Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Goldilocks, Attunement, Misers and Creation Time Bava Metzia 50-53


The Goldilocks Equation 

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the laws of fraudulent overcharging:

Rava said: The Halacha is that if the disparity in actual value versus amount paid is less than one-sixth, the merchandise is acquired immediately. If the disparity is greater than one-sixth, either party can demand nullification of the transaction. If the disparity is precisely one-sixth, the buyer has acquired the merchandise, and the one who benefited from the exploitation returns the sum gained by the exploitation. 

This is a three-tiered system: Less than ⅙ is a small enough sum that we assume the buyer and seller forgive the difference, and neither has any further claims. More than ⅙ is too large a sum, and the entire purchase is invalidated, as it is built on a fundamental incorrect valuation. The middle case is at the point where the disparity is not more or less than ⅙. Here payment is refunded but the sale is still valid.

There is definitely something psychologically and spiritually appealing to a three-tiered system. Most matters can fit into a three-part system of classification. Too much, too little, and just right, as Goldilocks was known to say. This is beyond the Brisker “tzvey dinim “, and takes us into the territory of “three dinim”. (By the way, Rav Zevin in his biography of the Rogotchover in Ishim Veshittos, suggests that the Rogotchover used three dinim as a conceptual approach in counterpoint to Brisker methodology.)

This three tiered system can be seen as representative of a deeper truth about distortion and connection to God. (I am borrowing from ideas expressed in Likkutei Halachos, but adapting them differently, see Choshen Mishpat, Shelichus, 5:38-40, and Laws of Buying and Selling 4:19) The ⅙ mark represents the sixth day of creation, which represents a coherence of God and the physical world, accomplished by the human spirit, which was when Man came on the scene. Dishonesty and distortions which are less than a sixth, i.e. the efforts to cohere and restore the creation from its natural deficiencies and limitations (days prior to creation of man culminating in his creation) are, so to speak, forgiven and automatically part of the process. Should a person fall short of full apprehension of the truth and become misguided, since his intentions are good and he is trying to connect to God, the transaction is not nullified or useless. The distortion needs to be corrected and “paid back”, but the overall action is valid. The disparity of greater than a sixth signifies a complete rejection and usurping of the mission of creation. If a person fully breaks with God and rejects the mission to unify creation, which is represented by a disparity of more than a sixth (rejecting the sixth day), the entire action is disqualified. 


If You See Something, Say Something

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us an anecdote where Rami Bar Chamah noticed that his landlord appeared sad. He inquired of him, and ended up hearing about a mistake he made in business, and was able to offer him halachic guidance.

Noticing that a person is sad is an important factor in emotional intelligence. Being attuned enough to notice a person’s face or other subtle expressions allows for important opportunities to assist a person, as well as catch situations where a person’s feelings might be hurt but they lack assertiveness to stand up for themselves. A person might superficially agree to something because they lack the confidence or even the intellectual clarity to explain a nuanced, subjective reason for not being fully on board. It is especially important to watch out for this dynamic in relationships of unequal power, such as teacher to student, boss to employee, parent to child, and in some cases, a more dominant or aggressive spouse toward the other.

We find halacha reflects a similar sentiment in Mishna Sanhedrin (4:2), whereby deliberations in capital cases start with the less senior judges, so that they will not feel intimidated. Keep in mind, these were learned scholars and we still fear they might feel intimidated. We also find a ruling that even though judges in monetary disputes are not supposed act as advocates or show favoritism, if a judge senses that the person is flustered, he can help him compose his argument (Shulchan Aruch CM 17:9).    

There are also two Biblical references which show that moral and intelligent people possess the curiosity and attunement to notice another person, which in each story, in its own way, brought about redemption. Yosef notices that the Chief Wine Steward and the Chief Baker had anguished faces (Bereishis 40:7), which led to his redemption from jail, and ultimately rescuing his family and that entire part of the world from famine. We also find in Nechemia (2:2) that King Atarshasacha noticed Nechemia’s unhappiness and inquired, which led to the rebuilding of the second Bais Hamikdash.  If you see something, say something.


The Psychology of Misers

Our Gemara on amud aleph describes a person who refuses to accept a slightly eroded coin as a “nefesh ra’ah” – “an evil soul.”  What does this term mean? The term “ayin ra’ah” connotes stinginess, for example see Bechoros 11a. The Maharal relates “nefesh ra’ah” with “ayin ra’ah”, except that ”nefesh ra’ah” is the inner manifestation and state, while “ayin ra’ah” is the behavior (see Derech Chaim 2:19).

If so, we may say that the Gemara is commenting that a person who is so particular about a small imperfection in a coin that is otherwise fully legal tender has a trait of extreme miserliness.  

People who are stingy often make poor financial choices, as they are too risk averse. For example, they will not put savings in even moderate risk investments, so that their savings do not keep pace with inflation. Or, they might not take a risk to try a new job, and instead “play it safe” and stay in a current job with less earning potential. It also can lead to loneliness and isolation even if the person is married and has a family, as the strain on the relationship from the various forms of control and stinginess leads to others being distant, avoidant and not honest. 

Misers have a particular psychology, and often suffer from OCPD Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, which is not the same as OCD. People with OCPD are often:

  • Rigid
  • Need to control
  • Are impatient with others 
  • Pedantic
  • Hoard 
  • Perfectionistic 
  • Fixated on lists and rules
  • May abuse religion to rationalize their demands 
  • Show an inability to express or allow for emotions.  

Treatment is possible, but since it is rooted in personality, the person does not usually own the behavior. Rather, he assumes that everyone else has the problem. If the person is “forced” into treatment, usually as a result of failed familial relationships and/or to save their marriage, it still does not bode well for treatment, as there can be layers of self-justification. They might try to accommodate the other person, just to make peace or save the relationship, but not fully accept how anxious they become at loss of control in matters that others allow for emotional or actual risk, such as spending money, showing feelings, and being forgiving and flexible. Many of the changes will be superficial, with days of “good behavior” and then angry outbursts coming from all the frustration and energy trying to work against his own nature. It will be a long haul for the person to come to enough realization that he truly is the problem. After that, successful treatment involves:

  • Insight
  • Trauma work, if there are childhood deprivations and insecurities, and 
  • Ego strengthening psychology to learn self-awareness, self-regulation and the ability to emotionally differentiate between others and self

This will eventually allow for more vulnerability, empathy and attunement.


All in a Day’s Work

Our gemara on amud aleph discusses the well-known halachic principle, that even though often a prohibited item can be nullified in a majority or mixture of 60 times, an item whose prohibition can become permitted at some point in time, is not negated or nullified even if it is in a mixture with one thousand permitted parts.  

The phrase “even a thousand times”, is not literal. It means in any amount, so to speak, even 1000 times. The Rama (Toras Haolah 3:82) discusses the idea of the number one thousand not being literal, and rather it represents a large number, and uses this rule as an example. He also discusses the metaphysics of this number. For example, Bereishis Rabbah (5:4) grapples with the problem of why Adam did not die immediately after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Hashem warned Adam (Bereishis 2:17): “For on the day you eat of it, you shall die.” The Midrash answers that Hashem’s day is 1,000 years, and this is why indeed Adam did not live out the “day”, i.e. 1,000 years. How do we know Hashem’s day is 1,000 years? It states in Tehilim (90:4): 

For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch of the night.

The Midrash seems to take this number 1,000 literally, however many commentaries, including Eitz Yosef (Midrash Rabbah ibid) and the above mentioned Rama point out that God has no time, so it is ridiculous to say that God’s day is 1,000 days. Just as when we say God is strong, we do not mean he is strong in human sense, because that still means a quality or essence that is finite, because strong is a power that is possessed and therefore quantifiable. God is not the strongest in a sense relative to others, as having more strength, but His essence is something that we identify as having a quality of strength in that His power is unlimited. (See Rambam Yesode Hatorah 1:11.) Therefore, Rama asserts that God’s day can mean a long unimaginable time, i.e. infinity.

Given that we must acknowledge the apparent age of the universe, just in the fact that we know light from some stars are hundreds of thousands of lightyears away, it makes it difficult to accept that the world is 5784 years old. Some therefore use an approach based on the verse above in Tehilim. Hashem’s day is long (infinite really), and therefore use of time in reference to His actions, merely means a long, long time. If so, we could argue that the six days of creation are in God’s days, and not even 1,000-year days, but much longer. After all, the first days of creation did not have the Sun or Moon, so there was no day, technically. The Ramban (Bereishis 1:3) rejects this idea, and believes the Torah would not have used the term day, unless it literally meant the world was created in six days.

Another interesting way to solve this problem is based on a Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (11a) which asserts:

All the acts of Creation were created with their full stature, immediately fit to bear fruit; they were created with their full mental capacities; they were created with their full form.

If so, we might say that the light from the far away stars and galaxies came front-loaded, so to speak, as if the universe was millions of years old. Additionally, we have an interesting Midrash (Kohelles Rabbah 13:11) which tells us:

The Holy One blessed be He created worlds and destroyed them, created worlds and destroyed them, until he created this [world], and said: ‘These please Me and those did not please Me.’

So, we might say, any cosmological or paleontological evidence of aspects of the world or the universe that seem older may have stemmed from those prior iterations.  

I will conclude this discussion with a powerful thought.  Though God is infinite and unknowable, the Torah allows and encourages us to use symbolic ideas of God that we can grasp, so we can relate to him. We can see him as angry or merciful, and subject to all other relational experiences as far as we are concerned, because it is the best way to understand that he hears our prayers, rewards, punishes, and forgives.  If so, what lesson is there in the Midrash above?  It is to teach us that important projects do not arrive at perfection immediately, and there is much trial and error.  This goes so far as to even say that God’s plans took time to develop and bring out into its best form.

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