Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Double Binds in Relationships Nazir 39 and 40 Psychology of the Daf Yomi

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph mentions in passing elderly men who dye their beards black to appear younger. This raises a question because there is a prohibition for men to dye their hair, as it is considered a feminine activity, and therefore a violation of a man appearing as a woman. (See Makkos 20b and Shulkhan Arukh OH 340:1). However, one might simply say this Gemara is talking about gentile elders, and from the context of the general discussion, it is not a stretch at all.

There’s another fascinating case in the Gemara which also discusses pulling out white hairs in order to look younger. It really isn’t an actual true story, but more of a parable to represent a situation where a person is in a double bind:

Bava Kama 60b

אמר להם אמשול לכם משל למה הדבר דומה לאדם שיש לו שתי נשים אחת ילדה ואחת זקינה ילדה מלקטת לו לבנות זקינה מלקטת לו שחורות נמצא קרח מכאן ומכאן

Rabbi Yitzḥak Nappaḥa said to them: I will relate a parable. To what can this be compared? It can be compared to a man who has two wives, one young and one old. The young wife pulls out his white hairs, so that her husband will appear younger. The old wife pulls out his black hairs so that he will appear older. And it turns out that he is bald from here and from there, i.e., completely bald, due to the actions of both of his wives.

I do not think it is an accident that the metaphor for a double bind comes out in a relational situation. Relationships can put people in double blinds, some of them quite obvious and others more subconscious. Let us discuss a few examples.

One spouse might feel frustrated that the other spouse doesn’t remember to spontaneously do certain things that many people symbolically interpret as care and loving. For example, a spouse might forget about an anniversary or birthday, or even, to spontaneously give a hug or say, I love you. The solution might appear obvious from a logical point of view. Why not just suggest that the spouse that feels bad hint, or bring to the other spouse’s attention that they’re forgetting something. In theory that would work, but there are a number of psychological double binds to consider:

  1. The spouse who is reminded might find it difficult to feel at this point spontaneous or genuine, because after all, they are being reminded. The person might feel coerced and forced.
  2. On the other hand, the spouse who is doing the reminding also might become frustrated and feel that this is a Pyrrhic victory at best, because at least half of the good feeling comes from the idea that the other person was thoughtful enough to remember and think of you. It’s kind of like trying to orchestrate your own surprise birthday

Because these are cyclical emotional processes, and not really rooted in logic, couples could endlessly squabble and get stuck in them. What is important to realize is that it is to some degree, a trap, and requires collaboration, creativity, humility, and much goodwill to work with a double bind like this one. Yes, the spouse will have to remind the other spouse and have acceptance, to a degree, that it won’t feel as good or feel as spontaneous. But also, the forgetful spouse has to be serious and humble enough to understand that they have a responsibility to learn, and become more attuned to their spouse’s wishes, and recognizing and empathizing  that it really doesn’t feel the same after being reminded.

I will mention two other common psychological double blinds that people experience. Adolescents, or persons who are still stuck emotionally in adolescent Oedipal power struggles might be trapped in an emotional no-win situation. Here is how it goes: If one experienced overbearing parents, there might not have been enough opportunity to develop a sense of autonomy and ego strength. The only power that such a person might have discovered is the power to refuse. This can be also represented by additional feelings of despair and defeat. Now as an adult, this person might consciously express a desire to be competent and achieve, but here is the problem, iff he or she now becomes competent and starts to achieve, will it really feel like their own accomplishment? After all, they have internalized a controlling and critical parent that’s been demanding that he or she perform all along. So now, if one becomes compliant, is it real competency or is it defeat and obedience? On the other hand, if the person continues to passive aggressively resist and not succeed and be competent, well, that doesn’t feel really good either, does it? Hence the double bind. It could take years of patience, self-respect, self love, courage and honesty to get out of such a psychological trap.

One last psychological trap happens for people who experienced weight loss and weight gain as something overly emphasized in their lives. For example, if one spouse is deeply unhappy with another spouse’s weight, a subconscious, psychological bind can be created. Right now the person doesn’t feel worthy or loved, and feels that a major part of their worth, and their relationship is their body and appearance. If the person continues to ignore this problem, they will suffer the pain and loss of esteem that their spouse is not so attracted to them. On the other hand, if the person loses weight, and then all of a sudden their spouse is attracted to them, this only confirms that they aren’t worth much other than their looks. So it’s a trap either way. This explains why some people yo-yo between weight gain and weight loss. Because they are yo-yoing between these two sentiments: feeling unworthy for not looking thin according to some beauty standard, but then, if achieved, feeling unworthy because it proves that they’re only worth something if they’re thin. Similar to the above example, it could take years of self honesty, courage and respect for oneself to negotiate the emotionally contradictory waters and find a path that feels authentic and right for both spouses.

As we have seen from the examples above, psychological binds and no-win situations are endemic to relationships. The best antidote is a general antidote for mental health, which is flexibility and kindness but honesty towards self, and empathy and honesty toward others.

Higher Standards Nazir 40

Our Gemara on Amud Beis quotes several verses in the Torah that serve as the source for the prohibition against shaving one’s beard with a razor, or possibly in a razor like fashion, depending on how it is interpreted by various poskim.

There are two sets of verses that discuss prohibition, one having to do specifically with the Cohanim, and the other applied to all Jews. Halakhically, there is no distinction and our Gemara uses the text from each of the prohibitions to teach and derive details, regarding the nature, and extent of the prohibition.

By the Cohanim it states (Vayikra 21:1-5)

Say to the Cohanim, sons of Aharon…לֹֽא־[יִקְרְח֤וּ] (יקרחה) קׇרְחָה֙ בְּרֹאשָׁ֔ם וּפְאַ֥ת זְקָנָ֖ם לֹ֣א יְגַלֵּ֑חוּ וּבִ֨בְשָׂרָ֔ם לֹ֥א יִשְׂרְט֖וּ שָׂרָֽטֶת׃

They shall not shave smooth any part of their heads, or cut the side-growth of their beards, or make gashes in their flesh.

By the prohibitions stated to the Jewish people as a whole, it says (Vayikra 19:27):

לֹ֣א תַקִּ֔פוּ פְּאַ֖ת רֹאשְׁכֶ֑ם וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁחִ֔ית אֵ֖ת פְּאַ֥ת זְקָנֶֽךָ׃

You [men] shall not round off the side-growth on your head, or destroy the side-growth of your beard.

Note that the prohibition by the Cohanim uses a language of “Giluach”, which is the Hebrew word for cutting hair. While by the general prohibition a language of “Hashchasa” is used, which means to destroy. This would seem to imply specifically a razor, as it cuts down to the root. As we mentioned, our Gemara uses both languages to teach that it must be a razor and a kind of cut that is destroying to the root.

However, notwithstanding the halakhic derashos, the commentaries who focus on pashut peshat point out the difference and the clear indication that the Cohen is held to a higher standard. According to a pashut peshat reading of the verses, a Cohen would be forbidden to perform any kind of hair cutting, even a small amount, because it would amount to a “destruction” of some hair. (See Ha’amek Davar and Rav Yosef Bechor Shor.)

The idea that a pashut peshat reading has different implications than the halakha is not really as problematic as it seems. The Rashbam famously says in Shemos (13:9) that the pashut peshat in the verse in Shema that the words should be a sign on your arms, is not about Tefilin, but a metaphor for keeping a constant awareness. It would be like someone saying today, “Keep it on your Home Screen.”

Even when a verse’s simple reading absolutely contradicts the halakha there are ways to understand them in harmony. For example, the Maharal (Gur Aryeh Vayikra 24:20 says that the Torah uses the expression, “Eye for an eye” to stress that if the person does not make financial compensation, really, in some fundamental way, he ought to be liable physically, with an eye for an eye.  Rambam in the Moreh (III:41) seems to say the same idea, though he is more cryptic and might mean to say even more, but that is for a different essay.

What we can say is that though every Jew should conduct himself as a Cohen, as it states in Shemos (19:5), “You shall be a kingdom of priests”, there is an even greater expectation on the Cohanim to hold a higher standard. Just like the Peshuto shel mikra tells us that one SHOULD feel as if he is physically liable for causing the loss of a limb, the repetition of various prohibitions on the Cohanim is to stress how much greater a standard they should strive to keep.

Additionally, the intention of the verses are relative. That is to say, perhaps Cohen holds a higher standard in comparison to a regular Jew, but the Jewish person who is part of a kingdom of Cohanim holds to a higher standard relative to other nations of the world. There is truth to the archetypal pattern that when one comes from a more respected lineage, there is expectation of higher moral standards and sensitivity.

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