Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Dedication, Piety, Image and Forgiveness Bava Kamma 102-105

True Dedication 102

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the status of a person’s possessions, when he declares all of them as Hekdesh, sanctified for the Temple. The Gemara wonders if certain necessities and obligations ought to be exempt, as could he have meant literally everything he owns? The Gemara rules that the clothing of his wife and his children are not included, as we assume he still meant to provide for them and meet his responsibilities toward family.  

The Gemara raises a contradiction to this from a separate teaching (Mishna Arakhin 23b) that rules if a person declares all his possessions to be hekdesh, his tefillin are included. This is a seeming contradiction, as presumably, the same assumption that would exclude his wife’s and childrens’ clothing from being part of his pledge, should also exclude tefillin which he needs for a daily ritual obligation. The Gemara answers that regarding his tefillin, he figures by donating the value of his tefillin, he is doing a mitzvah, so somehow it’s as important as wearing the tefillin. However, donating his wife’s and children’s clothing would cause a quarrel.

The hypothetical person in this rabbinic illustration embodied an ethos where even the mitzvah of tefillin could be secondary to a hekdesh pledge, and yet it is not acceptable to donate materials that are part of his family obligations. The lesson here is, you might believe you are pious by performing a particular mitzvah, but you must be sure it doesn’t interfere with responsibilities to your loved ones.


Fundamentally Pious 

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses an incident that occurred to “a certain pious individual” “chassid echad”, who was involved in a purchase transaction, and there was question as to whom he should pay. There was a debate about whether the case involved a false oath. The Gemara challenges this position, because the litigant was described as a pious person. The Gemara then says, perhaps this situation came up after he repented and became pious, earning the title of chassid by the time of the legal proceedings. The Gemara replies that this cannot be so, as we have a tradition that every time the rabbinic corpus uses the moniker “a certain pious person” it is either Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava or Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Elai, thus the case could not have involved a false oath.

The Gemara in Succah 53a) states:

The pious and the men of action would dance before the people who attended the celebration. The Sages taught in the Tosefta that some of them would say in their song praising God: Happy is our youth, as we did not sin then, that did not embarrass our old age. These are the pious and the men of action, who spent all their lives engaged in Torah and mitzvos. And some would say: Happy is our old age, that atoned for our youth when we sinned. These are the penitents. Both these and those say: Happy is he who did not sin; and he who sinned should repent and God will absolve him.

Rashi (ibid) says that “chassid” “pious man” always connotes one who is fundamentally pious “chasid meikaro”, therefore they look at their youth with contentment. Chasam Sofer (ibid) asks, our Gemara in Bava Kamma (103) indicates that a chassid can also be a penitent, as the Gemara only rejects this possibility due to the tradition that “chassid echad” is always either Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava or Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Elai.

Some commentaries answer that “chassid meikaro” more correctly translates as “fundamentally pious”, not “originally” or “always pious”. Therefore, Rashi only meant relative to the penitent, the chassid does not look back at his youth with regret, as he was fundamentally pious. This does not rule out that somehow a formerly sinful person could still achieve the level of chassid. 

This is an important distinction. The pre-requisite for being pious is not necessarily to be free of sin, however there must be a certain depth of wisdom and basic decency in order to properly act pious. As Mishna Avos (2:5), “ An ignorant person cannot be pious”. From a psychological perspective, we might say that to be pious one must be mostly free from personality and character flaws, which are fundamental. When a person has an imbalanced personality, though he or she may believe that his behavior choices, or interpretations of the actions of others, are based on piety, it may be the opposite. Sin is behavior and can be changed, but distorted beliefs and forms of attachment, are much harder to correct because these are the cognitions and feelings that drive, and even justify the sin. Such attitudes are modeled and internalized from our family and social milieu, which underscores the value of a healthy upbringing. While it is not at all impossible to change, it does require reevaluation of the basic assumptions and beliefs that lead to the behavior. If your instrumentation gives you false data, your actions will follow the faulty readings instead of reality.

Bava Kamma 104

Maintaining a Good Image

Our Gemara discusses a particular kind of signet, used as an identifier, known as a Dyu-Koni, which seems to consist of some unique emblem or picture. The words Duo-Koni likely comes from the Greek word, icon, and Du is two. So perhaps a double image, or an image on two sides. (Shall we say, Du-Coin, double coin?)

The Dyu-Koni is used in many instances particularly to connote a human form. For example, the Targum Yonasan on the verse (Bereishis 1:27) translates Man made in God’s image as “Be-Dyo-Kanei”, in God’s signet or form.

This Greek word, as with many Greek words in the Gemara, are also mnemonically related to Hebrew words that sound similar, such as Apotekai or Prozbol. They are given Hebrew roots, even though they are Greek words. Thus Shalah (Toldos Adam, Beis Yisrael, 4) and Nimukei Yosef on our Gemara) explains that the word comes from the human form, and means Du-Kono, second to his Maker, ie. Man made in God’s image. 

What is the meaning of Man being made in God’s image?  God has no body or form: “You saw no form at Mount Sinai, only a voice.” Devarim (4:12). Therefore when the scripture describes Man as mad in God’s image, it means to say by way of metaphor, some quality of similarity to God.

Rashbam dodges this problem by interpreting the image in the verse as not referring to God, but in the images of angels. As we do know, angels have some bodily form, as described in the visions of Yeshaiyahu (chapter 6) and Yecheskel (chapter 1).

Rashi (ibid) and Rambam (Moreh I:81, Yesode HaTorah 4:8) understands the similarity to God is in Man’s intellectual capacity.  The ability to reason and discern and not merely follow instincts, as an animal would do.  

Meshech Chochma (ibid) emphasizes a more specific quality, that there is the ability to engage in free moral choice. 

Rav Saadia Gaon (ibid) translates this quality as the ability to have dominion and authority over the other creations. Rav Solovetchik (Ish Emunah Haboded, pg. 14) describes this as Man’s creative quality to master and build and shape the world around him. Man can conceive of something in his mind, and then act to create it. Similar to this, Michtav Me-Eliyahu (I p. 32) says only Man can be generous and charitable, doing kindness for others altruistically. (Dogs are very loyal and devoted animals, but I suppose Rav Dessler held that this is instinct and not moral choice. The animal instinct models a form of behavior that Man can consciously and willingly adopt, see Eiruvin (100b) and Mishle (chapter 6) where various traits are learned from different animals (cats, ants and doves), such as fidelity and conscientiousness. But these represent models and not morality, at least for the animals.

Maharal (3:14) explains that all humans have a spark from God inside us.  Likkutei Torah (Acharei Mos 1:4) based on the Zohar, derives this from the verse (Bereishis 2:7) that says “God blew into Man’s nostrils, the breath of life.” If we stay true to the metaphor, the Zohar notes that when someone blows into a vessel, the breath comes out of him and enters the receiving object. God literally blew something from Himself into Man.  Each human can find the Godly in himself, because it was put there.

I believe this explains the Midrash regarding Yosef in a deeper light. We have a tradition (Sotah 36b) that Yosef was able to overcome his lust at the last moment because he had a vision of his father appearing to him. The word used there is also “Dyo-Kono”.  The simple reading is he was reminded of his father’s standards, and that may well be, but he also was reminded of the standards of his Father in Heaven. Likkutei Maharam (150) rejects that this was actually his father appearing telepathically, and says it hints at Yosef having some form of divine encounter. Yosef saw the Godly in himself, and this strengthened him to rise above his animal instincts. 



Withholding Forgiveness 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a scenario where someone swore falsely and denied possession of an object.  If he confesses and wishes to repent, part of his responsibility is to return the principal object as well as one fifth additional payment.  This requirement is so extensive, that even if the victim moved to far flung regions, the strict letter of the law requires that he incur the trouble and the expense to restore the object to its rightful owner.  Notwithstanding this, should the owner forgive the debt, he is off the hook.  What if he he forgives all, excepting less than a peruta value?  In such a case, the Gemara discusses the strict law, that he no longer has to return it, but also secondary concerns such as if the object is still extant, it may increase in value to the point that it now is worth more than a peruta. Because of that concern, he should return it anyway.

Regardless of the legal technicalities, we might wonder what is the backstory to such behavior. Why would anyone forgive everything EXCEPT for less than a peruta???  There is a general difficulty that newbies to Gemara have, which is they tend to ask about seemingly far-fetched scenarios in the Gemara, “But, why?”  The Yiddish answer is, קשיא אויף א מעשה! “We don’t ask questions about a story”, meaning to say, “Nu, strange things happen in real life.”  Sometimes the Gemara constructs a far-fetched scenario to bring out a deeper distinction or principle that is operative in the law. Exceptions often teach us the rule. 

However, in this case, the behavior is suggestive of a particular motive.  The victim seems to be making a statement, “I am not petty and will forgive the money, but I am holding back on a small amount symbolically to a show that I do not yet feel fully appeased.” It is a bid for the perpetrator to make a sincere appeal and apology beyond restitution.

Is it ethical to keep someone wiggling on the hook? Rama (Shulchan Aruch 606:1) rules that ordinarily it is considered cruel to hold back forgiveness. However, if there is a genuine belief that this will “teach him a lesson”, then it is permitted.  This may explain Yosef’s seemingly vindictive behavior to his brothers, putting them through intense psychological torture, as described vividly in Bereishis (chapters 42-44). He may have felt that the conflict and rivalry in the family would continue and hurt everyone unless he knows they have achieved true regret. After all, he now was the ruler of Egypt, and no longer the week younger brother. If the Shevatim declared war, it would not be pretty. Midrashim hint at tuus dynamic (Rashi Bereishis 44:18 and Bereishis Rabbah 93:6.) 

Interpersonally, true regret often comes from empathizing and deeply understanding the impact of the behavior on others. Indeed, in a key verse (ibid 42:21), the brothers are humbled by being forced to contemplate their father’s pain if they come back with yet another missing sibling. They must forces them to come to terms with how much pain they caused their father at the loss of Yosef:

וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֗יו אֲבָל֮ אֲשֵׁמִ֣ים ׀ אֲנַ֘חְנוּ֮ עַל־אָחִ֒ינוּ֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָאִ֜ינוּ צָרַ֥ת נַפְשׁ֛וֹ בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ וְלֹ֣א שָׁמָ֑עְנוּ עַל־כֵּן֙ בָּ֣אָה אֵלֵ֔ינוּ הַצָּרָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת׃

They said to one another, “Alas, we are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us. That is why this distress has come upon us.”

Holding back forgiveness to help a person realize the full gravity of his actions is considered morally proper, and sometimes necessary in relationships with repeated betrayals and failures to be trustworthy. However, we must be careful to analyze our motives as well as weigh the ability of the other person to internalize this difficult message and rebuke.

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