai Gaon. Additionally, I would add that the Gemara in Chullin 141a applies this logic in order to give preference to performing one assei instead of another. The Gemara says that since we see that the Torah allows Hashem’s name to be erased for the sake of restoring shalom between a man and his wife, the assei of a metzora should outweigh the assei of shiluach hakan – since the performance of the metzora’s assei will constitute shalom bayis.

This Gemara indicates that the explanation of the logic behind why the Torah allowed Hashem’s name to be erased is not because the erasing is constructive; rather, it is because restoring shalom between a man and his wife is superior to other mitzvos.

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