Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Children Versus Angels and Dangers of an Insensitive Husband Bava Metzia 108-109


Children Versus Angels

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses various rights and courtesies that are granted to the owner of an adjoining field, such as first choice in purchasing the property over other buyers if it is on the market. This law, known as Bar Mitzrah (owner of a bordering field) is conceptualized as an obligation to grant courtesy to the neighbors, because there is much more of a benefit for the neighbor to buy this field in particular. The other buyer can always find another field. If, on the other hand, the seller has a specific reason why it’s more advantageous to choose a different buyer over a neighbor, he may do so for a substantial reason. The Gemara offers different examples such as selling all the properties in a bundle or if the neighbor doesn’t have the cash on hand and must raise the capital.

The Benei Yissaschar (Sivan Ma’amar 5:23) explains that this was part of the claim of the angels, who argued why should Hashem give the Torah to the Jews (Shabbos 88b) instead of them. They argued we should have first choice to buy, like the adjoining neighbor, as the Torah is initially here, in heaven. The Benei Yissaschar says that according to Shittah Mekubetzes on Bava Metzia, if the purchaser is a son of the owner, he also is not subject to the requirements of Bar Mitzrah. As we saw above, this law is mostly about a courtesy and right that belongs to the owner of the neighboring field, if all things considered equal, there is no major inconvenience to the owner. Since there is a strong advantage and reason to sell the property to his son, the owner and the purchaser (the son) do not have to give the neighbor precedence. So too, Hashem’s counterargument to the angels was that the Jewish people are my children, and they are exempt from the requirements of Bar Mitzrah.

When we learn a clever derush like this we must stop and analyze this further. Are angels also not as close to God as His children? Apparently not. But why?

Let us reflect on what is the essence of a son. A son represents an aspiration to carry out a person’s legacy in a unique manner. Angels are like God’s employees. A worker can do a lot for a person, but never be a son. As Avraham plaintively declared (Bereishis 15:3):

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אַבְרָ֔ם הֵ֣ן לִ֔י לֹ֥א נָתַ֖תָּה זָ֑רַע וְהִנֵּ֥ה בֶן־בֵּיתִ֖י יוֹרֵ֥שׁ אֹתִֽי׃

Abram said further, “Since You have granted me no offspring, my steward will be my heir.” As if to say, Eliezer has been a fine support and companion, but he is not my proper heir.

One way to understand what it means when the Torah says that man is made in God’s image (tzelem Elokim, Bereishis 1:27) is that Man has free choice and full intellectual capacity. (For more about this, see our blog post, Psychology of the Daf, Bava Kamma 104.–psychology-of-the-daf-yomi/read )  

When Man employs his free will and agency, he is like God. When Man chooses to be connected to God out of his own volition, it is the deepest form of being a child of God. Just as a parent’s life is not meaningful without passing his love and legacy to his children, so too, in a certain way, God “needs” to be a parent and give that love to someone who will accept it. It is not that God’s love is like that of a parent in so much that our parental yearnings are a reflection of the deeper godly truth about attachment, and giving from a free and full place. We have referenced the Shalah (Toldos Odom:15) many times who holds that every word in Hebrew, the holy tongue, is a metaphor or borrowed term from a broader spiritual reality. This is certainly true when it comes to parental love.

Therefore, the answer is that only humans are like God’s children in that we do not merely have a job to do, or responsibilities toward God, but we are to realize and enact Godly ways of living and act as his children.  


The Dangers of an Insensitive Husband

Our Gemara on amud aleph records a spirited dispute between Rav Beivai bar Abaye and Rav Pappi. In the middle of the argument, Rav Pappi seems to have insulted Rav Beivai bar Abaye, implying that he makes faulty (short-lived) arguments because he stems from the House of Eli, who were cursed to die early.

The Shalah (Torah Sheb’al Peh, Kellal Peh Kadosh) tries to answer how such language could be appropriate. Regarding this particular insult, he says it was actually clever and pointed mussar, and not just angry rhetoric. Since the descendants of Eli were cursed with shortened lives, and one of the known antidotes was studying Torah (Rosh Hashanah 18a), Rav Pappi was saying, “You, above all people, should be extra scrupulous in your studies in order to provide you with life saving counter blessings to overcome the curse.”

Once in the discussion of Talmudic insults, the Shalah also discusses a number of situations where the Gemara seems to gratuitously report unflattering events and behaviors of sages. The most notable example was Gemara Kesuvos (23a) reporting the capture and disgrace of the daughters of the great amora, Shmuel. The Shalah says, and I will try to translate it precisely because of sensitive and surprising nature of his position:

“The Gemara does not engage in flattery. It was for some sin that caused Shmuel’s daughters to be subjected to this, such as not giving them enough rebuke and moral guidance, and similar matters. It was meant as a punishment for Shmuel for this to be recorded in the Gemara for posterity. Because it was intended for that purpose, is not a sin, nor is it forbidden to discuss what happened. This is no different than Beis Din making a public ruling against a sinner.”

But, what then was Shmuel’s sin? Shalah does not say anything specific and alludes to the possibility that Shmuel was lax in his chinuch. Given that the Shalah gave us license to accept that there was some sin on Shmuel’s part, I believe the preceding daf in kesuvos (22) gives us a hint as to a specific sin:

The Gemara there discusses a situation where a woman told her husband that she was a niddah, and then later retracted. The issue is, can we believe her retraction or must she go through a process of counting and Mikvah, as if she really was a niddah. The basic halacha is that if she gives a credible explanation for why she falsely claimed to be a niddah, she is believed. Notably, an actual incident occurred with the great amora, Shmuel, and his wife. Despite her offering a good reason for falsely stating that she was a niddah, and it being permitted to believe her retraction, Shmuel was stringent on himself and required that she go through the purification process as if she were a niddah. These halachos are codified in Shulkhan Arukh YD:185:3, including Shmuel’s middas chassidus.)

What was Shmuel’s wife’s reason for falsely claiming she was a niddah? Tosafos (“Veafilu”) says she was physically weak and unable to be sexual. The Shittah Mukebetzes incredulously wonders, “Shall we believe that Shmuel would have forced his wife to be intimate if she was not feeling up to it?” The Shittah offers a different explanation having to do with them being around relatives, and her rebuffing Shmuel’s amorous hints by using one of their secret signs that she was a niddah. In other words, since she was in front of people she had a limited vocabulary to express that she was not comfortable to respond well to any slight romantic gestures, so she falsely gave him the secret signal that she was niddah.

Regardless of the Shitta’s interpretation, we see from Tosafos that Shmuel’s wife was reluctant to decline sex in a straightforward manner out of some fear. As Shitta rightfully wonders, we should not believe that Shmuel would have forced her into anything, but we also know that sometimes sexual coercion and guilt is subtle.  Apparently, whether this was his wife’s imagination and insecurity, or if it was unconscious resentment on shmuel’s part, his wife was afraid to decline sex even if she was not feeling well.

I have seen couples who have suffered with years of sexual dysfunction due to trauma inflicted unwittingly. Some women suffer from extreme pain during intercourse, which requires various forms of physical and psychotherapy once the nature of the problem is determined. However, if a young newly married woman believes it is her duty to have sex and submits to many episodes of painful intercourse, she remain stuck with a traumatically induced aversion to sexuality, even years after the physical pain is gone. Through operant conditioning, a person can learn to hate anything, even the most fundamentally pleasurable experiences.  If you love chocolate ice cream, but every time you eat it, someone stabs you with a pin when you least expect it, you will soon develop anxiety and aversion toward your favorite food. Sex is no different.

Getting back to Shmuel. I am going to cautiously and respectfully offer an interpretation, with supporting evidence. If Tosafos’ understanding of why Shmuel’s wife lied is correct, we can surmise that there is some degree of culpability on Shmuel’s part for not being sensitive or attuned enough to her feelings. He should have picked up on her fears so she would feel more comfortable being honest. The Gemara and commentaries hint at this. The very next daf (23) discusses how Shmuel was somewhat insensitive to the plight and dignity of women who were captives, and the Gemara implies that as a result and punishment, his own daughters were ransomed. The events in Shmuel’s life described in these two dappim show the Gemara’s criticism of Shmuel’s lack of sensitivity, which for a man of such stature and middos, was considered deficient. While I cannot prove that this was the Gemara’s point, the Shalah is clear that those incidents were a punishment upon Shmuel and recorded for us to know about and discuss. To my thinking, these incidents in Shmuel’s life speak of the importance of recognizing that sexual coercion for women can result innocently from their shyness and a husband’s lack of attunement.

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