Yevamos 40a: An Incentive for Chalitzah

Yevamos 40a: One who performs chalitzah has no special status in inheriting the deceased brother’s property; he is like any other brother.

יבמות מ ע”א: החולץ ליבמתו הרי הוא כאחד מן האחין לנחלה.

Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heshel, the Ohev Yisroel, was known as the Apter Rav. Actually, he only served as rav of Apta for 8 years. The rest of his rabbinic career was spent in other cities: before Apta he was rav of Kalbisov, and after Apta he went to Yasi and Mezhbizh. When he announced to the town of Apta that he was leaving, the townspeople were upset and asked him, “Why? Is the rav not satisfied with his salary? When you came to our town, you asked for an unusually high salary, and we have been paying it with no complaints. And the salary you will receive in your new position will be lower.”   

The Apter Rav replied: I will explain with a story. Once there were two brothers who were orphaned at a young age. They went to live in different towns with different families, and had little contact with each other. They each grew up and married, but neither was blessed with children. One brother became wealthy, while the other struggled in poverty. The wealthy brother, who lived in Apta, became ill and felt his end was near. He called over his wife and told her, “You must know that I have a brother and his name is Shmuel, but I don’t know where he lives. When I die, you will need to get chalitzah from him. When he comes here and gives you chalitzah, give him a sizable portion of the money I am leaving you.”

After he passed away, the widow went to the rav of Apta and told him what her husband had said. The rav sent letters to all the surrounding towns asking if there was someone by that name, and the brother was eventually located. The rav of his town said to him, “Go to Apta and give chalitzah to your brother’s widow. And know that there is a large sum of money waiting for you there.” Reb Shmuel went home and told his wife, Bassheva, the news. “Now we will no longer be poor!” he said.  But Bassheva said to him, “Look at the amazing, rare mitzvah that Hashem has sent our way! Go and give the chalitzah, but I have one request: Do not accept any money for this mitzvah. I want you to do the mitzvah completely l’shem shamayim!” Her husband agreed. Just to be sure, she made him swear to her that he would not take a penny.

Reb Shmuel came to Apta and gave chalitzah. The widow then offered him a sack of money containing half of her husband’s wealth. But he steadfastly refused to accept it. She asked the rav what to do – how could she fulfill her late husband’s request, when the brother would not take the money? The rav advised, “Give the money to the Kehillah treasury instead.” 

In heaven the angels could not contain their excitement and danced for joy. Such a powerful love for a mitzvah this couple had, that they gave up their only chance to be wealthy! The Heavenly Court decided that they would be blessed with a son in their old age.

“I am that son,” the Apter Rav concluded. “And the reason I asked for a high rabbinical salary was because I wanted to collect my inheritance from the Apta kehillah treasury. Now that I have finished collecting it, I am moving to a different town.”

Source: Kindline Yiddish Magazine, Parshas Ki Savo 5782, based on a story told by Rabbi Leibish Langer

[The obvious question here is that this was not payment for the mitzvah; the brother of the deceased inherits all the money in any case, since there was no father or any other brothers. The answer may be that the widow’s kesubah takes precedence over inheritance, and in this case her kesubah was more than half of the husband’s fortune. Thus, some or all of the sack of money was not rightfully the brother’s inheritance, and he would only have been accepting it as payment for the mitzvah.

In fact, the idea of paying him for the chalitzah was not the dying husband’s own; it is a takanah, brought by the Rema in Even Ho’ezer 163:2.

וכל זה מדינא אבל הקהילות תקנו תקנה אם יתרצו היבם והיבמה בחליצה יחלוקו כל הנכסים שהניח ואפילו אינה מגיע החצי לכדי כתובה וכו’ ואותו החצי שמגיע לחלק יורשי הבעל נוטל החולץ ואין לאב ולא לשאר אחין חלק בו אפילו תפסו מוציאין מידן דעיקר התקנה היתה כדי שיתרצו בחליצה ולכן החולץ עיקר בזה.

“The above (that the brother giving chalitzah is like any other brother) is the original law. But the Kehillos enacted that if the widow and her husband’s brother agree to chalitzah, they split up all the property left by the dead husband equally, even if her kesubah amount was more than half of it. The brother giving chalitzah takes the entire half; his father and brothers have no share in it. Even if they seize it, we take it away from them, because this takanah was made as an incentive for the brother to agree to do chalitzah, and therefore the brother giving chalitzah takes all.”

Thus, since the money was rightfully the widow’s and was being given to Reb Shmuel only to motivate him to agree to do chalitzah, as per the above Rema, Reb Shmuel and his wife declared, “We don’t need any incentive to do a mitzvah; we love to do mitzvos.”]  

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