Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Build Back Better – The Jewish Version and Renewing Your Vows Bava Kama 60-62


Build Back Better – The Jewish Version

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph references a verse from Yeshaiyahu (57:19):

בּוֹרֵ֖א (נוב) [נִ֣יב] שְׂפָתָ֑יִם שָׁל֨וֹם ׀ שָׁל֜וֹם לָרָח֧וֹק וְלַקָּר֛וֹב אָמַ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה וּרְפָאתִֽיו׃

The creator of heartening, comforting words: Peace, peace upon him who is far and him who is near—said  GOD —And I will heal them.

The Gemara Berachos (34b) notes that persons who are far, are mentioned first before the persons who are near:

וּפְלִיגָא דְּרַבּ אָמַר רַבִּי אֲבָהוּ: מָקוֹם שֶׁבַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה עוֹמְדִין — צַדִּיקִים גְּמוּרִים אֵינָם עוֹמְדִין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם  לָרָחוֹק וְלַקָּרוֹב״. ״לָרָחוֹק״ בְּרֵישָׁא, וַהֲדַר ״לַקָּרוֹב״.

And the Gemara notes that this statement disagrees with the opinion of Rabbi Abbahu who holds that penitents are superior to the righteous. As Rabbi Abbahu said: In the place where penitents stand, even the full-fledged righteous do not stand, as it is stated: “Peace, peace upon him who is far and him who is near.” Peace and greeting is extended first to him who is far, the penitent, and only thereafter is peace extended to him who is near, the full-fledged righteous.

That the Baal Teshuva could be closer to God than the consistently righteous has been a subject of much discussion amongst commentaries and baaley mussar. It does not seem fair or just. I will try to explain this metaphysical phenomenon from a psychological and systemic perspective. As I have commented on other Psychology of the Daf columns (see Bava Kama 26), often patterns in nature repeat themselves, and Torah mirrors nature, as Rambam points out in the Guide (III:43). 

In our own bodies, a healed bone is stronger, and if our immune system is exposed to a virus and overcomes it, natural immunity develops. When a system develops a repair mechanism it also makes it less likely to break. So too, when a personality recovers from a sin, particularly if the recovery involves shifting perspectives, priorities and character traits, the internalization of the principle is stronger. Who would you rather have as a security guard? A 20 year old boot camp graduate who looks like he could lift a car over his head, or a 50 year old, wizened soldier who has seen many battles? Experience trumps raw power. In relationships as well, when there are betrayals, major or minor, if a repair is made, despite or even because of the depth of the betrayal, new awareness and experience can bring about a result that is even better than before. 

Repairs and corrections seem to be a part of healthy human development and attachment. According to researcher, Jerry Lewis ( published on line: ):

“A Finding of great significance was that mothers are correctly attuned to their infant’s emotional state only about one-third of the time. The infant’s responses to the frequent misattunements result in appropriate corrections by the mother in another one-third of the occasions.”

This shows that the ongoing dynamic of understanding and misunderstandings is part of healthy personality development and relationship stability.”

Lewis quotes additional research:

“Tronick and Gianino emphasized that successful repair turns despair into positive emotions. This can lead to the growth of the infant’s sense of mastery, the elaboration of effective coping mechanisms, and, over time, the internalization of a relationship pattern of great value in later life. There can be adverse consequences in infants for whom successful repair is absent or infrequent. He or she may begin to feel helpless (without mastery) and may turn away from relationships and focus on self-regulation. Internalization of a pattern of unsuccessful repair leads to a limited and often later self-fulfilling relationship style. In addition, a negative affective core to the sense of self may be established.”

Patterns continue to repeat themselves, spiritually and physically, throughout time and across worlds. Although it’s challenging to comprehend, we can intuitively relate to the idea that a relationship that went through considerable difficulty, but ultimately was repaired, becomes stronger and more intimate than before. Many couples that I have had the privilege to work with in helping them through painful conflicts, deep anguish, and dysfunction, can testify to this. When they reach that point of deep empathy, care, and repair, all the pain of the past pales in comparison to the special connection and even ecstasy achieved through this newfound closeness.


The Fog of War

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses an interlude in King David’s life that involved getting a message about a halakha on the battlefront (symbolically represented as bringing water, Shmuel II:23). According to one version, the halakhic question had to do with whether it is permitted to destroy another person’s possessions in order to save himself. The Gemara interprets David’s “pouring out the water” as quoting the halakha anonymously instead of in the messenger’s name. The apparent reason is that the courier was overzealous in risking his life, traversing dangerous battlefronts to bring the message. To discourage such misplaced bravery, he denied giving the messenger credit. 

This is an important message of balance. We may surmise that Dovid Hamelech was aware that in the fog of war, there would be the urge to treat all matters as life threatening. There is the additional danger of the idolatry of nationalism, being expressed during the heat of war, as a fierce loyalty toward the king’s every whim. Dovid Hamelech wanted to counter that instinct and teach a lesson to his subjects and soldiers about reigning in improper expressions of zealotry.

The rabbis may have been hinting at this point by the actual subject of the halakhic question. After all, a person who puts his life at risk due to mistaken piety is metaphorically “saving himself” with his “friend’s money”. That is, he is mistreating his body in order to “save his soul”. 

The challenge is to know when self-sacrifice is appropriate and when self-protection and self-care are appropriate. Sometimes it is simply a matter of halakha, whether it is permitted to expose oneself to danger in pursuit of a higher cause or principle, a mitzvah or to prevent sin. However, at other times it is too subtle to reduce to a yes or no answer, and requires life experience and the “Fifth Volume of Shulkhan Arukh”.


Renewing Your Vows 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the status a forced sale:

: תְּלוּהּ וְזַבֵּין – זְבִינֵיהּ זְבִינֵי

If one was strung up so that another could coerce him to sell a certain item, and he sold it, his sale is a valid sale. This indicates that a sale under duress is considered a valid sale. Some opinions hold that if one receives payment, though technically he may not want to sell it, his acceptance of the money shows he begrudgingly agrees. (See Beis Yosef, CM 190:12.and Bava Basra 47b.)

The Gemara (Shabbos 88a) relates a metaphysical forced sale, in that the Midrash says that the Jews were forced to accept the Torah:

״וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר״, אָמַר רַב אַבְדִּימִי בַּר חָמָא בַּר חַסָּא: מְלַמֵּד שֶׁכָּפָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת הָהָר כְּגִיגִית, וְאָמַר לָהֶם: אִם אַתֶּם מְקַבְּלִים הַתּוֹרָה מוּטָב, וְאִם לָאו — שָׁם תְּהֵא קְבוּרַתְכֶם. אָמַר רַב אַחָא בַּר יַעֲקֹב: מִכָּאן מוֹדָעָא רַבָּה לְאוֹרָיְיתָא. אָמַר רָבָא: אַף עַל פִּי כֵן הֲדוּר קַבְּלוּהָ בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, דִּכְתִיב: ״קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים״ — קִיְּימוּ מַה שֶּׁקִּיבְּלוּ כְּבָר.

The Torah says, “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lowermost part of the mount” (Exodus 19:17). Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa said: the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain, and the verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial. Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov said: From here there is a substantial caveat to the obligation to fulfill the Torah. The Jewish people can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah, and it is therefore not binding. 

Rava said: Even so, they again accepted it willingly in the time of Ahasuerus, as it is written: “The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them” (Esther 9:27), and he taught: The Jews established that which they already accepted.  

Arvei Nachal uses the halakhic principle of a forced sale discussed above to explain why the Jewish acceptance of the Torah was valid under duress. Since the Jews received a tangible benefit (their freedom from slavery), the “agreement” was binding. He says this explains the repetitive statements of being taken out of Egypt in the verses (Bamidbar 6:21-23), to emphasize that commitment to the Torah was in exchange for the Exodus.

Regardless of the rationale for how the covenant would be originally binding, the Gemara relates that the Jews fully accepted the Torah after the miracle of Purim. They recommitted to their original agreement. We have discussed many times in Psychology Of the Daf how the Rabbis considered the covenant of the Jewish people and God to be like a marriage, sometimes a stormy marriage at that (Psychology of the Daf, Yevamos 11.)

The idea that what was once felt to be an involuntary burden can be positively reappraised, and turn into something treasured occurs in human marriages as well. There are those who felt they were forced by community pressure into marriage, and others who might realize that they married more to escape their family of origin than genuine connection to their spouse. Even if this was so, and a marriage can start off with the pain of disappointment and mismatched expectations, with respect, communication and genuine caring, passion and love can develop to the point where there is true love and appreciation.

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