Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Gifts and Intimacy, What the Deaf Know and New Ideas Bava Metzia 15-18


Gifts and Intimacy

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses an interesting case where a man attempts to enact marriage to a person to whom he is forbidden, such as a sister. Usually marriage is enacted via an exchange of an object of value (classically, a gold ring). In this situation, since the marriage is obviously impossible, what did he intend to do with the object of value or the money? This is subject to a dispute between Rav and Shmuel:

Rav says: The money he gave for the betrothal is returned, since the betrothal does not take effect. Shmuel says: This money is a gift, meaning that he wished to give a gift to his sister and he did so in this manner. Rav says: The money must be returned since a person knows that betrothal does not take effect with his sister, and he decided to give the money to her for the purpose of a deposit. And Shmuel says: The money is considered to be a gift because a person knows that betrothal does not take effect with his sister, and he decided to give the money to her for the purpose of a gift. 

Sefer Daf Al Daf quotes Sefer Nitzotze Ohr who suggests that this Rav’s position here is dependent on his directive regarding the ethics of gifts, discussed in Gemara Shabbos (10a);

Rav said as follows: One who gives a gift to his friend needs to inform him

The Gemara proves this idea from the fact that God conducted himself in this manner, informing Moshe and the Jewish people regarding the gift of Shabbos. Since Rav holds that one must inform a recipient of a gift, the man in our case could not have intended to give a gift, as he gave it in this backhanded manner, without making his intentions explicit.  

What is the purpose behind this ethical requirement?  Rashi (Shabbos ibid) explains that it both makes it easier for the person to accept the gift, as he feels your good will, and it enhances the sense of love and connection.

People can sometimes offer gifts, but out of fear of intimacy, avoid expressing the romantic thoughts or feelings behind them.  Or a person might have other resentments, and so passive aggressively refrain from a robust expression of generosity that comes along with the gift.

Some may feel that doing loving things is enough, even if not verbally expressed.  While it is a generosity of sorts, it can be maddening to the receiver who wants to feel more acknowledgement.  On the screenplay of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye and Golde exemplify the connecting spouse trying to get some validation from the emotionally avoidant spouse:

Tevye: It’s a new world, Golde…A new world!…Love…Golde…Do you love me?

Golde: Do I what? !Ssh!

Tevye: Do you love me?

Golde: Do I love you?

Tevye: Well?

Golde: With our daughters getting married, and this trouble in the town, – you’re upset, you’re worn out, -go inside, go lie down. — Maybe it’s indigestion!

Tevye: Ah, no, Golde, I’m asking you a question. Do you love me?

Golde: You’re a fool.

Tevye: I know. But do you love me?

Golde: Do I love you?

Tevye: Well?

Golde: For 25 years, I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked your cow. After years, why talk about love right now?

Tevye: Golde.

Golde: The first time I met you Was on our wedding day 

Tevye: – I was scared 

Golde: – I was shy

Tevye: – I was nervous 

Golde: – So was I

Tevye: But my father and my mother said we’d learn to love each other, and now I’m asking, Golde, Do you love me?

Golde: I’m your wife

Tevye:  I know. But do you love me?

Golde: Do I love him?

Tevye: Well?

Golde: For 25 years, I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. For 25 years, my bed is his, if that’s not love, what is?

Tevye: Then you love me?

Golde: I suppose I do.

Tevye: And I suppose I love you, too          

While the dialogue does not go as well as Tevye might as hoped. These simple, impoverished and persecuted Jews from Anatevka, see no choice but to accept each others’ form of attachment without a full resolution.


What Do the Dead Know?

Our Gemara on amud aleph discusses the idea that a repentant thief may be disturbed that his reputation as a thief would be discovered after his death. This implies that dead people have an awareness of the goings on in the physical world. However this is subject to debate in Gemara Berachos (18b) with a number of incidents with various sagely and pious persons, the dead and the living.

In one case, a man receives messages from a deceased person regarding the future growing season. In another, the location of buried treasure is revealed. And in yet another scenario, the sons of the deceased Rabbi Chiyya wonder if he knows of their plight. For each scenario, a qualifying distinction is made. Tosafos Sotah (34b, “Avosay”) understands that the conclusion of the discussion in Gemara Berachos is that ordinarily the dead do not have knowledge of the goings on in this world.

However, Tosafos must explain the valid custom of praying by the graves of the righteous that is discussed in Sotah (ibid) and Ta’anis (16a). Tosafos says that the act of prayer itself arouses a heavenly network of sorts, and the dead person becomes aware of the need to pray on behalf of the supplicant. As far as our Gemara goes, Tosafos does speak to it. But I presume Tosafos holds that this person’s belief that he will know if he is called a thief after his death might merely be a superstition, and not represent valid theology. After all, the thief is not likely to be a learned man.

The Ran (Derashos Haran 8) offers a different reason for the value of prayer by the graveside of a holy person that is not dependent on the actual awareness of the deceased. He says that the presence of anything holy, including the body of a holy person, activates and inspires spiritual channels. He sees it as analogous to the holiness of the Temple site.

What the dead know about us is less important than what we know about the dead. We still have life to live and can draw strength from their memories to guide us.


Buried Treasure

Our Gemara on Amud Beis used a particular idiom to describe the discovery of a novel Torah idea: “Drawing up the pearl underneath the clay shard.” Some understand this as a metaphor coming from pearl divers, who find pearls hidden under clay-like clods under the sea (see Tosafos ibid).

I will reflect on this metaphor. The idea that intellectual activity involves a deep dive, associated with risks is certainly meaningful. One cannot truly learn something new unless he or she is willing to let go of old ideas and preconceptions. The confusion of reconsidering strongly held beliefs is disorienting and feels like jumping off the deep end. Who’s to say that a new idea will be better? Even worse, perhaps this new line of thinking can lead into dangerous places. Another interesting concept that is latent within this metaphor is that during the effort, it may be far from clear that success is imminent. It is easy to despair of ever obtaining the sought intellectual treasure. Up until the last moment, it looks like your efforts might be in vain. All you see is just clods of earth, until suddenly, you discover buried treasure.

In every person, deep inside their soul is a treasure trove of inspiration and truth. As it states in Mishley (20:5):

מַ֣יִם עֲ֭מֻקִּים עֵצָ֣ה בְלֶב־אִ֑ישׁ וְאִ֖ישׁ תְּבוּנָ֣ה יִדְלֶֽנָּה׃

The counsel in a man’s mind are deep waters, But a man of understanding can draw them out.

We will discuss more about looking inside and outside for knowledge in tomorrow’s daf, Bava Metzia (18).


Inside or Outside?

Our Gemara on Amud Beis describes a rabbi’s quest for the correct halakha as “Nafak, Dak, Ve-ashkach – He went out, examined it, and discovered.”How does one “go out” and discover a thought? Is this not something that should be discovered by an inward journey? 

Tosafos Yom Tov (2:9) says it refers to an intellectual journey. Midrash Shmuel (ibid) suggests it is a going out, because it is a letting go of any physical associations and biases, such as desires or materialism that either distort judgment or interfere with spiritual inspiration.

This relates to what we discussed in yesterday’s daf: To really learn something new we must let go. For any idea or thought to have serious consideration, we must, even if momentarily, imagine a different reality. This requires emotional security, self-confidence and healthy psychological differentiation between self and others. When a person feels grounded, he or she can take emotional risks to consider other ideas and viewpoints. The insecure person is terrified to even think of a new idea that may challenge current beliefs that provide at least an illusion of correctness and/or moral rectitude.

Hashem tells Avrohom to “Go out from you Mazal”, as your fate is not to have children but God can change it. (See Rashi Bereishis 15:5) It is notable that God doesn’t TAKE Avrohom out but tells Avrohom to GO OUT. Perhaps for God’s blessing to flow, Avrohom also needed to willfully let go and change his preconceived notions of what is possible and what can be achieved.

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