Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Discipline, On Loan from God, Sinful Habits and ‘Sole Searching’ Bava Kama 56-59


By Any Means Necessary 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the liability of an owner who left an animal secured in a corral, but also in intense heat. Though the wall of the corral was sturdy, and therefore it was highly improbable that the animal should break out, and even if it did so in an unusual manner such as digging under the wall, we hold the owner liable for the damage the animal caused after it escaped. This ruling is despite the standard position of the Gemara that an owner is not required to safeguard against unusual circumstances. This is because given the distress the animal felt from the heat, despite it seeming impossible, the owner should have known that the animal WILL find a way to escape. Thus, under the certain circumstances, the unusual and impossible should have been expected. The raw animal will to survive can overcome many barriers. 

It is a bad idea to push against survival instincts. Humans too have raw instincts and some of the most basic ones are about a sense of power and control. While children need discipline and consequences, there has to be a recognition of age-appropriate need for control and power. If a parent is too domineering, parenting gets reduced to a power struggle. In such situations, winning is losing. If you succeed in compelling your child to obey, it can come at the cost of killing off independence and competency. And if your child feels cornered, he might fight back for control by all means necessary, just as a cornered animal will escape by all means necessary.

The Gemara (Moed Kattan 17a) warns that one may not hit his older son, as this is a violation of lifnei iver (causing another to sin). That is, it is too much of a provocation for the child and likely that he would hit back, causing him to commit a grave sin. The age of this “older son” is not agreed upon. Shulkhan Arukh, (Rama YD 240:20) rules that this age is 22-24. But the Ritva says there is no set age. Rather it is dependent on the child’s nature, and when he would be likely to react with hostility. Rav Wolbe (Zeriyah Ubinyan Bechinuch, page 23) states further that in modern times this might preclude a child of any age, given that even a young child is less likely to accept harsh rebuke meekly and humbly. Rav Yaakov Yechiel Weinberg (Shu”t Seridei Eish II:49) advises that this is not limited to physical aggression, but also includes any counterproductive harshness that is likely to inspire rebellion instead of internalization, thus even inappropriately harsh attitude could violate Lifnei Iver as well..

I will conclude with one final powerful point about the limits of human nature and a deep need to push back, even when rebellion and resistance is useless. The Gemara (Bava Basra 16b) notices that even though Iyov spoke angrily at God, ironically, God had complaints at the way his friends spoke who were seemingly more righteous and spoke in defense of God, but took no issue with Iyov. Rava said, “From here we see that a man is not held responsible for what he utters in pain.” Even God understands and forgives a rebellious reaction in the face of a sudden loss. As parents and authority figures, we must keep in mind that sometimes the animal within will be too sorely tempted to fight its way out and employ judgment, compassion and a degree of humility when we discipline.


On Loan From God

Our gemara on Amud Beis discusses the four categories of watchmen:

  • The persons who watches for no fee 
  • The person who watches for a fee
  • The person who borrows
  • The person who rents

The first three as described in the Torah, and rabbinically derived from various derashos, bear increasing responsibility commensurate with the amount of benefit derived. Thus, the Free Watchman is only liable for neglect, but not theft. While the Hired Watchman is liable even for many forms of theft and other mishaps, so long as they are due totally to matters out of the watchman’s control. Finally the Borrower, because he gets all the usage of an owner, is responsible even for many losses that could not have been prevented by any means.

The fourth watchman, who rents an object, is subject to a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir. On the one hand, the Renter ought to be treated as a Borrower, as he also gets all the benefits and usage of ownership. On the other hand, since he pays for these rights, perhaps his fee neutralizes the value of his benefit, and he is entitled to the leniencies of a Free Watchman. Furthermore, there are two different recorded versions of this dispute, so it is unclear which side of this dispute either Rabbi Yehuda or Rabbi Meir occupy.

The Shalah (Aseres HaDibros, Pesachim, Matzah Ashirah 1) explains a metaphysical dimension to the Four Watchmen. Each of these watchmen represent a different way of relating to God, similar to the Four Sons of the Haggadah. The Free Watchman serves God expecting no reward, and therefore is not held liable for certain sins that he commits due to being overtaken (“stolen”) by his impulses; he is only liable for sins of outright negligence. The Hired Watchman represents the person who serves God expecting a reward. Therefore, he is held liable even for sins that are committed impulsively or compulsively, but still exempt for sins committed that could not have been foreseen or prevented. The Borrower represents the person who really does not serve God, he does not believe in reward and punishment, and he takes and takes.  Because of that, he is held liable even for sins committed that he could not prevent or stop.  

The Renter represents someone who serves God generally without expectation for reward, but may make a particular mitzvah conditional, such as a person who says, “I am giving this donation to charity on the condition that my son is healed.”  Shalah quotes the Semag who rules that this is permitted, when the person resolves to be happy having given the charity regardless of whether his son is healed; he is merely dedicating the mitzvah as a merit. However, if his attitude is that “God owes him”, then it is forbidden. This why the liability of the Renter is represented in the Gemara as an opinion that is variable and fluctuating because the person who performs a particular mitzvah with the hope of a specific merit and benefit (“the Renter”) can be hardly liable as Free Watchman, or heavily liable as Borrower, depending on if his attitude is with a full heart and with only hopes but no demands, or if it is utterly contingent. (In the mystical world there is no such thing as a machlokes, but instead just different dimensions of truth, see Psychology of the Daf Eiruvin 45.)

Mystics in general, and the Shalah specifically will see the physical world and the spiritual is concentric circles and iterations of the same core truths. The Shalah (Toldos Odom:15) famously states that every word in Hebrew, the holy tongue, is a metaphor or borrowed term from a spiritual reality. Thus, for example, he says the Hebrew word for rain, geshem, is not actually 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 but in spiritual dimensions there also is a form of Geshem. So too, the Four Watchmen in their simplest form, the Torah’s way of regulating human contracts and responsibilities. But those truths about responsibility, once in the Torah, must mean more. In increasingly spiritual dimensions, they represent Man’s responsibilities and covenant with God. 

We are given our bodies and souls on loan from God, which also comes with responsibilities. We must neither neglect this gift, nor treat our relationship and acceptance of this responsibility lightly.  


Overcoming A Sinful Habit

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the change in liability of an animal that already had been exposed to food that it ate after falling into a garden. Even if ordinarily the owner might be exempted from paying for what the animal eats if he took ordinary and reasonable measures to prevent it from breaking into another’s property, if this animal comes back to this garden, the owner will still be liable. The Gemara says that since the animal was already exposed to this garden and knows where the goodies are, its owner has to take extra steps to watch and prevent the animal from breaking in again. As we have seen in a number of previous dappim, human nature and animal nature have many parallels, because aside from our very large brains, underneath we also have an instinctive animal side. As it states in Koheles (3:19), “Man has no superiority over beast, for all is comparatively vapor.” Humans, like animals, have a difficult time resisting a sinful behavior once they have been exposed.  

Gemara Yoma (86b) warns:

כֵּיוָן שֶׁעָבַר אָדָם עֲבֵירָה וְשָׁנָה בָּהּ…נַעֲשֵׂית לוֹ כְּהֶיתֵּר

When a person commits a transgression and repeats it…it becomes to him as if it were permitted.

How do we counter this nature? Rav Yisrael Salanter offers two suggestions in two different sections of Ohr Yisrael (Iggeres Hamussar 22 and Kokhvei Ohr 7). In Iggeres Hamussar he advises that one continuously learn the halakhos pertaining to the area where he is tempted to sin. The study of the matter leads to reinforcing the seriousness and significance of the matter. In addition, in Kokhvei Ohr he says the part of repentance that focuses on regret is designed to re-establish the boundary and the sense of how terrible it was to violate it. While our feelings are notoriously difficult to change, and especially if we are exposed and succumb to something that tempts us, the temptation becomes stronger. However, difficult is not impossible, and Rav Yisroel’s advice is a great tool, though do not expect immediate results. 


Out of Step, But Plenty of Soul

Our Gemara on Amud Beis relates an interesting story about Rabbi Eliezer Ze’eira:

Rabbi Eliezer Ze’eira was wearing black shoes, unlike the Jewish custom of that time, and standing in the market of Neharde’a. Officials of the house of the Exilarch found him and said to him: What is different about you that causes you to wear these shoes? He said to them: I am wearing them because I am in mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, and so I wear black shoes, as is the custom of mourners. They said to him: Are you a man of such importance to publicly mourn over Jerusalem? They thought that it was simply presumptuousness on his part. Since he was acting against the prevalent Jewish custom, they brought him to the prison and incarcerated him.

Eliezer Ze’eira said to them: I am a great man, a scholar, and it is fitting for me to mourn publicly over the destruction of Jerusalem. They said to him: How do we know that you are a scholar? He said to them: Either you ask of me a matter of halakha and I will answer you, or I will ask you a matter of halakha and you will answer me. They said to him: You ask.

He said to them: With regard to one who cuts a cluster of flowers on the stem of a date palm belonging to another, what is he required to pay? They said to him: He pays the value of the date stem. He said to them: But ultimately they will become ripe dates, which are worth more. They said to him: If so, he pays the value of the future dates. He said to them: But he did not take ripe dates from the other person, so how can the court obligate him to pay for damage that he did not cause?

They said to Eliezer Ze’eira: You tell us the correct appraisal for the date stem. He said to them: The court appraises the damage relative to a similar piece of land sixty times the size. They said to him: Who says an opinion as you do, so that you can prove you are correct? He said to them: Shmuel is alive and his court exists; you can ask him. They sent the question before Shmuel, together with the ruling of Eliezer Ze’eira. Shmuel said to them: He is saying well to you, because the halakha is as he says; the appraisal is relative to an area sixty times greater. Upon hearing this, the officials of the Exilarch realized that he was a great man and they released him.

Rabbi Yonasan Eibschutz (Yaaros Devash I:16) has a wonderful and creative interpretation for this aggadah:

He starts with discussing how shoes came to signify mourning for the Beis Hamikdash. He argues, since in the time of the Beis Hamikdash the Shekhina was present, holy people would suddenly experience Ruach Hakodesh and thus feel compelled to remove their shoes, as we see when Moshe first encountered the Shekhina at the Burning Bush (Shemos 3:5). (I believe the “removing of the shoes” really means divestment of physicalities and externalities. Rav Eibschutz did not spell this out, possibly because he felt it was a mystical concept that should be known by those who are worthy, and if you do not know then you weren’t meant to know it, as with many matters that are mystical.) However, to express mourning in this manner implies that you feel yourself worthy to have received Ruach Hakodesh, hence the reaction that he was breaking social boundaries and protocols.

Yet, there is another reason for wearing shoes to signify mourning for the Beis Hamikdash. The cause of exile is attributed to the sale of Yoseph by his brothers to the Ishmaelites in exchange for shoes, as described in Amos (2:6). The actual sale of Yoseph was rationalized by the Shevatim as a pre-emptive strike against a would-be usurper, similar to how their father viewed Esav, and their grandfather viewed Yishmael. (That’s a lot of family dynamics! But, we will discuss that at a different time.) In the end, Joseph was vindicated and the brothers were proven to have acted in haste with poor judgment. This is hinted at in the discussion between Eliezer Ze’eira and the Exilarch’s henchmen.  The “cluster of flowers on the stem of a date palm” represents Yoseph’s unrealized potential. A Tzaddik is compared to a blooming date-palm (Tehilim 92:13), thus the discussion about the value of the damaged date-palm is a discussion about the haste of shevatim to convict Yoseph before he fulfilled his potential.  And this aspect of signifying mourning through shoes could be made by anyone, thus Eliezer Ze’eira defended his practice as not presumptuous. (Also, I would say that he also was hinting that he too, was misjudged, like Yoseph.)

In contemplating Rabbi Eliezer Ze’eira’s story we find a man who walked “in the shoes” of different eras and experiences.  He may have seemed “out of step” with what were the standards of the day, but he definitely had “sole”.

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