Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Parental Conflict and Risk Reward Ration Bava Kamma 25-26


Is it Ever OK If Parents Argue?

Our Gemara has on Amud Aleph discusses the source for the principle of Dayo Laba Min Hadin Liyhos Kanidon. Dayo is a limiting principle on the derivation of a Kal Vachomer. A kal v’chomer is the first of the thirteen hermeneutical principles that tradition says we use to understand and derive Torah laws. A kal v’chomer works by making an assumption that if this rule applies to one one situation, surely in a more stringent situation it must also apply. For example, the Torah says one may not eat maaser as an Onan. Maaser has less holiness requirements than Teruma. So if an Onan cannot eat maaser surely, kal v’chomer, he cannot eat Terumah.

The principle of Dayo says that even though we are deriving an application to a more stringent case, it is enough to limit it to the rules of the less stringent case and not go beyond. The classic case is from our Mishna and Gemara in on this daf. There is a rule that a goring ox pays half damages for actions in a public space. But if someone’s animal did damage by eating in a public space, there is no liability, (presumably people should know to be careful in public areas and guard their possessions from an animal who might try to make mischief, unlike an ox who might suddenly gore out of the blue.) There also is a rule that on private property, if someone’s animal ate the field owner’s produce, the owner of the animal must make full payment. You might argue, if goring is liable for half damage in a public area, where eating is not even liable for any damages, surely on private property where eating is liable for full damages, goring should be liable for full damages. Yet, because of the principle of Dayo, we will limit the liability for goring, even in a private area, because it can’t be more than its original source. Since the original source was goring in a public area which is only liable for half damage, so too on private property it will be only liable for half damage.

The most famous case of Dayo comes from the Chumash. When Miriam is given her punishment of Tzoraas for speaking ill of Moshe and his relationship with Tzipporah, God offers the following rationale for her seven day exile from the camp (Numbers 12:14):

If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted.

Disrespect to God is obviously more severe than to a parent. So really Miriam should have suffered a longer exile of fourteen days. But our Gemara tells us that due to the principle of Dayo, Miriam still was only punished for seven days.

The commentaries wonder why the Gemara chose fourteen days, something that is precisely double. If anything, respect for God is so much more important that it should be 100 times or 1000 times. Tosafos here explains that since the Talmud (Niddah 31a) tells us that the formation of the child comes from five specific qualities from the father, and five specific qualities from the mother, and God provides 10 qualities. (That Gemara enumerates various qualities, but in short, they include physical, intellectual and spiritual.) We see that God provides double the qualities as compared to the mother and father individually. This explains why our Gemara doubles the amount in relation to God’s honor over a parent.

Sefer Daf al Daf quotes the Peninim Yekarim (Kedoshim) to explain a verse and a Midrash Halakha (VaYikra 19:3)

You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I am Hashem your God

The Gemara (Yevamos 5b) notes the juxtaposition of Shabbos, honoring parents, and honoring God:

As it is taught in a baraisa: One might have thought that honoring one’s father and mother overrides shabbos; therefore, the verse states: “You shall fear every man his mother and his father and you shall keep My Shabbatot, I am the Lord your God” (Vayikra 19:3). The baraisa explains the derivation from the verse: All of you, both parent and child, are obligated in My honor, and therefore honoring one’s parents does not override the honor of God, Who commanded the Jewish people to observe Shabbos.

Peninim Yekarim asks, based our Gemara, why should one think that honoring a parent should take precedence over honoring God (by keeping Shabbos)? Of course God‘s honor should take precedence. Therefore, why did we even need a special verse to teach us? Based on the Tosafos we learned above, Peninim Yekarim answers that the obligation to honor for God is precisely double that of honoring a parent. This is why the verse says father and mother together, because perhaps, if both parents simultaneously request something that involves violating the Shabbos it can match or override the obligation to honor God. The verse then concludes with, “I am Hashem, your God“ in order to set the record straight and reinforce the obligation of sabbath observance over, honoring even both parents simultaneously.

We see from this discussion that if both parents request something, it is twice as imperative. This brings to mind the psychological dynamics of parental agreement versus discord. From a common sense point of view, most people would say that it is pedagogically and developmentally ideal for parents to agree in front of their children. Yet, it may not be as simple as that. After all, different opinions are a basic human experience. Parents teach and socialize their children about the world and how to manage their inner selves, therefore seeing models for disagreement may be as valuable as parents who agree all the time. What does the research say?

Edward Cummings conducted extensive research on marital discord, and its impact upon children and discovered a number of influential factors (Zemp, Martina & Bodenmann, Guy & Cummings, Edward. (2016). The significance of interparental conflict for children. European Psychologist. 21. Link )

Interparental conflict may be more significant to child well-being than the actual breakup of the marriage. 

My thoughts on this are that it does not negate the idea of “staying together for the children”. Rather, it brings into focus that IF one decides to stay in an unhappy marriage for their children, they must be in a state where it can be done without conflict. This does not just include over conflict but even an environment of hostility and withdrawal, as Cummings states,  “Children are highly sensitive to interparental conflict, even to nonverbal signs of anger.  

Additionally, it is not arguing that is toxic, but rather how parents argue and how it is resolved. Cummings reports a number of key factors:

  • Children’s distress reactions are significantly diminished when conflicts are resolved. Furthermore, children benefit from any progress toward resolution. Distress is also reduced when conflicts are not fully resolved, proportional to the degree of resolution.
  • Children even benefit from hearing that conflicts have been resolved and yet from resolution ‘‘behind closed doors’’.
  • Calm discussion, support, and affection were linked with increased positive emotionality in children in contrast to threat, personal insult, verbal and nonverbal hostility, defensiveness, withdrawal, and physical distress. Constructive conflict communication fostered children’s emotional security, which enhanced their prosocial behavior longitudinally.

How is constructive conflict defined? Researcher Joelle Barthassat ( 2014. Positive and Negative Effects of Parental Conflicts on Children’s Condition and Behavior.  Journal of European Psychology Students,  5(1), p.10-18.DOI: ) explains:

  • Different conflict behaviors can be distinguished on the basis of emotional security: if a conflict behavior leads to more negative than positive emotional reactions, it is classified as destructive, as it weakens emotional security. Contrastingly, a conflict behavior is classified as constructive if it provokes more positive than negative emotional responses, which leads to increased emotional security. 
  • Destructive conflict styles include behaviors such as verbal or corporal aggression towards the partner or objects; hostility, violence and behavior patterns which threaten security. 
  • Constructive conflict styles result in some resolution, at least a sense of progress toward a resolution. Children who observe constructive conflict learn self-regulation, self awareness, flexibility, empathy and social confidence.

While we can see from the halakhic discussions and plain logic that when both parents agree on something there is a stronger moral imperative, when parents disagree in a constructive manner it offers opportunity and modeling for children in how to negotiate their own feelings versus others in the social environment. 


The Universal Principle Of Risk Reward Ratio

Our Gemara and Mishna on Amud Aleph discuss the idea of Adam Muad Le-Olam: “The legal status of a person is always that of one forewarned. Therefore, whether the damage was unintentional or intentional, whether he was awake while he caused the damage or asleep, whether he blinded another’s eye or broke vessels, he must pay the full cost of the damage.”

There is a three-way dispute amongst the Rishonim as to the extent of this liability. According to Tosafos (ibid 27b “U-Shmuel”) a person is liable for damage that results from lacking some degree of watchfulness, but not necessarily excessive caution. Tosafos compares this to the liability of a voluntary watchman, who is liable for accidental loss, but not for theft. The theory being that, although he could have been even more careful, the theft came about from the active plotting of a nefarious party in contradistinction to a situation where the object gets lost, while unintentional, it still has some negligence mixed in with it. On the other end of the spectrum we have Ramban’s opinion (Bava Metzia 82b) that a person is liable for all damages that result from his behavior, even if it was completely out of his control, and there was zero negligence. Finally, we have the middle opinion of the Nimukei Yosef in our Gemara, who holds that a person is not liable for damages that were utterly out of the person’s control, but if somehow, it could have been prevented, he is still liable, even if there was no negligence.

Regardless, we see a powerful, moral imperative that holds a person liable to a high standard. The Shalah (Shenei Luchos HaBeris, Torah Shebiksav, Balak, Derekh Chayim) explains that a person is responsible to use his intellect to “connect the dots”, so as not to miss clues and warning signs. This is why Bilaam characterized himself as a sinner for not noticing the angel, even though he did not see him. Because he should have paid attention to the signs of distress that his donkey was showing. Furthermore, Shalah (Asara Maamaros, FourthMaamar) explains that we therefore see the degree of intellectual development incurs a proportionate greater liability for one’s actions. Just as a human is more liable than an animal, so too the more intellectually and spiritually developed, the more that person is liable. This is why we have the well principle that God is more exacting with the righteous (Yevamos 121b).

One might wonder, why is it all worth it? Why work to attain a higher intellectual or spiritual level if it occurs greater liability. The answer is that there is a universal principle of risk/reward ratio. It is fascinating to note that when one sees a pattern repeat itself throughout the material and spiritual world, it is probably indicative of a deep, Godly truth. No matter whether you are investing in stocks, or making an effort to preserve and promote your health, or if you are trying to develop intimacy and love, or if you’re trying to become more religious, the more you risk, the more you stand to gain. The less you risk, the safer you might be, but there will be less opportunity for gain. I am unaware of any exception to this rule in any part of life.

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