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Gittin 18

David and the Ten Days of Repentance.

You may remember a few pages back that we learned about King David’s conquest of the land of Israel, which was referenced only obliquely. On today’s daf, there is another indirect reference to King David, and it begins with a question about the validity of a bill of divorce written during the day and signed at night. As part of this discussion, Reish Lakish argues that the dispute is really when the signing was delayed more significantly:

Reish Lakish says: Rabbi Shimon only validates a bill of divorce when it was signed immediately (i.e. it was written before sunset and signed after sunset), but from now until ten days from now, he does not. We are concerned lest he appease her.

And Rabbi Yohanan says that even from now until ten days from now the bill of divorce is valid; if he appeased her, it would be public knowledge.

Rabbi Shimon allows a get to stand if it was written and signed over the course of an evening, even if that means the sun set between writing and signing, technically putting those steps on different days. But he does not allow a longer gap, out of concern that the husband will make up with his wife and engage in relations with her, thereby invalidating the divorce. Rabbi Yohanan, however, allows for a gap of up to ten days between writing and signing, noting that if the couple had reconciled to the point of having intercourse again, it would be publicly known.

Rabbi Samuel Strashun, a 19th-century Russian talmudist, connects Rabbi Yohanan’s ten days to a famous stretch of ten days on the Jewish calendar:

“The reason for a ten-day period seems to me to be a reference to what the Holy One, Blessed be He, fixed as the time for repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And this is because it is the way of a person to regret his or her actions in the course of ten days. And this seems to me to be what is written, About ten days later God struck Nabal and he died … (I Samuel 21:38). This is why the Holy One, Blessed be He, waited ten days: Perhaps Nabal would repent within them and appease David…”

Rabbi Strashun references a story from before David became king. As he was fleeing King Saul (his father-in-law, who at the time was seized by an insane, jealous rage), David sent some of his men to ask a man named Nabal for sustenance. Though offered proof that David was innocent and trustworthy, Nabal rudely refused to help, raising David’s ire. Just as David was on his way to seek revenge, Nabal’s wife, Abigail, intervened, begging him to spare Nabal and his family. David thanked Abigail for interceding and preventing him from harming Nabal, and thereby avoiding a sin. Ten days later, Nabal was struck down by God. 

Nabal was given ten days to repent, but it was actually David who preemptively realized his error and changed his mind. As Rabbi Strashun notes, the Gemara on Rosh Hashanah 18a connects the ten days between their altercation and Nabal’s death to the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when, the Gemara argues, God is closest to individuals. It is worth noting that by connecting those ten days to the story of David and Nabal, we learn that the closeness comes from having sinned, thereby moving further from God, and then coming back to the relationship through repentance.

David’s relationship to God was famously a close one, though not without difficulties. David did not always make the right choices (see what I wrote on Gittin 8, and also of course his famous adulterous relationship with Bathsheba). But he was able to reflect on his actions and use that reflection to improve himself and his relationship to God. Perhaps this is why David keeps coming up in Gittin: David’s relationship with God is like a marriage with its ups and downs, and the rabbis want to use this relationship to learn about all our relationships, in particular that of spouses struggling, though perhaps appeasing one another and ending up in a better place. 

Read all of Gittin 18 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on June 3rd, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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