Niddah 30 - 36
Blessings in Disguise
There is a statue in the town of Enterprise, Alabama in the U.S. honoring the boll weevil. This was the predatory insect which one year destroyed the entire cotton crop of that southern state whose entire economy was built on that product. Although it was initially viewed as a catastrophe, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for it forced the people to diversify their economy by raising peanuts and livestock. In appreciation of the boll weevils role in improving the states economy the grateful citizens honored this erstwhile terror with a statue.
This was a modern version of what Rabbi Yosef teaches us in the meaning of the passage "I will praise you G-d for showing anger toward me. Your anger has been turned away and You have comforted me." (Yeshayahu 12:1) He offers a parable to teach the lesson of hidden blessings conveyed by this passage:
Two people set out to conduct business ventures. One of them sustains an injury from a splinter in his flesh which prevents him from embarking on a sea voyage which promised great profits. He instinctively begins to curse his bad fortune. Some days later he learns that the other fellows ship has sunk. Now realizing that his injury saved him from a similar fate, he thanks and praises G-d.
The Talmud and Midrash are filled with stories of Sages who viewed every apparent misfortune as a blessing in disguise. A particularly striking one concerns a very generous contributor to charity by the name of Abba Yehuda who suffered a setback in his fortunes. He nevertheless gave away to the Sages collecting for a worthy cause half of his last remaining field. They prayed for his recovery and their prayers were soon answered. As he was plowing his last remaining earth, his cow fell into a pit and broke its leg. As he descended to raise it, his eyes were opened by Heaven to see a buried treasure. He then exclaimed what became the motto for all such discoveries: "It was for my benefit that my cows leg was broken."
- Niddah 31a
Voices and Looks
Why, asked the disciples of Rabbi Dostai, is the voice of a woman so much more pleasant than that of a man?
The answer he gave was to refer them to the source of each. Woman was created from the rib of man and when a rib is struck it emits a musical sound. Man was created from earth which emits only a dull thud when struck.
What follows this explanation in bringing this third perek of Mesechta Niddah to a close is a quote from Shir Hashirim where the beloved woman is thus praised: "For your voice is pleasant and your appearance beautiful" (2:14).
The commentaries differ in their explanation of this particular quote. Tosefot takes note that when the beloved man in this dialogue of lovers is praised, it is for being of a "clear and ruddy complexion" (ibid. 5:10) with no mention of the quality of his voice.
Maharsha understood that Tosefot intended to prove from the contrast between these two passages that a womans voice is more pleasant than that of the man. He rejects this approach for two reasons. First of all, the obvious difference between the voices of the two genders needs no support from Tanach. Secondly, the passage pointing out the superior quality of the feminine voice should have been quoted by the disciples in their question rather than appear as part of the response. He, therefore, concludes that this passage is not related to the dialogue but merely appears as a nice way of ending the perek.
Another commentary, Iyun Yaakov, understood that Tosefot was attempting to answer a question which could arise from the dialogue between Rabbi Dostai and his disciples. Why, we might ask, did they not ask their master why a womans looks are more pleasant than those of a man? The reason they did not ask this, suggests Tosefot, is because the man is also praised for his appearance and it is only in regard to the voice that a difference is made.
- Niddah 31b