Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Mazel tov on the completion of Nazir! In recent years, some organizations have been publicizing their conclusion that it is perfectly fine according to Jewish law for men to marry women who are older than them. However, one could argue that the Gemara in Sotah (2a) seems to imply that if one wants to marry his soul mate, he must marry a woman who is younger than him. The Gemara says, “Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: Forty days before the formation of a fetus, a Heavenly voice proclaims, ‘The daughter of Ploni (So-andSo) is intended for Ploni (this baby).’” (Rabbeinu Yechiel of Paris explained that “40 days before the formation of a fetus” is another way of saying “at the time of conception.” Only a 40-day-old fetus is considered formed. At the end of Nazir we referenced this point; a woman only brings a korban after a miscarriage if the fetus was over 40 days old.) Why doesn’t the Gemara simply state that a Heavenly voice proclaims that soand-so will marry so-and-so? Why does the Gemara refer to the potential wife as “the daughter of so-and-so”?
A simple solution would be that at the time of the Heavenly proclamation regarding this male child, his female counterpart hasn’t been conceived yet, so she is referred to as the daughter of some person, rather than as a person herself. Hence, in the preordained union, the male partner is older than the female. However, to dispel this explanation, Tosfos say that the announcement is always made before the male child is formed “whether or not the female was already born.” The preordained wife could have already been born when the Heavenly voice proclaims which male child she will marry. Hence, it is perfectly fine for a man to marry a woman who is older than he is. Still, how are we to understand the Gemara’s use of the phrase “the daughter of so-and-so” instead of the simpler “such and such girl”?
Various suggestions have been offered. The Iyun Yaakov explains that the Torah gives a father the right to marry off his daughter until she turns 12½. Since the father can take a more active role in his daughter’s marriage, the Gemara refers to the girl as the daughter of So-and-So. Alternatively, the Iyun Yaakov suggests that the phrase was used simply to keep a stylistic parallelism in the text of this lesson. After stating, “The daughter of so-and-so is destined for so-and-so,” the Gemara continues, “The house of soand-so is destined for so-and-so; the field of so-and-so is destined for so-and-so.” The Iyun Yaakov offers a third explanation, which is the exact opposite of the original inference mentioned in the beginning of this article. The Gemara is specifically discussing a case where the girl was already born. Since she was already born, she can rightly be called the daughter of so-and-so. However, someone who was not yet born cannot be called someone’s daughter or son. Hence, since the announcement is made while the boy is still a fetus, he is referred to simply by the moniker “Ploni.” The older girl was already born, so she can rightly be referred to as the daughter of Ploni. The sefer Alei Veradim asks: what is the point of a Heavenly voice proclaiming that so-and-so will marry so-and-so? When the children are old enough they will find their Divine bashert even if it wasn’t announced.
The Alei Veradim answers that Chazal tell us there are three partners in a person: Hashem, the father, and the mother. Parents might assume that they play a major role in deciding their child’s marriage partner. Therefore, a Heavenly voice proclaims the shidduch even before one of the children are born. At that time, only one of the three partners, Hashem, had a say. What follows in the rest of this article is a loose translation from the sefer Pninei Rabbeinu HaKehillos Yaakov of the Steipler Gaon (vol. 1, page 34) that is apropos to the discussion of our Gemara: It has become clear to me that when the Gemara says that the daughter of so-and-so is for so-and-so, it is not an absolute decree that it must be that way. There is no guarantee that the shidduch will actually happen. Rather, the Heavenly voice is proclaiming that the following shidduch is appropriate and should be made…. Ultimately, the choice (free will) is left to the individuals. It is very common that when a boy and girl meet for the first time, they are reticent and say few words to each other. Then they tell their parents that they are not interested in the shidduch because the other party is too introverted. They should have prepared topics to discuss and appropriate questions. The bachur should have prepared questions – for example, where do you study now? Or do you teach? Which Bais Yaakov did you attend?
Which shiurim did you attend? What did you discuss about the last holiday? Which Chumash are you learning or teaching? How did you understand this incident? Further, the bachur should prepare stories about tzaddikim and short mussar concepts from various mashgichim so that they will have enough to talk about. Then the Gemara of “bas Ploni to Ploni” will be fulfilled. Further, a boy could lose the “bas Ploni” because of his arrogance. He may think that he is someone very special and needs a girl with all the “maalos.” He wants a rich, brilliant, beautiful girl from the most chashuv family. Every girl he meets is not good enough for him. One may be slightly too tall or slightly too short; one is just average; one is not wealthy enough. He therefore discards all potential shidduchim. He will also lose out on his “bas Ploni.”
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@ gmail.com.