Down In The Dumps

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

“Dumpster diving” is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners but which may be useful to the dumpster diver. The practice of dumpster diving is also known as urban foraging, binning, alley surfing, curbing, D-mart, dumpstering, garbaging, garbage picking, garbage gleaning, skip-raiding, skip diving, skipping, skip-weaseling, tatting, skally-wagging, or trashing. Another use of the term is as a “sport” mostly practiced by youngsters who directly dive into the dumpsters, often filming it to show others the best dives, as one could do at the beach or pool when diving into water. It carries the risk of injury on broken glass or other dangerous or disgusting objects (source: Wikipedia). This article will focus on the first meaning as it relates to our daf. The question can be asked, “Did a dumpster-diver discover Divine direction to dutifully divorce his darling dearest, or was he derelict in doing due diligence?” To answer that query some background is needed. The Gemara records a dispute regarding whether or not proper intent (lishmah) is required when writing a get. According to R’ Elazar, there is a requirement when drafting a get that it be done for the sake of the couple that is getting divorced. Let’s say, for example, a scribe is practicing his handwriting on a mock get. He picked random entries from the phonebook and compiled a get using those names. Sure enough, the next day, a man approaches him and requests that he write a get.

After inquiry, it became evident that his name and his wife’s name are identical to those used in the practice get. May the couple use this get? R’ Yehuda and R’ Elazar say no. R’ Meir disagrees – there need not be any specific intent during the writing, as long as the witnesses sign the get at the request of the husband. The Gemara (Gittin 3b) then records a statement from R’ Nachman quoting R’ Meir: “If a man finds a get in a pile of refuse and he had witnesses sign it and he gave it to his wife, then it is kosher.” This dumpster diver, while looking for something valuable, finds a piece of paper and examines it. It turns out to be a get. On the spot, he decides that there’s no time like the present. He procures witnesses to sign it, gives it to his wife, and feels happy that he saved himself a few bucks that he would’ve had to pay a sofer to write it. R’ Meir says that this frugality is, frankly, fine because the writing of the get does not have to be done with the intended couple in mind. Even if the get was written for a different couple with the same names, it is still valid. However, Tosfos question the phraseology the Gemara employs. The Gemara implies that R’ Meir only says it is valid post facto, after the dumpster diver gave the get to his wife. If he would ask us initially upon finding the get whether or not he may use it, it seems we would answer in the negative. This is evidenced by the Gemara’s use of the past tense. He found it, procured witnesses, gave it – then it is valid. If the Gemara meant to say that the urban forager can use the get even l’chatchilah, the Gemara should have said, “If one found a get, he could procure witnesses to sign it and he may give it.” However, Rabbeinu Tam concludes that, according to R’ Meir, one may indeed initially use a get written for someone else (provided the names are the same). His explanation for the Gemara’s imprecise phraseology is somewhat unclear. An interesting p’shat is found in the Yad Paltiel. “The Gemara used the past tense, because if the Gemara would have used the future tense, ‘he should procure witnesses to sign,’ one would mistakenly think that the dumpster diver would be obligated to use the get. Why? Because of a Heavenly sign directing him to do so. Think about it. This alley-surfer was looking for valuables, and he chances upon a get that has not only his name on it, but his father’s name as well! Moreover, it has his wife’s name and even his father-in-law’s name! For added measure, the location mentioned on the get is where he lives! Can there be a clearer sign from Shamayim that he should divorce his wife?

One might think that the beraisa is telling our D-mart shopper to follow that Divine direction. To preclude that line of thinking, the Gemara’s statement was recorded in the past tense as if to say that one isn’t obligated to do anything with the get, but whatever he chooses to do is fine. Perhaps, the lesson is that one cannot always correctly interpret Divine signals. The Brisker Rav was once attending a wedding in Yerushalayim. When the chassan and kallah were ready for the chuppah, it became apparent that the chassan had left the ring at home. Someone suggested they buy a ring from someone wearing one in the audience, but the Brisker Rav wouldn’t hear of it. He sent someone to the chassan’s house via taxi to retrieve the ring. Meanwhile, the gathered crowd had to wait. When the ring finally showed up, the ceremony began. As the chassan was about to put the ring on the kallah’s finger, it slipped and fell to the floor. People in the crowd began to murmur, “This wedding wasn’t meant to be. First, the ring was left at home. Then right before he was about to place it, it fell to the floor. It’s a Heavenly sign.” The Brisker Rav said, “Indeed, it wasn’t meant to be – until now. However, now is the perfect moment.” This story highlights the difficulty in deciphering Divine signals. Indeed, my rosh yeshiva, zt”l, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, used to say that we should not attempt to interpret events as Divine signals. For example, what if someone was trying to establish a makom Torah and encountered many difficulties. He may say, “Obviously Hashem is telling me this isn’t meant to be.” But perhaps the message is just the opposite. Hashem has so much confidence in him that he’ll succeed despite the trials and tribulations. Hashem wants to give him great reward for overcoming these obstacles. Possibly Hashem is testing him to see whether or not he will persevere in the face of challenges. Perhaps in previous generations, tzaddikim could interpret events but we can no longer do so. So, what should one rely on for direction? The Vilna Gaon writes that in the absence of the urim v’tumim, one should rely on tefillah. One should daven to Hashem to provide him with clarity to make the right choice. That clarity may come in the form of a talmid chacham who provides him with da’as Torah or a new insight, or perhaps he’ll discover new facts that he was unaware of. In any case, one should always look Above for direction, and not to what he finds below.  

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@

Share this article: