The True King
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a prohibition against excessively friendly greetings toward pagans, such as repeating a blessing of peace, as opposed to merely responding, which would be proper courtesy. However, Rav Kahana seemed to have a different practice:
וְאֵין כּוֹפְלִין ״שָׁלוֹם״ לְגוֹי: רַב חִסְדָּא מַקְדֵּים וְיָהֵיב לְהוּ שְׁלָמָא. רַב כָּהֲנָא אֲמַר לְהוּ ״שְׁלָמָא לְמָר״.
It was stated above in the name of Rav that one may not double the greeting of shalom extended to a gentile. The Gemara relates that Rav Ḥisda would greet gentiles first so that he would not have to respond to the greeting extended to him with a twofold shalom. Rav Kahana, by contrast, would wait for their greeting, and then say to them: Peace to my master, thereby freeing himself from having to say shalom twice.
Rashi is troubled by Rav Kahana’s response and suggests that when he said “peace unto my master,” he secretly had in mind his teacher, and not the pagan. Tosafos wonders why it was necessary for Rashi to add that piece, since, after all, Rav Kahana did not repeat himself. Some say that Rashi’s text actually had Rav Kahana repeating the greeting, which makes sense because it is clear that Rav Kahana waited to make a response, which the Gemara says leads to repetition because now one must show extra courtesy. Others say that Rashi was reacting to the word “master” as it is incongruous to refer to a pagan as a master. Thus, Rashi suggested that Rav Kahana really had in mind his teacher.
Tosafos raises another question: How is he allowed to do this? Is this not dishonest?
It is most interesting that Tosafos apparently holds that “stealing knowledge” (גניבת דעת) is a severe enough prohibition, even in regard to a pagan and what is required to maintain good relations, where you might think it would be OK to stretch the truth a bit. Nevertheless, Tosafos finds misleading in this way to be unacceptable.
Chasam Sofer asks on Tosafos, but we find that it is an accepted practice to speak in this form of double entendre to a gentile. It states in Shavous (35b):
כל מלכיא האמורים בדניאל חול חוץ מזה שהוא קדש (דניאל ב, לז) אנת מלכא [מלך] מלכיא די אלה שמיא מלכותא חסנא ותקפא ויקרא יהב לך
All kings that are stated with regard to Daniel are non-sacred, except for this one, which is sacred: “You, O king, king of kings, unto whom the God of heaven has given you the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory” (Daniel 2:37).
Similarly, Pesach Einayim, based on the Zohar, notes that Yaakov also had a similar intention when he bowed and greeted his brother Esau (Bereishis 33:3). So why is Tosafos troubled by this form of dishonesty when it is a commonly utilized strategy when encountering a possibly troublesome, if not dangerous, person?
I believe that Tosafos sees a fundamental difference between the casual greeting of a pagan and encounters with dignitaries. When encountering a dignitary, such as when Daniel spoke to Nebuchadnezzar or when Yaakov met Esau, having in mind God is not actually a falsehood. That is because the archetype of kingship itself comes from God. For example, Gemara Berachos (58a) tells us about Rav Shayla’s encounter with a king and emperor of his time:
פְּתַח רַבִּי שֵׁילָא וַאֲמַר: ״לְךָ ה׳ הַגְּדֻלָּה וְהַגְּבוּרָה וְגוֹ׳״. אָמְרִי לֵיהּ: מַאי קָאָמְרַתְּ? אֲמַר לְהוּ, הָכִי קָאָמֵינָא: ״בְּרִיךְ רַחֲמָנָא דְּיָהֵיב מַלְכוּתָא בְּאַרְעָא כְּעֵין מַלְכוּתָא דִרְקִיעָא, וִיהַב לְכוּ שׁוּלְטָנָא וְרָחֲמִי דִּינָא״. אֲמַרוּ: חַבִּיבָא עֲלֵיהּ יְקָרָא דְמַלְכוּתָא כּוּלֵּי הַאי! יָהֲבִי לֵיהּ קוּלְפָא אֲמַרוּ לֵיהּ: דּוּן דִּינָא.
As they considered the sentence, Rabbi Sheila praised God for saving him from danger: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, power, glory, triumph and majesty; for all that is in heaven and on earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all” (I Chronicles 29:11). They asked him: What did you say? He told them: This is what I said: Blessed is the Merciful One who grants kingdom on earth that is a microcosm of the kingdom in heaven, and granted you dominion and love of justice. They said to him: Indeed, the honor of royalty is so dear to you. They gave him a staff to symbolize his license to sit in judgment and said to him: Judge.
We see from Rav Sheila’s praise how the forms of kingdom on earth are metaphors for God’s complete dominion and mercy. This is why having in mind God when saying “master” to a king or leader is not considered lying, as opposed to referring to a random person on the street.
Everything in this world is a metaphor for something higher that exists as a universal truth. Whatever has been created or manifested on a physical plane is a reverse tip of the iceberg, with heavenly versions of the same process existing in its spiritual form. The Shalah (Toldos Odom:15) states that every word in Hebrew, the holy tongue, is a metaphor or borrowed term from a broader spiritual reality. For example, he says the Hebrew word for rain, “geshem,” does not actually mean rain. Rather, it means the way in which God brings down sustenance and blessings from the upper world to all the lower worlds to allow for growth and development. In this world, rain is the physical manifestation of that, and thus Hebrew uses “geshem” as a metaphor to represent rain. Or, we might say, a mother’s love is a representation of the Shekhina’s involvement, love, and care in this world. So too, resting on Shabbos from “work” is a bigger idea than merely resting. Any experience, process, or emotion represents something much greater in an advanced form. Everything has God’s fingerprints on it.
Our Gemara on Amud Beis records a halakhic question that a number of Rabbis were unable to resolve. They then sent the message to Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, who also was not able to come to a clear answer. His response to them was:
We will consider the matter and then respond.
The root of this Hebrew word is to sit or settle. Rav Chiya bar Abba said, “First, let us enter into a calm contemplative state, and then let us see what answers will emerge.” When a person is in a calmer state, the brain functions can be devoted to logic, planning, and implications, located in the frontal lobes, which are distinctively human features. If a person is under stress, the more primitive parts of the brain, such as the amygdala, become engaged and drain processing power in exchange for safety and instinct.
It is fascinating to sometimes see a particular phrase favored by one sage. In this case, we see this phrase one more time in Shas, and it is also attributed to Rabbi Chiya bar Abba (Bava Kama 20b). We can surmise there to be several reasons why this sage would use this phrase more than others. In Yerushalmi Chaggigah (1:8), he is lauded by Rav Dostai the Elder:
הֲרֵי שִׁילַּחְנוּ אֲלֵיכֶם אָדָם גָּדוֹל. וּמַה הוּא גְדוּלָּתוֹ. שֶׁאֵינוֹ בוּשׁ לוֹמַר. לֹא שָׁמַעְתִּי
Behold, we are sending you a great personality. What is his greatness? He will not be ashamed to say, “I did not learn this.”
The ability to recognize what he knows and what he does not know is directly related to the quality of patience and careful consideration in the face of a complex and confusing question.
He also was known to say (Sanhedrin 7b):
ר’ חייא בר אבא א”ר יונתן מהכא (משלי ז, ד) אמור לחכמה אחותי את אם ברור לך הדבר כאחותך שהיא אסורה לך אומרהו ואם לאו אל תאמרהו
Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba says that Rabbi Yonatan says this principle may be derived from here: “Say to wisdom: You are my sister” (Proverbs 7:4). If the matter is as clear to you as the fact that your sister is forbidden to you, state it, and if not, do not state it.
One final biographical note to consider is that Rav Chiya bar Abba traveled several times from Israel to Babylonia, and back. (See Rav Aharon Hyman’s Toldos Tanaim Vamoraim.) The vicissitudes of travel could have the effect of disrupting deeper analytic thought. Therefore, he was extra careful to patiently consider a matter before issuing a ruling.
The various biographical data we have allow us to consider that the behaviors and chosen words of this Sage are connected to a larger set of values, personality traits, and life circumstances. He had personal challenges that could disrupt concentration and focus, and therefore his credo became concentration, patience, and focus.
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a scenario where somebody sends a messenger to choose for him a woman to marry. This is not merely sending him to marry a specific woman, but actually trusting him to discern who would be a fitting wife and being empowered to enact the marriage on his behalf. This is the precise scenario that Avraham proposed to his trusted servant, Eliezer (see Bereishis 24).
The Gemara rules that if the messenger dies, or we lose contact with him, the sender is now forbidden to marry “every woman in the world.” This is because we presume that somehow or another the messenger fulfilled his function prior to his disappearance or death, and then whichever woman the man might marry could be a forbidden relative of the unknown and mysterious person whom the messenger might have married him off to. Why do we not follow the majority and declare it unlikely that the messenger married him off to an unknown relative of the person he wants to marry now? This has to do with the halakhic concept of when we use the majority to cancel out other choices and possibilities, and when we look at each article that is in front of us, of unknown status, as a standalone item that cannot be subsumed in the majority. In other words, for halakhic reasons beyond the scope of this article, we do not take all this woman’s relatives and nullify them in the majority of other women in the world, to assume that one of her forbidden relatives was not actually married to him by the agent before he died.
Tosafos asks a number of questions on the logic of this, including this one: Why not believe the relatives who would say, “We did not accept marriage from anybody”? Therefore, this woman should only be forbidden if she has unknown relatives who are not able to come forth and testify about not having received marriage from the messenger. Because of this and many other questions, Tosafos concludes that from a strict legal point of view, the person is permitted to marry, and we could follow the majority and other leniencies, such as the uncertainty of whether the messenger found somebody to marry for him. Tosafos holds that this ruling forbidding him to marry other women is actually a penalty because the rabbis wanted to discourage what could be described as a careless and disrespectful attitude toward the institution of marriage.
Ramban rejects this idea, wondering why the rabbis would impose such a penalty. First of all, is it really so careless to assume that a messenger would not die? People send messengers all the time to accomplish complex tasks, trusting them with major financial and legal concerns. Secondly, in the majority of cases, the messenger does not die. So what kind of penalty is this that is imposed only on the “unlucky guy” whose messenger actually dies? All the others playing marriage roulette get away unscathed. How does this discourage behavior? Therefore, Ramban offers a lomdishe explanation for Tosafos’ various questions, drawing a distinction between situations that rely on the majority and those that do not. We will not go into those details here.
However, what is clear is that Ramban sees no wrongdoing in a person who sends out a messenger to choose a wife for him. I find it interesting that Ramban doesn’t consider the possibility that Tosafos saw this as worthy of penalty not because he was being cavalier and not considering that the messenger might die, but rather because sending somebody off to marry another person that he will choose sight unseen seems like a recipe for disaster. We can say that Tosafos was referring to this careless behavior, and this is what the rabbis sought to penalize. The answer probably is that Ramban did not consider this to be disrespectful, as after all, he has a compelling proof for this from the fact that the Torah gives tacit approval of such a strategy when Avraham employed it to seek a wife for Yitzchak.
Tosafos might disagree on this point. Tosafos might argue that there are other instances where, strictly speaking, behavior was considered moral, and then later on, it became less moral. Not because morality changes, but because there is less ability to perform the task with the right intentions. We find that originally, one of the legal ways to accomplish marriage was via having sexual relations with the intent of creating a bond of marriage, with witnesses knowing that they cohabited (Kiddushin 2a). Yet, at a certain point in time, the rabbis felt that such behavior could not be conducted with proper decorum and would be, or at least perceived, if not performed, with a promiscuous attitude. Rav would give lashes to one who performed Kiddushin via sexual relations (Kiddushin 12b). Here, too, Tosafos can argue that Eliezer was of such a stature that he could be relied upon to know the heart and mind of his master and master’s son, and choose the correct and proper wife. For that matter, Yitzchak was on the spiritual level to accept Eliezer’s choice of wife for him as a providential one, and would have no regrets or second thoughts. Precisely because such an act requires faith and refinement of character, the rabbis did not see the average folk capable in this regard and therefore sought to actively discourage any attempt to model Avraham’s behavior. They needed to impose a penalty because people would be tempted to rationalize and follow this procedure since it was described in the Torah.
Another possible answer is that the situation of Eliezer is not comparable to our situation because Avraham directed Eliezer to choose from his family members and not the daughters of Canaan. If so, perhaps even Tosafos would say that there is no penalty in such a situation because you are not sending somebody out to marry somebody random, but rather a much more select group. Secondly, even Ramban, who does not hold there is a penalty here, and the real problem of the messenger dying is not knowing if you are marrying a relative of somebody to whom the messenger already married you, might hold that Avraham’s case is different. Since Eliezer was sent to marry only inside the family (Bereishis 24:3-4), if Eliezer died, Avraham and Yitzchak would still have options to find a wife outside of Besuel’s family.
It is foreign to us to even consider the idea of recruiting somebody else to choose a wife and to trust them to fully execute the marriage before even meeting the woman first. It is clear that in ancient times, the idea of romantic love was assumed to be developed over time after the woman is chosen, based on overall family compatibility. Some might argue that romantic love itself was not a particular value, and if marriages were treated more like business arrangements or treaties between families, the needs of the individual and the particular experience of attraction and love were not paramount. However, I reject that idea because love is love. No matter how many metaphors we might apply to the language of Shir Hashirim, the very use of romantic love as a metaphor for the love of God shows the intrinsic value of the basic human experience of romantic love. (Also, as we saw in Psychology of the Daf, Gittin 62, human processes are the physical tip of the iceberg for more spiritual manifestations of the same universal pattern or process in the world.) The ancients may have followed a different process in order to develop love in their relationships, but I believe they did have it and value it.
As we reflect on these ancient perspectives, it is crucial to approach the topic with sensitivity and cultural understanding. Our contemporary values and individual autonomy in choosing a spouse should be respected, but we should also recognize that different societies throughout history have developed their own approaches to building relationships and families.
The dynamics of love, attraction, and compatibility have always played a role in human relationships, regardless of the specific methods employed to initiate them. While the process may differ across cultures and eras, the underlying human desire for connection and companionship remains universal.
The Adolescent Brain and Torah Though
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph delves into the stages of maturity and de-facto challenges the popular misconception that reaching the age of bar or bas mitzvah automatically grants full adulthood according to Jewish law. The rabbis recognized that maturity and judgment are not black-and-white distinctions, as evidenced by their ruling that individuals under the age of 20 do not possess the full capacity to sell inherited real estate. In addition, Gemara Shabbos (89b) holds that one is not liable for heavenly punishments until age 20.
Modern brain research, facilitated by functional MRIs, allows us to measure and understand the developmental processes of the brain. It is widely known that the brain undergoes continued growth and change throughout adolescence, particularly in areas associated with judgment and executive functions. Researchers Johnson and Blum highlight this in their study on adolescent maturity and brain development, emphasizing that the frontal lobes, responsible for crucial executive functions such as planning, impulse control, and working memory, may not fully mature until the mid-20s (Johnson & Blum, J Adolesc Health. 2009).
The rabbis, through their observations and common sense, if not tradition, were also quite aware of the incomplete development of certain executive functions during adolescence.
An intriguing question arises regarding the biblical story of Yaakov purchasing the birthright from Esau. According to tradition, both twins were of bar mitzvah age, but not older (Rashi on Genesis 25:27). Yismach Moshe raises a significant concern regarding the sale of the birthright, as Esau’s consent may have been invalid due to his immaturity at that age.
To address this concern, Yismach Moshe provides a new reading and pilpul into the following verses (Genesis 25:31-32):
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִכְרָ֥ה כַיּ֛וֹם אֶת־בְּכֹרָֽתְךָ֖ לִֽי׃
Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of today.”
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר עֵשָׂ֔ו הִנֵּ֛ה אָנֹכִ֥י הוֹלֵ֖ךְ לָמ֑וּת וְלָמָּה־זֶּ֥ה לִ֖י בְּכֹרָֽה׃
And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die, so what good is this birthright to me?”
The Gemara Bava Basra (16b) tells us that it was busy day for Esau, to say the least:
אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן חָמֵשׁ עֲבֵירוֹת עָבַר אוֹתוֹ רָשָׁע בְּאוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם בָּא עַל נַעֲרָה מְאוֹרָסָה וְהָרַג אֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וְכָפַר בָּעִיקָּר וְכָפַר בִּתְחִיַּית הַמֵּתִים וְשָׁט אֶת הַבְּכוֹרָה
Rabbi Yoḥanan says: That wicked Esau committed five transgressions on that day that Abraham died: He engaged in sexual intercourse with a betrothed maiden, he killed a person, he denied the principle of God’s existence, he denied resurrection of the dead, and he despised the birthright
בָּא עַל נַעֲרָה מְאוֹרָסָה כְּתִיב הָכָא וַיָּבֹא עֵשָׂו מִן הַשָּׂדֶה וּכְתִיב הָתָם כִּי בַשָּׂדֶה מְצָאָהּ הָרַג אֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ כְּתִיב הָכָא עָיֵף וּכְתִיב הָתָם אוֹי נָא לִי כִּי עָיְפָה נַפְשִׁי לְהֹרְגִים וְכָפַר בָּעִיקָּר כְּתִיב הָכָא לָמָּה זֶה לִי וּכְתִיב הָתָם זֶה אֵלִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ וְכָפַר בִּתְחִיַּית הַמֵּתִים דִּכְתִיב הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ לָמוּת וְשָׁט אֶת הַבְּכוֹרָה דִּכְתִיב וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו אֶת הַבְּכוֹר
The Gemara cites proofs to support these charges. He engaged in sexual intercourse with a betrothed maiden, as it is written here: “And Esau came in from the field”; and it is written there with regard to rape of a betrothed maiden: “For he found her in a field” (Deuteronomy 22:27). He killed a person, as it is written here: “And he was faint”; and it is written there: “Woe is me, for my soul faints before the slayers” (Jeremiah 4:31). And he denied the principle of God’s existence, as it is written here: “What profit is this to me” (Genesis 25:32); and it is written there: “This is my God and I will glorify Him” (Exodus 15:2). When he questioned the profit of “this,” he was challenging the assertion that “this is my God.” And he denied resurrection of the dead, as it is written: “Behold, I am at the point of death” (Genesis 25:32), indicating that he did not believe in resurrection after death. And he despised the birthright, as it is written: “And Esau despised the birthright” (Genesis 25:34).
Yismach Moshe suggests that the last three sins attributed to Esau—denying the principle of God’s existence, denying resurrection of the dead, and despising the birthright—were committed stubbornly after he had already agreed to sell it. However, the first two sins, engaging in sexual relations with a betrothed maiden and committing murder, may have occurred prior to the sale. Yismach Moshe argues that The sin of murder is only derived from a comparison to a verse in Yirmiyahu and thus can be seen as an indirect suggestion but not actual murder, i.e. Esau had murderous intentions. However the adultery is derived from a verse in the Pentateuch and therefore is literal. But, whether Esau’s act of having relations with a betrothed maiden constituted adultery depends on whether he is viewed as a Jew or a gentile. Marriage to a gentile is established by cohabitation, thus the engaged and betrothed maiden is not considered married according to gentile law.
Additionally, there is a rule that different thresholds of liability apply to Jews and gentiles. While Jews have specific ages of obligation, gentiles are judged based on their ability to understand the consequences of their actions. (See Rambam Laws of Kings 9:9-10 and Mincha Chinuch 190:8.) Therefore, Yaakov makes the following lomdishe argument: “While you might claim that you were not competent enough to agree to sell your birthright, that argument is valid only if you were considered to be Jewish. However, if you are not Jewish, we do not apply those rules, and you have enough reason and ability to agree to the sale. If you claim to be Jewish, you would be liable for death for having committed adultery.” This is why Esau declares, “I am at the point of death, of what use is the birth rate to me?” That is to say, if I try to hold onto the birthright through this legal argument, then I also will be considered Jewish and liable for the death penalty.
This analysis by Yismach Moshe is a clever derush that showcases his Talmudic expertise and creativity. However, it may not reflect the straightforward peshat (simple interpretation) of the text.
The idea that gentiles would not be subject to legal threshold, and the law would be applied in a more common sense fashion, as opposed to Jews, requires some analysis. Why should this be true? I don’t have a complete answer, but I think it has to do with something along these lines. Jews are engaged in a covenantal relationship with God. When there is a covenant, there is an agreement, and there are rules. On the other hand, other human beings who are also children of God, do not have a covenant. That can go both ways. There are less formal obligations, but also because there is no legal framework, obligations are based on the varying conditions of the moment. So, in some ways , they could end up becoming more liable not less. A famous halakhic example of this is that the both Jew and gentile are forbidden to eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. But the definition of “live” changes from gentle to Jew. Since a gentile does not have the obligation of ritual slaughter, the animal is dead only when it stops moving and is completely devoid of life. However, for the Jew, the animal is dead the moment the shechitta is performed properly. Therefore, while the animal is still thrashing about after the slaughter, a Jew may eat from that meat, while a gentile is forbidden (see Chulin 33a.) We see the covenantal nature of Torah law can sometimes Eva me more leniency than the Seven Noachide Laws.
Only the Shadow Knows
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph delves into the distinction between a person and a demon by examining their shadows. While a person can cast a shadow and even have an additional shadow, a demon can only have one shadow, not two.
What does this distinction truly mean? Casting shadows symbolizes having influence or indirect effects. In this light, a shadow of a shadow represents an even more indirect effect. Perhaps, the teaching suggests that demons are limited in their ability to impact matters. They may be effective in the physical realm, but humans possess the capacity to influence life the physical and the spiritual realms.
This understanding can also shed light on another teaching found in Horiyos (12a):
האי מאן דבעי למיפק [לאורחא] ובעי למידע אי חזר ואתי לביתא אי לא ניקום בביתא דחברא אי חזי בבואה דבבואה לידע דהדר ואתי לביתא
One who seeks to embark on a journey and wishes to know if he will return and come to his home or if he will not, let him go to a dark [daḥavara] house. If he sees the shadow of a shadow, he shall know that he will return and come home.
What does this omen signify? It may indicate that if your endeavors are solely focused on the physical and material aspects of life, you may encounter less success since you are less likely to receive divine protection. However, if your pursuits are undertaken with the intention of serving God in all aspects of life, then success becomes more attainable
As the Rambam states in Deos (3:3)
נִמְצָא הַמְהַלֵּךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ זוֹ כָּל יָמָיו עוֹבֵד אֶת ה’ תָּמִיד. אֲפִלּוּ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁנּוֹשֵׂא וְנוֹתֵן וַאֲפִלּוּ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבּוֹעֵל. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁמַּחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ בַּכּל כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּמְצָא צְרָכָיו עַד שֶׁיִּהְיֶה גּוּפוֹ שָׁלֵם לַעֲבֹד אֶת ה’. וַאֲפִלּוּ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהוּא יָשֵׁן אִם יָשֵׁן לְדַעַת כְּדֵי שֶׁתָּנוּחַ דַּעְתּוֹ עָלָיו וְיָנוּחַ גּוּפוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יֶחֱלֶה וְלֹא יוּכַל לַעֲבֹד אֶת ה’ וְהוּא חוֹלֶה, נִמְצֵאת שֵׁנָה שֶׁלּוֹ עֲבוֹדָה לַמָּקוֹם בָּרוּךְ הוּא. וְעַל עִנְיָן זֶה צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים וְאָמְרוּ (משנה אבות ב יב) “וְכָל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יִהְיוּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם”. וְהוּא שֶׁאָמַר שְׁלֹמֹה בְּחָכְמָתוֹ (משלי ג ו) “בְּכָל דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר אֹרְחֹתֶיךָ”:
Thus, whoever walks in this path throughout their life serves God constantly. Even in moments of engagement, commerce, or intimacy, their intent remains focused on fulfilling their needs in order to maintain a sound body for the purpose of serving God. Even while asleep, if they retire with the intention of allowing their mind and body to rest, so as to avoid illness that could hinder their service to God, their sleep becomes a form of worship toward the Omnipresent, blessed be He. On this matter, our sages have directed and said: “And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.” This is what Solomon proclaimed in his wisdom: “Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths.”
The idea conveyed through the shadow of the shadow is that a person is effective both spiritually and physically. However, demons, as incomplete beings, lack the ability to experience spiritual fulfillment. Therefore, we are urged not to live like demons, solely focused on material pursuits, but rather to embrace a life of spiritual connection and purpose.
This concept of the shadow of the shadow serves as a reminder of the importance of integrating our spiritual and physical endeavors. When our actions and intentions are aligned with the service of God, we invite divine guidance and protection into our lives. It is through the conscious awareness of God’s presence in all aspects of our existence that we find fulfillment and direction.
Moreover, the teachings of the Rambam highlight the significance of dedicating all our deeds to the sake of Heaven. Whether engaged in daily interactions or moments of rest, our intention should always be to serve God. By doing so, even the most mundane activities become opportunities for spiritual growth and connection.
As we contemplate the symbolism of the shadow of the shadow, we are reminded of the profound responsibility we hold as human beings. We possess the capacity to impact not only the physical realm but also the spiritual realm. Our actions and intentions ripple beyond the immediate, casting shadows of influence that can shape the world around us.
Performing Under Pressure: Cultivating Focus and Wisdom
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph delves into the virtues of various sages, including Rabbi Yehuda, who is peculiarly described as “wise when he wishes to be” (חָכָם לִכְשֶׁיִּרְצֶה). Rashi’s interpretation of this phrase does not seem particularly praiseworthy, but to answer this, Tosafos adds that it implies Rabbi Yehuda can surpass Rabbi Meir (who was mentioned earlier) in wisdom when he puts in extra effort. So it is about Rav Yehuda’s ability relative to Rabbi Meir.
However, Maharitz Chayes offers an alternative interpretation. He suggests that Rabbi Yehuda possessed a unique ability to concentrate, allowing him to maintain focus regardless of external circumstances or stressors. We have all heard stories of great individuals who can immerse themselves so intensely that they remain unaffected by their surroundings.
Sefer Daas Chokmah (Miketz) attributes this quality to Yosef. The verse in Genesis 41:44 states:
וַיֹּ֧אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֛ה אֶל־יוֹסֵ֖ף אֲנִ֣י פַרְעֹ֑ה וּבִלְעָדֶ֗יךָ לֹֽא־יָרִ֨ים אִ֧ישׁ אֶת־יָד֛וֹ וְאֶת־רַגְל֖וֹ בְּכׇל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh; yet without you, no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”
The Targum expands on this verse:
וַאֲמַר פַּרְעֹה לְיוֹסֵף אֲנָא פַרְעֹה וּבַר מֵימְרָךְ לָא יְרִים גְּבַר יָת יְדֵיהּ לְמֵיחַד זֵין וְיָת רַגְלֵיהּ לְמִרְכַּב עַל סוּסְיָא בְּכָל אַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם:
Pharaoh [then] said to Yoseif, “I am Pharaoh, but without you [your permission], no man will lift [pick up] his hand [to carry a sword] or his foot [to ride upon a horse] in the entire land of Egypt.”
This Targumic addition highlights Pharaoh’s observation that Yosef remained calm and wise under pressure and in all circumstances. Pharaoh recognized this quality as indicative of leadership, as someone who would exercise military force judiciously, without haste, panic, or other emotional impulsivity. This quality encompasses being focused and wise at all times.
Can we cultivate such a quality within ourselves? According to researchers Kent, Devonport, Lane, Nicholls, and Friesen (“The Effects of Coping Interventions on Ability to Perform Under Pressure,” J Sports Sci Med. 2018 Mar; 17(1): 40–55. Published online 2018 Mar 1.):
The ability to execute vital self-regulatory processes under pressure is a recognized requirement for achieving excellence (Baumeister, 1984; Jordet, 2009). These processes enable individuals to regulate physiological and psychological states, aiding movement and decision-making toward goal achievement (Vickers and Lewinski, 2012). Individuals who lack effective coping skills to regulate the physiological and psychological states influenced by pressure may underperform relative to their skill level (DeCaro et al., 2011). Coping strategies that help individuals regulate perceived demands in crucial moments can enhance their ability to attend, concentrate, and perform effectively under pressure (Jensen and Wrisberg, 2014). Developing coping strategies, increasing coping flexibility, understanding when to utilize different strategies, and enhancing confidence in their application can improve an individual’s capacity to perform under pressure (Duhachek and Kelting, 2009). This enables individuals to sustain performance in contexts that require optimal or superior performance.
One effective method for building these skills involves cognitive behavioral study that focuses on:
– Developing strategies for acceptance and gaining control
– Understanding the relationship between emotion and performance
– Developing problem-focused coping strategies
– Reducing false or self-defeating beliefs to foster confidence
Pressure and stress trigger biological responses that shift the brain’s focus away from cognitive functions to immediate survival needs. However, instincts are generally true but not specifically true. Our brains and glands cannot discern much difference between being chased by a tiger and facing a perceived emotional threat, such as the fear of embarrassment when speaking or performing in public. While the former requires physical action and less cognition, the latter benefits more from reason and measured thought. The good news is that through practice and exposure, we can train ourselves to become less reactive to common triggers and maintain clear thinking even under pressure.
What We Have When We Have Nothing
Our Gemara on Amud Beis recounts a period in Solomon’s life when he was usurped by the Asmadai demon, who took his place, forcing Solomon into exile. The verse, “And this was my portion from all of my toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:10), raises a question: What is the meaning of the expression “And this”? The Gemara explains that this expression typically refers to an item that is actually in the person’s hand or can be shown. Rav and Shmuel offer different interpretations. One suggests that it refers to Solomon’s staff that remained in his hand, while the other suggests it refers to his drinking cup*. As Solomon went from door to door, begging for charity, he would declare, “I, Ecclesiastes, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:12).
(*According to Rav Hai, see Rashi)
Beis Yaakov (Chaye Sarah 25) provides a metaphorical interpretation of these remnants. The staff symbolizes the rod of punishment, while the cup represents the ability to draw spirituality. Despite being impoverished and exiled, the once great king possessed two essential tools: יראת שמים (fear of heaven or fear of sin) and אהבת ה׳ (spiritual aspirations and yearnings). Even when one feels they have lost everything, these two resources remain accessible. As stated in Berachos (33b):
“Rabbi Ḥanina said: Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven. Man has free will to serve God or not, regardless of external circumstances. As it is stated: ‘And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul’ (Deuteronomy 10:12). The Lord asks man to fulfill these matters because ultimately, the choice is in his hands.”
In this context, I’ll offer an original derash from the Chad Gadya liturgy recited on Seder night. The fire consumes the stick, but the water quenches the fire. We begin with the stick, symbolizing fear of sin. However, if our desires overpower us (represented by the fire consuming the stick), we still have another strategy. Our spiritual aspirations can counter and overpower the desire for sin, symbolized by the water that extinguishes the fire.
In conclusion, even in times when we seemingly have nothing, we possess the invaluable resources of fear of heaven, spiritual aspirations, and the ability to choose our path. These resources can sustain us and guide us towards spiritual growth and fulfillment, regardless of our external circumstances.