Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Aspects of Piety, Humility or Lack of Vulnerability Bava Metzia 65-67


Extra Credit in Mitzvos

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the legal technicalities of whether a rental or hire incurs financial obligation from commencement, or only at the end, when the rental or work contract is completed. Halachically this has implications for whether advance payment at a discount is considered charging interest or not. The halacha is that the obligation to pay a rental fee is incurred only at the end of the rental period. 

The Chida (Midbar Kdemos, Tav 10) uses this halacha to explain why we do not receive reward for mitzvos in this world, but then he adds an interesting twist. Since we are obliged to perform the mitzvos, our reward only comes upon completion of our contractual terms, which is the end of life. However, that only applies to obligations. Other aspects of mitzvah observance such as Hiddur Mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah), and I would say, lifnim mishuras hadin (choosing to go beyond the strict letter of the law) are not included in the contract. Therefore, the Chida asserts, for such observances one can receive reward in this world as well. Aside from this being clever derush, it fits in well logically, based on what we discussed in the previous daf. Mitzvos bring a social and psychological benefit that is separate from the promised reward. Such benefits are surely activated when a person’s devotion extends to commitment that is beyond the letter of the law. It shows and creates an internalization of the ethics and attitudes within the law and so its benefit .


Mind Reader or Emotion Reader?

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the implications of a person who appears calm but perhaps he is not. The Gemara sometimes rules that a verbal commitment is binding as there is a clear indication of serious intent, while other times we assume he was under some kind of duress and offered an empty verbal assurance but made no kinyan (physical act of transfer or acquisition) to solidify the transaction. The actual halachos are complex however we will focus on one scenario whereby the Gemara discusses a gentleman sipping his beer. The Gemara wonders if this is an indication of a sanguine attitude and his verbal commitments are not under financial duress therefore taken seriously, or quite the contrary, he is anxious and drinking beer to calm his nerves and is under duress.

Regardless of how the Gemara chooses to interpret this behavior, we see a sensitivity to the complexity of interpreting a person’s internal thoughts versus his external behaviors and actions. We saw earlier in our Psychology of the Daf blogpost for Bava Metzia 51 about the importance of noticing a person’s expressions and being more attuned. Additionally, there is an often confusion about what to believe in regard to reading another person’s thoughts.  Everyone likes to say, “Don’t be a mind reader”, but emotions are clearly displayed on a person’s face. With intuition and moderate practice and sensitivity, a person can accurately read another person’s emotional state, even by noticing what are called micro-expressions. Micro-expressions are split-second unconscious leaking of emotions that the person may try to consciously conceal. Even though we can read emotions accurately we make mistakes in attributing a particular set of thoughts to the emotions. For example, a teacher or parent may accuse a child of lying because he appears nervous, might very well accurately perceive the emotion of anxiety but misattribute it to thoughts of deceit. The child might be telling the truth, just be and anxious that he won’t be believed. 

In summation, human behavior is easy to observe and, to some extent, even subtle emotions can be accurately perceived. But indeed thoughts are impossible to read.


Humility or Lack of vulnerability?

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses a practice that was technically not usury, but the Talmud ruled that rabbis should abstain from it nonetheless, because they should behave according to a higher standard. The Gemara records that Ravina did not abstain from this practice and stuck with the letter of the law. Tosafos (ibid) wonders about this, and Rabbenu Tam suggests that thiswas due to Ravina’s humility in that he did not want to portray himself as a sage.

This Tosafos is used by the Chida (Shu”t Chaim Sha’al I:61) to rule in an unusual question. There was a well known pious individual who personally did not want to wear Tefillin of Rabbenu Tam because Shulchan Aruch (OH 34:3) declares that a person should not wear Rabbenu Tam tefillin unless he is well established and known in his piety. This person, though well-known and regarded, did not want to claim such a mantle. This became an ethical conundrum as, everyone knew him to be pious, and therefore not donning Rabbenu Tam tefilin might lead others to weaken their Torah observance in misattributing his non-observance of this practice as moral laxity. The Chida ruled, based on our Tosafos, that despite appearances and well known perception of the person as pious, he can choose to behave as an ordinary citizen out of his own wish to be humble. After all, who could have been more well regarded as a sage than Ravina, and yet he chose to behave as a regular person.

Yiddeshkeit constantly embodies contradictory priorities and ethics; to be humble or to inspire others by filling the shoes of a great sage? My father Z”L used to teach me as a child: “Don’t talk about the mitzvos you do, as the Satan will overhear and interfere.” It was good advice overall but I do think some of it can lead to a lack of vulnerability and emotional honesty with loved ones. After my getting married and learning new ideas, my wife would object to such excessively humble practices as she was used to the demonstrably pious acts of her father. (I don’t mean this in a mocking way – my father in law WAS pious, and wanted to model such behavior to his Talmidim and children.) I realized this was an important point as inside your family it is better to model piety and not keep religious strivings and efforts a secret. I wish my piety was revealed to my children and my impiety a secret, though it is more likely the opposite occurred. 


About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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