Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Guns Don’t Kill – Sin Kills and Other Bava Metzia 93-95


Guns Don’t Kill – Sin Kills

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the extent of a shepherd’s responsibility if a lion is approaching the flock:

What could he have done to prevent an attack by a lion? Rabba replies: He should have faced the lion with other shepherds and with sticks to chase it away.

There is a natural principle that animal predators are fearful of humans. This is not an absolute, but unless provoked by territory concerns or extreme hunger, animals would choose less risky and more certain prey. 

The Gemara Shabbos (151a) tells us:

: תִּינוֹק בֶּן יוֹמוֹ חַי — אֵין צָרִיךְ לְשׁוֹמְרוֹ מִן הַחוּלְדָּה וּמִן הָעַכְבָּרִים. אֲבָל עוֹג מֶלֶךְ הַבָּשָׁן מֵת — צָרִיךְ לְשׁוֹמְרוֹ מִן הַחוּלְדָּה וּמִן הָעַכְבָּרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם יִהְיֶה״, כׇּל זְמַן שֶׁאָדָם חַי — אֵימָתוֹ מוּטֶּלֶת עַל הַבְּרִיּוֹת, כֵּיוָן שֶׁמֵּת — בָּטְלָה אֵימָתוֹ.

It is not necessary to protect a live day-old baby from a weasel or from mice, for they run away from the baby. But if Og, the king of Bashan, is dead, it is necessary to protect even him from a weasel or from mice, as it is stated: “And the fear of you and the dread of you [ḥittekhem] shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the heavens” (Genesis 9:2). The Gemara explains: As long as a person is alive [ḥai], he is feared by the animals. Once he dies, he is no longer feared.

אָמַר רַב פָּפָּא, נְקִיטִינַן: אַרְיֵה אַבֵּי תְּרֵי — לָא נָפֵיל. הָא קָא חָזֵינַן דְּנָפֵיל? הָהוּא כִּדְרָמֵי בַּר אַבָּא. דְּאָמַר רָמֵי בַּר אַבָּא: אֵין חַיָּה שׁוֹלֶטֶת בָּאָדָם עַד שֶׁנִּדְמָה לוֹ כִּבְהֵמָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״אָדָם בִּיקָר בַּל יָלִין נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמוּ״. אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא: אָסוּר לִישַׁן בַּבַּיִת יְחִידִי, וְכׇל הַיָּשֵׁן בַּבַּיִת יְחִידִי — אֹחַזְתּוֹ לִילִית.

Rav Pappa said: We hold that a lion does not pounce upon two people. The Gemara challenges this: But how can that be? We see that it does pounce upon two people. The Gemara answers: That statement of Rav Pappa must be in accordance with that which Rami bar Abba said: An animal does not overpower a person until he appears to it as an animal, as it is stated: “But man does not abide in honor, he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalms 49:13). However, animals do not attack people who are human in their spiritual character. 

Haamek Davar (Bereishis 49:9) goes further to assert that even a trained attack lion used by the Roman bestiari in their arenas would not assault certain people whose presence somehow aroused a sense of the image of God. Most famously, Daniel was saved from a hungry and bloodthirsty lion who refused to touch him (Daniel chapter 6), but tore his nemeses to pieces.

Along similar lines, the Gemara (Berachos 33a) tells us:

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: מַעֲשֶׂה בְּמָקוֹם אֶחָד שֶׁהָיָה עַרְוָד, וְהָיָה מַזִּיק אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת. בָּאוּ וְהוֹדִיעוּ לוֹ לְרַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן דּוֹסָא. אָמַר לָהֶם: הַרְאוּ לִי אֶת חוֹרוֹ! הֶרְאוּהוּ אֶת חוֹרוֹ. נָתַן עֲקֵבוֹ עַל פִּי הַחוֹר, יָצָא וּנְשָׁכוֹ — וּמֵת אוֹתוֹ עַרְוָד.

With regard to the praise for one who prays and need not fear even a snake, the Sages taught: There was an incident in one place where an arvad was harming the people. They came and told Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa and asked for his help. He told them: Show me the hole of the arvad. They showed him its hole. He placed his heel over the mouth of the hole and the arvad came out and bit him, and died.

נְטָלוֹ עַל כְּתֵפוֹ וֶהֱבִיאוֹ לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ. אָמַר לָהֶם: רְאוּ בָּנַי, אֵין עַרְוָד מֵמִית, אֶלָּא הַחֵטְא מֵמִית.

Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa placed the arvad over his shoulder and brought it to the study hall. He said to those assembled there: See, my sons, it is not the arvad that kills a person, rather transgression kills a person. The arvad has no power over one who is free of transgression.

Reishis Chochma (Sha’ar Hayirah 14) extends this principle beyond animals. Any of the destructive forces in the world are subdued in the presence of a person who fears God. This person has an aura about them that makes them seem untouchable.

When humans behave as animals they are vulnerable to the satanic forces. There are agents of the devil in our modern world which seek to water down our sense of divine dignity and deny that humans are made in the image of God. They treat the human body as merely a piece of meat. We must keep in mind, the forces of evil get stronger when we do not behave in God’s image.


Is Satan Real?

Our Gemara on Amud Beis refers to a scriptural stylistic principle:

דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה כִלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם

The Torah uses the idiom and vernacular. 

Thus, repetitions, exaggerations and figures of speech that enhance the poetic experience and nature of the narrative are theologically legitimate, and not a sign of imperfection. God designed the Torah to be meaningful on many planes of perception. The stories must engage our hearts as well as our minds.

Therefore, when the verse (Shemos 22:11) repeats itself there is no need to derive a specific extra Torah law. It is just part of the narrative:

וְאִם־גָּנֹ֥ב יִגָּנֵ֖ב מֵעִמּ֑וֹ יְשַׁלֵּ֖ם לִבְעָלָֽיו׃

But if [the animal] was stolen (Ganov Yiganev) from the guardian, restitution shall be made to its owner.

It is just to add emphasis, as if to say, “If indeed the animal was stolen.” 

The Sefas Emes (Menachos 93a) establishes an additional factor in this principle. Since repetition signals emphasis, we only accept this textual application for mitzvos. The Torah would never used a repetitive phrase to emphasize a sinful action.

Sefer Daf al Daf asks on this Sefas Emes from our Gemara which applies this linguistic principle to Gavov Yiganev, which is theft and obviously a sin. 

The answer given is that the narrative perspective is on the watchman who did not commit the sin per se. He was the victim. The Torah is emphasizing his problem and consequences by the repetition; it is not emphasizing the sin.

The idea that the Torah would not allow itself to emphasize sin by repetition of those words, as if God is somehow endorsing sin, is reminiscent of a theological dispute about the nature of evil. Is evil an independent force or merely the absence of God’s presence which leads to entropy and suffering?  Can God be associated with anything that is deemed as bad, meaning if a person suffers, even if there is an ultimate good, can God relly be a part of causing pain?

Midrash Rabbah (4:3) grapples with this and an ambiguous verse in Eichah:

דָּבָר אַחֵר, רְאֵה אָנֹכִי אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר מִשֶּׁאָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה בְּסִינַי, בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה (איכה ג, לח): מִפִּי עֶלְיוֹן לֹא תֵצֵא הָרָעוֹת וְהַטּוֹב, אֶלָּא מֵאֵלֶיהָ הָרָעָה בָּאָה עַל עוֹשֵׂי הָרָעָה, וְהַטּוֹבָה בָּאָה עַל עוֹשֵׂי הַטּוֹבָה. 

‘Behold, I have set before you’ – Rabbi Elazar said: Since the Holy One, blessed be He, uttered this statement at Sinai, at that very moment, it is as it’s written in Lamentations 3:38: ‘Do not both evil and good come from the mouth of the Most High?’ It means, only from Him does adversity come upon those who commit wrong, and prosperity comes upon those who perform good deeds. 

How far is Rabbi Elazar going with this? On a simple level we can say he is merely expressing that God gives us free will, therefore our punishments are consequences of our sin and not reflective of a lack of benevolence on His part. However, he could be saying something more deep. God is saying, don’t blame me if you disconnect from me. I cannot protect you if you sin and aren’t able to channel my life giving forces.

There is also a gemara (Avoda Zara 3b-4a) which can be seen as grappling with this idea as well:

אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש אין גיהנם לעתיד לבא אלא הקדוש ברוך הוא מוציא חמה מנרתיקה ומקדיר רשעים נידונין בה וצדיקים מתרפאין בה רשעים נידונין בה דכתיב (מלאכי ג, יט) [כי] הנה היום בא בוער כתנור והיו כל זדים וכל עושה רשעה קש ולהט אותם היום הבא אמר ה’ צבאות אשר לא יעזוב להם שורש וענף לא שורש בעולם הזה ולא ענף לעולם הבא

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: There is no Gehenna in the World-to-Come. Rather, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will remove the sun from its sheath [minnarteikah], where it is situated during these times, and heats [umakdir] that world with it. The wicked will be punished by it and consumed by the heat, but the righteous will be healed by it. The wicked will be punished by it, as it is written: “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that comes shall set them ablaze, said the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 3:19). This verse is interpreted as follows: Neither a root shall remain for them in this world, nor will a branch grow for them in the World-to-Come. This teaches that the sun itself will burn and consume the wicked in the future.

צדיקים מתרפאין בה דכתיב (מלאכי ג, כ) וזרחה לכם יראי שמי שמש צדקה ומרפא בכנפיה וגו’ ולא עוד אלא שמתעדנין בה שנאמר (מלאכי ג, כ) ויצאתם ופשתם כעגלי מרבק

And the righteous will be healed by it, as it is written in the next verse: “But to you that fear My Name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 3:20). And moreover, not only will they be healed by it, but they will even be rejuvenated by it, as it is stated in the continuation of that verse: “And you shall go forth and leap as calves of the stall.”

This Gemara seems to be saying that God only brings his goodness and divine flow, like the sun, and it heals the righteous and burns the wicked.  It is as if to say, God is the same, but the people activate what they will experience in their encounter with the God force.

Similarly, the Gemara (Bava Basra 16a) states:

אָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: הוּא שָׂטָן, הוּא יֵצֶר הָרָע, הוּא מַלְאַךְ הַמָּוֶת. 

Reish Lakish says: Satan, the evil inclination, and the Angel of Death are one, that is, they are three aspects of the same essence. 

The Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim (3:22, see commentary of Shem Tov) understands this as all of these three agents of God are metaphors for the vacuum that God allows which creates free choice, but also the disconnection when there is sin. The introduction of physicality and mortality is, literally, a necessary evil. Punishments are the experience, but the agency is a lack of connection to Hashem which leads to vulnerability to entropic and chaotic forces that hurt us and can kills us.

The Ramban (Introduction to Iyov) uses this phrase of the Gemara to prove the opposite point. He says, the Gemara characterizes the Satan, the Angel of Death, and the Yetzer Hara as Angels and agents of God. These are not merely forces of the universe but real entities whose mission is directed by God to serve as a counterpoint to good, allowing people the choice to sin.

When I was younger and more of a rationalist, my sensibilities were aligned with the Rambam’s thinking on this. But the older you get, and the more you see what goes on in the world, it inclines one to think that there truly is a demonic force acting upon humanity. The confounding degree of evil just makes one think that this is bigger than merely not connecting to God. How can you explain incredible hypocritical behavior of the United Nations in regard to Israel and terrorism? There is a real malignant force, the accuser, the seducer – Satan – who has been given some license to destroy us and our world. We must actively choose to align with God and defeat this enemy.


The Walking Dead

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph uses the following argument to explain the logical equivalence between the borrower’s liability for injury and liability for death. If the Torah teaches that the borrower is liable for the death of the animal, we do not need an additional verse to teach us that he is also liable for injury:

What difference does it make to me if it is entirely killed, and what difference does it make to me if it is partially killed, i.e., injured? Either way, the animal is not in the state in which it was borrowed, so the borrower is liable to compensate the owner.

The concept that partial deaths are a form of death also has metaphysical applications. Pesach Einayim (Rosh Hashanah 16b) uses this to answer an obvious question. The Gemara (ibid) speaks of certain evil individuals who are sealed immediately for death in the heavenly scroll of judgment. Clearly, we see many evil people prospering for years and years. That certainly does not look like being immediately sealed for death. Pesach Einayim says, when a person disconnects vital parts of his soul from God by sinning, he loses life itself. He might be walking and talking and breathing, but he is just an animal. It may be life, but it is not human life.

Similarly, Rav Chaim Volozhin (Nefesh HaChayyim 1:6) tells us that when a person performs a Mitzvah, or sadly, commits a sin, it is immediately felt in his soul. Because the person is distracted and occupied in earthly matters he doesn’t notice the pain and suffering, or bliss, that his soul experiences on an ongoing basis. In other words, Heaven and Hell are not for the afterlife but rather, it is going on right now.


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