Human Potential Sotah 46 Psychology of the Daf Yomi
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph laments the loss of potential in the wake of a seemingly random, senseless murder.
אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן בֶּן שָׁאוּל מִפְּנֵי מָה אָמְרָה תּוֹרָה הָבֵיא עֶגְלָה בְּנַחַל אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יָבֹא דָּבָר שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה פֵּירוֹת וְיֵעָרֵף בִּמְקוֹם שֶׁאֵין עוֹשֶׂה פֵּירוֹת וִיכַפֵּר עַל מִי שֶׁלֹּא הִנִּיחוּ[הוּ] לַעֲשׂוֹת פֵּירוֹת מַאי פֵּירוֹת אִילֵימָא פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה אֶלָּא מֵעַתָּה אַזָּקֵן וְאַסָּרִיס הָכִי נָמֵי דְּלָא עָרְפִינַן אֶלָּא מִצְוֹת
Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Shaul says: For what reason did the Torah say to bring a heifer whose neck is broken to a stream? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Let something that did not produce fruit, i.e., a heifer that has not given birth, come and have its neck be broken at a stream that flows forcefully, which is a place that does not produce fruit, and atone for the murder of one who was not given an opportunity to produce fruit. The Gemara asks: What is this fruit that he was not given an opportunity to produce? If we say it refers to being fruitful and multiplying, i.e., that the killer prevented him from having more children, but if that is so, in the case of an elderly person or a eunuch, so too will you say that we do not break the heifer’s neck because they could not have had any more children even had they lived? Rather, the fruit are mitzvot, as the killer deprived the victim of the opportunity to perform additional mitzvot.
Based on these statements, the Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 3) discusses the potential of a human being. He says:
It is not for nothing that productivity is called the fruit of their labor. Man is unique from animal in that it is upon him to complete himself. The animal is fully formed as is, (even developmentally animals are born with instinctive knowledge, and have a very quick arc toward maturity). The human must work to bring out his or her divine form. It is telling that man alone is named after the earth. As the verse states (Bereishis 2:7 and 3:19) that Adam is made from Adama. The very root of the Hebrew word for a human being comes from the same word as earth. One might ask, says the Maharal, are not all the creatures formed out of similar physical matter? The answer is, man is most like earth because just as earth has tremendous potential, but must bring forth its fruit, so too humans must work on themselves to complete becoming in the image of God by bringing out the nascent abilities encoded within his body and soul.