Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Just the Flax, Ma’am Sotah 6 Psychology of the Daf Yomi

Sotah 6

Our Gemara on Amud Beis rules that a woman about whom there are strong rumors of infidelity, to the extent that she is the object of a particular kind of gossip, does not drink the Sotah waters:

הִיא וְלֹא שֶׁיִּשְׂאוּ וְיִתְּנוּ בָּהּ מוֹזְרוֹת בַּלְּבָנָה

The baraisa continues: The next word in the verse, “she [hee],” excludes a third case: But not where she, i.e., her infidelity, is discussed by weavers [mozerot] in the moonlight. Women would sit in groups while spinning thread in the moonlight and gossip about the goings-on in the city. If they discuss her having committed adultery, then it is considered public knowledge, and the bitter water would not evaluate her in that case, as evaluation is not needed.

The Yerushalmi has a similar teaching, but there is a disagreement over the exact idiom describing these gossipers:

אֲנָן תַּנִּינָן. מוֹצְרוֹת. אִית תַּנָּיֵי תַנָּי. מוֹזְרוֹת. מָאן דָּמַר. מוֹצְרוֹת. מָֽצְרָן עִמֵּר. וּמָאן דָּמַר. מוֹזְרוֹת. שָֽׁזְרָן כִּיתָּן.

We have stated: carders. Some Tannaїm state: spinners. He who said carders, they card wool. He who said spinners, they spin flax.

Of what significance is it that two different textiles are mentioned in regard to the identity the gossipers? Does it really matter?

Elsewhere, in Psychology of the Daf Nazir 42 we saw wool and linen (flax) are representative of Kayin and Hevel, and each of their theologies, which were both incorrect. We discussed that Sefer Haikkarim (III:15) provides a philosophical backstory to the rivalry of Kayin and Hevel. Both left with the task of making their way in the world, Kayin works the land, while Hevel chooses to herd animals. Naturally, each brings sacrifices from their chosen trade and occupation. Since Kayin brought inferior produce and Hevel superior produce, Hevel’s sacrifice was accepted and Kayin’s offerings were refused.

Perhaps, the Yerushalmi is hinting that this woman, who is the object of gossip might either be a “Kayin” or a “Hevel”. That is to say, the rumors about her might be falsely malicious, or accurate, as Kayin was the aggressor and Hevel was the victim.

But if we delve deeper, the Yerushalmi may be saying even more. Was Kayin’s and Hevel’s choice of trade a mere preference, or something deeper? Rav Albo says that Kayin saw himself as equal to the animals; this is why he could not see himself as herding cattle and chose agriculture instead. Hevel believed that humans are not above animals per se, in that they too may not eat animals, but understood the human’s role as caretaker. This is why he brought sacrifices from the animals as a tribute to God, but he did not partake of it. According to Rav Albo, though Kayin’s philosophy was defective, so was Hevel’s. Hevel died because his philosophy was deceptive and closer to the truth and therefore more dangerous. Hevel did not believe that humans could transcend physicality to become substantially spiritual, and were still, essentially, animals. The only difference between humans and animals is that humans have dominion, which is why they can offer animals as sacrifice but not eat them.  Humans were the top animals, but still animals. God’s message to Kayin was, “You can do more than this” – (Bereishis 4:7) “If you will choose good, then you will be accepted.” Meaning, that humans can transcend beyond being mere animals who happen to walk on two feet.  This is why only the third brother, Sheis, is described as “in his image” (Bereishis 5:3), which is in the image of God, as only Sheis had the correct idea, or I may say, enacted it through his life‘s accomplishments.

The two defective philosophies of Kayin and Hevel can also be seen as the rationalizations for promiscuity. One might think like Kayin and nihilistically decide we are all animals anyhow, so why not just indulge in carnality with no self-control. Or, one might be a Hevel, who has some sense of human superiority but only in the sense that Man is the top dog and Alpha Male who selfishly takes what he wants without regard for those whom he considers inferior. There is no higher calling for self-reflection and renouncement of animal lust in order to achieve Godliness.  The Hevel-man does not believe that such a state is possible for humans, so he too indulges. Of course, both of them are wrong and the restraint and direction of sexual feelings toward commitment in a marriage and family is the path toward godly and transcending animal nature.

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