Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Fathers and Roughhousing, Frustrations and the Unforgivable Bava Metzia 12-14


Fathers and Roughhousing

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses why a found item of a minor belongs to the father: “Because the minor does not intend to acquire it for himself, as when he finds it, he runs with it to his father.”

The propensity of this young boy speaks of a form of attachment that fathers specifically enact. A father might toss his child in the air, simultaneously terrifying and delightfing him or her. While mother stands for safety and nurturing, father smells of the mysteries of the outside world. He is the one who leaves the house (mother, womb), and comes back from his quests with the great totems of manhood, car keys, wallet, hat etc. The child too, bravely forays into the world, makes a discovery, and then brings it to his father so he would be proud.

Researcher Daniel Paquette discusses the psychological process that fathers bring to the parenting of a child (“Theorizing the Father-Child Relationship: Mechanisms and Developmental Outcomes”, Human Development, August 2004.):

“Fathers play a particularly important role in the development of children’s openness to the world. Men seem to have a tendency to excite, surprise, and momentarily destabilize children; they also tend to encourage children to take risks, while at the same time ensuring the latter’s safety and security, thus permitting children to learn to be braver in unfamiliar situations, as well as to stand up for themselves.”

However, in order to encourage risk, there must be a sense of safety. A roller coaster is fun because it makes you afraid, but you also know (hope?) that it is engineered to be safe. This is why:

“…this dynamic can only be effective in the context of an emotional bond between father and child; this relationship is termed the father-child activation relationship, in contrast to the mother-child attachment relationship aimed at calming and comforting children in times of stress. The activation relationship is developed primarily through physical play. It is postulated, in particular, that father-child rough-and-tumble play encourages obedience and the development of competition skills in children.”

Paquette reports further:

“Moreover, during physical play, fathers use teasing to destabilize children both emotionally and cognitively. As pointed out by Labrell [1996], both irregularities and regularities are important to cognitive development, and children need to learn to deal with unexpected events. According to Le Camus [1995a], the need of children to be stimulated, pushed and encouraged to take risks is as great as their need for stability and security.”

We see that a father’s natural tendency toward aggression goads and challenges the child to develop autonomy and self-efficacy. But the child only does that when he feels he can still fall back on the father for emotional support. Fairness, consistency, patience but also expectations with a form of optimism and belief the child can meet the challenges successfully, are a part of a good father-child bond. This propels the child toward emotional and psychological independence, which is necessary for health productivity and relationships.


The Frustrations of Daily Life

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the status of a promissory note that was lost and found. Ordinarily, these notes with signatures of witnesses have a presumption of validity. However, since this document was dropped, that in and of itself weakens its legitimacy. (Perhaps the loan was canceled or not even enacted, and it was discarded and not lost at all.) Therefore, if one finds this document, he may not be able to return it to the lender, as perhaps it is not valid and would cause loss to the putative borrower.

Mei Shiloach (Commentary on Bava Metzia) wonders why a promissory note loses validity when dropped, while an object is returned to the owner who provides evidence of ownership (a contract inherently has evidence of ownership since the principals are named). He suggests a metaphysical answer. Objects and utensils provide utility to their owners, and thus we might surmise that they providential lost use of their object for a period of time (presumably as some kind of suffering or atonement.). Now that the object is found, the period of time has ended, and God wants him to have his object back. However, a promissory note has no inherent utility or value, and if it was lost, we might presume that providence indicates that perhaps it should remain lost, as it might be a false document.

I am not sure why the Mei Shiloach doesn’t consider that perhaps it was providential that the person experienced the frustration and temporary loss of ability to collect the loan. Then we might equally assume that the finding of the contract represents an end to that previous loss, much as a found object reflects God’s granting its return. I believe the answer is that it is about the preponderance of evidence and likelihood. Since, there are many ways to have financial loss or gain and frustrations, there is no particular providential need to lose the document, as it is only one form of financial loss or gain. If the contract was lost this seems to more firmly indicate that it is not a valid document, and was taken from the wrongful owner’s hand via a providentially arranged loss. However, each object has its own specific purpose, and so its loss is presumed to indicate God’s will that he lose it, as well as it being found indicating God’s will for it to be found.

Theologically speaking, to what extent shall one assume that minor daily losses or gains are a result of God’s direct will? The Gemara (Arachin 16b) delves into this matter:

The Gemara asks: Until where is the minimum limit of suffering? What is the least amount of pain that is included in the definition of suffering?

Rav Ḥisda, and some say it was Rabbi Yitzḥak, and some say it was taught in a baraisa: Even if one reached his hand into his pocket to take out three coins, but two coins came up in his hand, it is considered a form of suffering.

The Gemara indicates even a small amount of suffering still is considered a form of atonement. Even so, there are limits, as it goes on to say:

This is only in a case where one reached into his pocket to take three coins, and two coins came up in his hand. But if he reached into his pocket to take two, and instead three coins came up in his hand, this is not considered to be suffering, as it is not an exertion to drop the extra coin back into his pocket.

At first glance, this implies that providence causes even these minor losses in order to have suffering and atonement. This seems to be the way the majority of commentaries understand this Gemara. Strictly speaking, we might argue that the Gemara is only advising that suffering, even if comes incidentally, should be utilized and viewed as an experience to achieve atonement. While the Maharal doesn’t take this position specifically, the following idea of his allows room for this to be theologically valid. He explains (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Hayisurin 3.3, I paraphrase):

Even the minor inconveniences and losses, when taken with the proper mindset, promote letting go of attachment to material matters. These daily vicissitudes can be seen as reminders that we ought not overvalue our urge for comfort, as this leads to complacency and detachment from the spiritual.

Regardless, Judaism has a specific philosophy as to the meaning of the small losses in life, which is to take them as opportunities to be humbled, and reflect on one’s sins and reasons why such a loss might be deserved. Ramban (Shaar Hagemul) speaks of this, and says that even the righteous will go through these typical frustrations and losses in the course of life in order to atone for minor sins. Based on a Midrash, Ohel Yaakov (Tazria 5) goes further to imply that God even allows the minor suffering to qualify and atone for sins that are much greater. Noda BeYehuda (Teshuvos OC I:35) also seems to hold that the function of these minor problems are to provide easier atonement for what ordinarily should incur greater punishment.

Psychologically speaking, a sense of entitlement and excessive attachment or expectations leads to suffering and disappointment. We may wish and hope for many things, and work diligently to succeed, but it is healthy to consider that we may not always get what we want. Life, for all its wonders and gifts, requires mortality and physical experience. It is impossible to be physical and not suffer losses and entropy. This is the price we pay to live.  Light without darkness is the same as darkness, since it is impossible to see without contrast. So too, life without loss and suffering Ii’s impossible.


The Unforgivable

Our Gemara on amud aleph asserts a principle of human nature that is used to validate numerous halachic presumptions throughout Shas: “A person will not voluntarily waste their money.”

Thus, if there are certain obvious omissions in a contract, we do not assume the person agreed to such unfavorable terms, and we consider if it was

In another Gemara Kesuvos (36b) a similar presumption is made regarding a Cohen who paid ransom for a captured Jewish maiden. Should he later wish to marry her, and he attests that he knew that she was raped (as a cohen is forbidden to marry someone who had prior relations with a forbidden person, such as a gentile), he is believed. This trust is given by virtue of the fact that he would not have personally spent all of his own funds unless he knew that she might be a suitable marriage partner, and thus must have investigated her status. If on the other hand, he testified first that she was not sexually violated, he may not marry her, as we suspect ulterior motives. In other words, if he takes the risk of spending his own funds, not knowing if his testimony would be accepted, that in and of itself, demonstrates his confidence that she was not molested, as he would not risk such a large sum. (I assume it is because he spent his own money exclusively, as opposed to running up a collection and community effort. After all, regardless of her suitability as a marriage partner, all Jews are obligated to assist in securing her freedom.)

There are mystical commentaries that use this idea to understand how God related to the Jewish people when redeeming them from Egyptian captivity. Benei Yissachar (NIsan 5) and Rosh Dovid (Shemos 2) both develop a similar idea. God is described as a Cohen (Sanhedrin 39a) and his spending “great wealth” (the miracles and wonders of the Exodus) attests to his belief in the faithfulness of the Jewish people.

There are countless depictions in the prophets of God presented as the husband of an unfaithful spouse, who nonetheless forgives betrayal and takes her back. Speaking for God, Yeshaiyahu (50:1) exclaims, and I poetically paraphrase, “And where is there evidence of divorce papers or that I sent her away? It is only your own sins that drove you away (not my rejection.)” The prophet Hoshea does not stop there, but actually married an unfaithful woman and experiences her numerous betrayals, while still reconciling with her AFTER she tires of her lovers and comes crawling back, while all the while he was secretly supporting her (Hoshea 2:7-10) :

כִּ֤י זָֽנְתָה֙ אִמָּ֔ם הֹבִ֖ישָׁה הוֹרָתָ֑ם כִּ֣י אָמְרָ֗ה אֵלְכָ֞ה אַחֲרֵ֤י מְאַֽהֲבַי֙ נֹתְנֵ֤י לַחְמִי֙ וּמֵימַ֔י צַמְרִ֣י וּפִשְׁתִּ֔י שַׁמְנִ֖י וְשִׁקּוּיָֽי׃

In that their mother has played the whore, She that conceived them has acted shamelessly—Because she thought, “I will go after my lovers,Who supply my bread and my water, My wool and my linen, My oil and my drink.”

וְהִיא֙ לֹ֣א יָֽדְעָ֔ה כִּ֤י אָנֹכִי֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לָ֔הּ הַדָּגָ֖ן וְהַתִּיר֣וֹשׁ וְהַיִּצְהָ֑ר וְכֶ֨סֶף הִרְבֵּ֥יתִי לָ֛הּ וְזָהָ֖ב עָשׂ֥וּ לַבָּֽעַל׃

And she did not consider this: It was I who bestowed on her. The new grain and wine and oil;I who lavished silver on her. And gold—which they used for Baal.

This theme that God is the ever forgiving and long suffering lover of the unfaithful Jewish people has powerful lessons. Most of us can forgive many transgressions. However, betrayals of fidelity are particularly difficult, because they undermine the basic security and sanctity of the relationship. Yet, and yet, God believes in us and forgives our repeated perfidious breaches. This might inspire us at times to forgive our spouses – even for the unforgivable.

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