Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Do We Have the Right to Argue with God? Gittin 12 Psychology of the Daf

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses practical and legal dimensions of slave ownership, responsibilities of slave to master and master to slave. However, there are also ways to read them as derash, hinting at our experiences as slaves in Egypt.  Let us look at each teaching, and then see if they are allusions to our own slavery:

! עַבְדָּא דִּנְהוֹם כְּרֵסֵיהּ לָא שָׁוֵיא, לְמָרֵיהּ וּלְמָרְתֵיהּ לְמַאי מִיתְבְּעֵי?

A slave who is not worth the bread that he consumes, for what is he needed by his master or his mistress? If the value of his labor does not even pay for the cost of his sustenance why is he needed at all? 

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 97a) tells us that Rav Nachman unfortunately had such a slave. His name was Daru and apparently, he didn’t do much work other than hang out by the wine barrels and drink. In fact, Rav Nachman refers to his problematic servant in explaining certain Halakhic teachings about why it would be permissible to appropriate somebody else’s slave to do work for you if it is in service of paying off a debt that is owed. Rav Nachman uses the same idiom: “A slave was not worth the bread that he eats… Etc.” This is why this next teaching from Rav Nachman, involving his already notorious servant Daru, makes even more sense. We learn in Pesachim (116a);

אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַב נַחְמָן לְדָרוּ עַבְדֵּיהּ: עַבְדָּא דְּמַפֵּיק לֵיהּ מָרֵיהּ לְחֵירוּת, וְיָהֵיב לֵיהּ כַּסְפָּא וְדַהֲבָא, מַאי בָּעֵי לְמֵימַר לֵיהּ? אֲמַר לֵיהּ: בָּעֵי לְאוֹדוֹיֵי וּלְשַׁבּוֹחֵי, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: פְּטַרְתַּן מִלּוֹמַר ״מָה נִשְׁתַּנָּה״. פָּתַח וְאָמַר ״עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ״.

Rav Naḥman said to his servant, Daru: With regard to a slave who is freed by his master, who gives him gold and silver, what should the slave say to him? Daru said to him: He must thank and praise his master. He said to him: If so, you have exempted us from reciting the questions of: Why is this night different, as you have stated the essence of the seder night. Rav Naḥman immediately began to recite: We were slaves.

Pesach Eynayim points out that this was specifically meaningful to Daru. Remember, Daru is the kind of slave that doesn’t do much but eat. Being free for him would not be a benefit, as he would have to work for his food. That is why Rav Nachman ask him would you appreciate being freed as a slave if you also were given gold and silver? When Daru answers in the affirmative, Rav Nachman was able to fully enact the experience of feeling like he left Egypt. It is understandable now why he remarked to his colleagues, “We have fulfilled our obligation for the mitzvah of telling over the story of the Exodus.”

We then have another teaching on our daf: 

רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל סָבַר: אוֹ פַּרְנְסֵנִי אוֹ הוֹצִיאֵנִי לְחֵירוּת, כִּי הֵיכִי דְּחָזוּ לִי אִינָשֵׁי וּמְרַחֲמִין עֲלַי. וְרַבָּנַן סָבְרִי: מַאן דִּמְרַחֵם אַבְּנֵי חָרֵי, אַעֶבֶד נָמֵי רַחוֹמֵי מְרַחֵם.

And Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel holds that in this case the slave can say to his master: Either sustain me or emancipate me, so that people will see me in my helpless state, and they will have mercy on me and provide me with charity. And the Rabbanan hold that this is not a justification for emancipating a slave, as those who have mercy on freemen will also have mercy on a slave. 

This teaching also alludes to slavery and exile. 

Sefer Meir Eynei Chachamim (Derush L’Shabbos Hagadol, Rav Meir Yechiel Holshtok 1851-1928) reads into this Gemara eschatological concerns. As the exile continues and the Jews suffer impoverishment, they can make the claim: “Either sustain me or emancipate me.” Rav Meir Yechiel says it is especially meaningful that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel makes this argument in our Gemara, as Rabban Gamliel is of Davidic and Messianic blood. 

One question he does not contend with is what do we make of the Rabanan who say, “This is not a justification for emancipating a slave, as those who have mercy on freemen will also have mercy on a slave.” I think the rabbis went one further than Rabban Gamliel. The Rabbanan were saying, “We do not need to resort to legalistic arguments with God. Just as people will naturally have mercy for the free man, or the slave, so to God will have mercy without us even needing to ask for it.” 

There has to be more depth within this. Perhaps it’s about the age old question of whether a person with 100% faith in God needs to make any effort. Some say God expects everyone to make normal efforts and others hold that the pure and righteous will merit supernatural support. Thus the Rabbanan say we need only rely on God’s mercy. Or the dispute is about whether we are allowed to argue with God in terms of human concepts of what seems fair and just, or do we say God is totally inscrutable and we can only rely on His mercy. Iyov continuously argues with God and the answer in chapters 38 and on seem to say, “Do not think you can understand my ways.” (See Psychology of the Daf, Sotah 31.) This might be hinted at in the words of the Rabbanan, “Those who have mercy on freemen will also have mercy on a slave.” Just trust in God’s mercy without any artifice.

The institution of slavery is a human experience that is part of the history of the world. Any pattern in human behavior and society boils down to understanding Hashem’s Middos as we are made in His image and the patterns of human nature represent aspects of His design and wisdom. The master-slave relationship, while not a desired state in our times, still contains lessons in terms of responsibility and dependency that are relevant to us, and also part of our identity and development as a nation. According to a quick word search, the Torah references remembering our slavery in Egypt 5 times in Devarim, and the idea of being a stranger in Egypt is mentioned six times throughout the Five Books of Torah.

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