Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Pounds of Prevention for an Ounce of Cure Nazir 11 & Emotional Holding Nazir 12

Nazir 11

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a scenario where a person was drinking, or even drunk and declared,”I am a Nazirite from this wine.” The rabbis ruled that the person only intended to swear off this wine, but not to actually be a Nazir. Tosafos explains that sometimes when a person is drunk, others tease and goad the person to drink more. Therefore, in reaction, the person swore off the wine. His intention was not really to become a Nazir, just to get them off his case. Rashash suggests that the case is actually in regard to a person who was not drunk at all, but rather an alcoholic who needed to swear off wine in front of peers because of his vulnerability and predilection to drink.

Apparently, the idea that others pressure people to drink is not very new,. It has long been recognized that peer pressure and social sanction contribute greatly to drinking behavior. When trying to educate teens about the dangers of drinking, not every kind of intervention is effective. For example, a typical advertisement pre-purim might show a car, smashed and twisted around a tree. This is an obvious illustrated warning about the dangers of drinking. However, threat appeal ads have not been found to be effective according to research (see “THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SOCIAL ADS TARGETING DRUNK DRIVING”,

Dainora Šakinytė, Rasa Markšaitytė, Laura Šeibokaitė, Auksė Endriulaitienė, & Justina Slavinskienė

Vytautas Magnus University, Jonavos 66-328, Kaunas (Lithuania). )

Why are such ads not effective? One might hypothesize that Adolescents, typically without full wiring in the frontal lobes, are not adept in considering long term consequences. They gravitate toward the immediate reward of excitement and risk.  The primitive brain, seeing a dangerous situation with a car precariously wrapped around a tree, might think, “Cool. That looks like fun and excitement. Let me show how macho I can be by drinking and driving!”

According to other research, there are some strategies of education that are more effective:

In particular, maternal communication resulted in less alcohol use; conversely, maternal permissive norms and peer norms were associated with more alcohol use. Greater parental disapproval toward alcohol use is associated with lower involvement in peer networks that use alcohol, less peer influence to use, and greater self-efficacy and stronger negotiation skills to avoid alcohol (Nash et al. 2005). Interventions aimed at establishing and fostering conservative peer norms were found to be more effective than individual resistance training (Hansen and Graham 1991), whereas multilevel interventions incorporating peers, families, and communities are known to be effective among adolescents (Chapman et al. 2013; Perry et al. 2002; Toumbourou et al. 2013). (Source: “Influences in a Social–Ecological Framework”, May Sudhinaraset, Ph.D., Christina Wiggleswort M.S.W., L.C.S.W., and David T. Takeuchi, Ph.D. Alcohol Res. 2016; 38(1): 35–45.)

Along related lines, two other effective interventions involve Cognitive Dissonance and Social Inoculation. According to Johnson et. al. (“Theories and Models Supporting Prevention Approaches to Alcohol Problems Among Youth.” ELAINE M. JOHNSON, PhD SHARON AMATETTI, MPH JUDITH E. FUNKHOUSER SANDIE JOHNSON, MA, November-December1968,Vol.103,No.6 579.)

Festinger’s concept of cognitive dissonance, which describes a tendency of humans to harmonize expectations about people and experiences with them. …Cognitive dissonance theory holds that people want their personal attitudes and beliefs to be compatible with their own behavior….As a prevention technique, McGuire proposed that certain “pretreatments” would establish or strengthen beliefs and attitudes with which a person’s behavior would have to harmonize to avoid cognitive dissonance…When applied to the use of alcohol and other drugs, cognitive inoculation aligns a person’s beliefs and behavior with regard to these substances. For instance, if a teenager believes that drinking will diminish athletic ability, and places high value on athletic ability, resolution of dissonance would require that the teenager either abstain from drinking or place a lower value on athletic ability.

Applying this to a frum scenario, a trusted Rosh Yeshiva or Mashgiach could have an impact on Purim drinking if he is convincing in the belief that it is not a mitzvah to get sick drunk, and in fact, contrary to Torah values.

Programs based on social inoculation theory teach students to resist social pressures…. Students first are taught about the pressures that they can expect from peers to use alcohol and other drugs and then they are taught various ways to get out of uncomfortable peer pressure situations.

The idea behind this is that when reason and judgment are applied proactively to anticipate emotional dilemmas and pressures, the part of the brain that uses long term planning gets a head start before it gets hijacked by the intense feelings of the moment.

When it comes to strong urges and peer pressure, it takes pounds of prevention to provide an ounce of cure.

Nazir 12

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses a scenario where a man tries to forestall and annul vows that his wife might make while he is away. In one iteration, the Gemara has a textual problem in the teaching that involves appointing an agent to make the annulment. The Gemara wonders, why appoint an agent? Why not merely declare in advance that all vows are annulled? The Gemara answers that he is afraid that he will become distracted on the day of his departure and forget to state the annulment.

Tosafos asks, so why not annul the vows several days in advance, before he becomes too engrossed in preparing and planning for his trip? Tosafos’ answer is, if that is done in advance, it will lead to quarrels. Leket Kotzrim explains that the person’s wife is likely to feel that her words are being dismissed (and not taken seriously.) Clearly, making oaths is a passive aggressive maneuver of a frustrated person. Despite it not being a recommended form of communication, it is counterproductive to dismiss it.

Emotional validation, as it is called, is a significant contributor to regulation of emotions. Validation does not mean agreeing with the person, nor does it mean humoring them. It involves being open to considering that the feelings are understandable. It is usually achieved by suspending judgments and critical analysis and instead simply imaging and empathizing what makes the other person feel or behave in a certain manner. It is about seeing the situation from their perspective, not about being right or wrong. Often faulty logic and behavior is quite logical, if certain assumptions or subjective circumstances exist. As an extreme example, if you believe your neighbor is a CIA agent, you might feel uneasy and interpret many otherwise innocuous behaviors as signs that you are being surveilled. Paranoid or not, once that belief is in place, everything else follows logically, so to speak. If you doubt that a person loves you or is loyal, you might understandably react with more panic and suspicion to otherwise benign activities or misunderstandings.

People get stuck on the idea of validation, arguing it doesn’t make sense or it’s unnecessary. This is foolish. It is like arguing that hugging and holding a crying child is illogical. It is not logical nor illogical, it just is how humans operate. It is like declaring that sleep is illogical so I won’t bother. Good luck trying that! So too, validation is like a hug for emotions. It somehow or another offers a kind of holding sensation that helps a person regulate feelings and calm down. It is important to work with what it means to be human. Instead of fighting against it, whether it can be understood logically, or not.

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