Psychology of the Daf Yomi Sotah 12-15
Sometimes It Is Best Not To Fight the Yetzer Hara Sotah 12
Our Gemara on Amud Alpeh describes how beautiful Miriam had become, as indicated by various secondary names given to her by scripture. One name was Esnan, which means gift. However, it also is reminiscent of the scriptural use of this word in the context of payment given to a prostitute for sexual services (See Devarim 23:19). In Miriam’s case, the sexual charge is not seen as negative, and to the contrary, she is seen as somehow an inspiration for enhanced romance between husband and wife, and not sin. The Gemara says, any man who saw her would be aroused to the extent that he would bring a gift to his wife, in order to invite her interest in a romantic manner.
Even though it is a subtle distinction, apparently there is a difference between certain types of beauty that arouse sinful lust, and other types of beauty that do inspire productive sexual connection. (See Agra Dekalkah Toldos 11 and Chaye Sarah 49 where he expands on this idea.)
The idea is that a fine line exists between becoming aroused by what one sees and engaging in hedonistic lust, versus becoming aroused about what one sees, and somehow channeling it appropriately. I will first discuss this idea psychologically and then reflect on some Jewish sources. It would seem, that there’s a certain type of beauty and sexuality that is not inviting promiscuity, but somehow is encouraging an appreciation of romantic love between husband and wife. Something about the way in which Miriam projected herself did not cause sinful lust, but created an inspiration for others to turn toward their spouses instead of her.
We find precedent for this idea in another incident, as related from Gemara Kesuvos (65a):
חוּמָא דְּבֵיתְהוּ דְּאַבָּיֵי אֲתַאי לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרָבָא, אֲמַרָה לֵיהּ: פְּסוֹק לִי מְזוֹנֵי! פְּסַק לַהּ. פְּסוֹק לִי חַמְרָא! אֲמַר לֵיהּ: יָדַעְנָא בֵּיהּ בְּנַחְמָנִי דְּלָא הֲוָה שָׁתֵי חַמְרָא. אֲמַרָה לֵיהּ: חַיֵּי דְּמָר דַּהֲוָה מַשְׁקֵי לִי בְּשׁוּפְרָזֵי כִּי הַאי. בַּהֲדֵי דְּקָא מַחְוְיָא לֵיהּ אִיגַּלִּי דְּרָעַאּ, נְפַל נְהוֹרָא בְּבֵי דִינָא.
The Gemara relates: Abaye’s wife, Ḥoma, came before Rava after Abaye died, as Rava was the local judge. She said to him: Apportion sustenance for me, as I am entitled to be sustained by Abaye’s heirs. Rava apportioned sustenance for her. She subsequently said to him: Apportion wine for me as well. Rava said to her: I know that Naḥmani, i.e., Abaye, did not drink wine. Since you were not accustomed to drinking wine during your husband’s lifetime, you are not entitled to it after his death. She said to him: By the Master’s life, this is not correct. In fact, he would give me wine to drink in cups [shufrazei] as large as this. She gestured with her hands to show how large the cups were. While she was showing him the size of the cups, her arm became uncovered, and she was so beautiful that it was as though a light had shined in the courtroom.
קָם רָבָא, עָל לְבֵיתֵיהּ תַּבְעַהּ לְבַת רַב חִסְדָּא.
Rava arose, went home, and requested intimacy from his wife.
Apparently there are moments in time where it is most important to work with one’s desires productively and positively, than simply resisting then as enticements of the Yetzer Hara.
Ohr HaChayyim (Bereishis 26:18) has difficulty with an interlude that implies that Yitschok was intimate with his wife during the daytime, which is usually considered immodest. The verse states:
וַיְהִ֗י כִּ֣י אָֽרְכוּ־ל֥וֹ שָׁם֙ הַיָּמִ֔ים וַיַּשְׁקֵ֗ף אֲבִימֶ֙לֶךְ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים בְּעַ֖ד הַֽחַלּ֑וֹן וַיַּ֗רְא וְהִנֵּ֤ה יִצְחָק֙ מְצַחֵ֔ק אֵ֖ת רִבְקָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ׃
When some time had passed, Abimelech king of the Philistines, looking out of the window, saw Isaac delighting with his wife Rivkah.
Ohr HaChayyim comments:
מצחק את רבקה. פי’ מעשה חיבה הנעשית בין איש לאשתו ולדברי האומר (ב”ר פס”ד) מצחק משמש מטתו אולי שהיה באחד מהדרכים שמותר אפי’ ביום כמו שתאמר לרפואה וכמו שכתב רמב”ם (הלכות דעות פ’ ד’) או כמעשה שהובא בש”ם (כתובות סה) דביתהו דאביי דגלית וכו’ ואזל רבא וכו’ כי הצדיקים יחושו לדומה דדומה דכיעור לבל יכשלו בו:
He indulged in the kind of affectionate behavior customary between man and his wife. If we are to accept the interpretation of Bereishis Rabbah 64:5 that this affection was actual sexuality, we must assume that this took place under circumstances when marital intercourse is permitted even during the day, such as for therapeutic purposes (compare Maimonides Hilchos Deos ch. 4, or the example quoted in Kesuvos 65a about the widow of Abbaye who inadvertently caused Rava to become aroused so that he had to go home in the middle of the day in order to have marital relations with his wife). The righteous endeavor not even to commit the semblance of an unbecoming act.
Ben Yehoyada explains Rava’s behavior in more lofty and less earthy terms, but we do see from Ohr HaChayyim this important idea: You cannot always fight the Yetzer Hara Directly. Perhaps this is the meaning of the adage from the Gemara Sotah 47a):
תַּנְיָא רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר יֵצֶר תִּינוֹק וְאִשָּׁה תְּהֵא שְׂמֹאל דּוֹחָה וְיָמִין מְקָרֶבֶת
It is taught in a baraisa that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: With regard to the evil inclination, to a child, and to a woman, the left hand should reject and the right hand should welcome.
I believe that these three archetypes, feminine instincts, a child’s unmoderated desires, and the pull of the Evil Inclination represent emotional forces that allow for success and harmony when they are not resisted via frontal attack. Instead, they need to be respected and worked with in a collaborative and calm manner.
Sotah 13 A Mitzvah: Make No Bones About It
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us about Moshe’s retrieving the bones of Yosef while the Jews were caught up in grabbing the spoils from the drowned Egyptians:
תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: בֹּא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה חֲבִיבוֹת מִצְוֹת עַל מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ, שֶׁכׇּל יִשְׂרָאֵל כּוּלָּן נִתְעַסְּקוּ בַּבִּיזָּה, וְהוּא נִתְעַסֵּק בְּמִצְוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״חֲכַם לֵב יִקַּח מִצְוֹת וְגוֹ׳״.
The Sages taught in the Tosefta (4:6–7): Come and see how beloved mitzvos are to Moses our teacher. As, at the time of the Exodus, all the Jewish people were involved in taking the plunder from Egypt, and he was involved in the performance of mitzvos, as it is stated: “The wise in heart will take mitzvos” (Proverbs 10:8).
There are some difficulties with the Gemara’s moral calculus. Number one, is this really so impressive? Is this the singular praise for a man who can go 40 days and 40 nights without food and water? Does it really matter whether he gets some extra gold and silver? Secondly, the Jews were, in fact, commanded by God, to take the spoils. As the verse states, (Shemos 11:2):
דַּבֶּר־נָ֖א בְּאׇזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וְיִשְׁאֲל֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ ׀ מֵאֵ֣ת רֵעֵ֗הוּ וְאִשָּׁה֙ מֵאֵ֣ת רְעוּתָ֔הּ כְּלֵי־כֶ֖סֶף וּכְלֵ֥י זָהָֽב׃
Tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold
Rav Yaakov Yosef M’Polnoye (Ben Poras Yosef Bereishis 135) explains that there are different aspects to a mitzvah. There is the superficial physical world action and fulfillment, and then there is the uppermost idea within it that is only fully apprehended in the spiritual world. He says, this is why when we recite a blessing we say: אשר קידשנו במצותיו that he commanded us in his mitzvos. The plural is not in reference to all the other mitzvos, rather it is in reference to the inner dimensions of that particular, Mitzvah. That is, within every Mitzvah there is a multiplicity of purpose and meaning.
This is also what the verse in Mishle and our Gemara is referring to in regard to moshe capitalizing on the Mitzvah of burying Joseph. It says, “The wise in heart will take mitzvos” in plural, not singular. Because it is referring to the multiple levels and fulfillment within the mitzvah itself.
Returning to our discussion about Moshe, the Gemara is saying that Moshe was able to discern the deeper value in the mitzvos he was doing. It wasn’t specifically referring to choosing to bury Joseph over choosing the spoils. It is all a metaphor. The bones represent the essence of the mitzvah, unlike the flesh which is more transient. The gold and silver that the Jews were taking represent, as we say, shiny objects. Therefore, what the Gemara really was saying about Moshe versus the common people was that he was able to grab the inner essence and deeper meaning of each mitzvah as he performed it. Of course, this is available for all of us every day, if we attempt to reach these heights as best as we can.
Sotah 14 Do Not Follow Every Middah of Hashem
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph enumerates the ways in which Hashem shows kindness, and how we should emulate this in our conduct:
הַלֵּךְ אַחַר מִדּוֹתָיו שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מָה הוּא מַלְבִּישׁ עֲרוּמִּים דִּכְתִיב וַיַּעַשׂ ה׳ אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ כׇּתְנוֹת עוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם אַף אַתָּה הַלְבֵּשׁ עֲרוּמִּים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בִּיקֵּר חוֹלִים דִּכְתִיב וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה׳ בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא אַף אַתָּה בַּקֵּר חוֹלִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא נִיחֵם אֲבֵלִים דִּכְתִיב וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי מוֹת אַבְרָהָם וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ אַף אַתָּה נַחֵם אֲבֵלִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא קָבַר מֵתִים דִּכְתִיב וַיִּקְבֹּר אוֹתוֹ בַּגַּי אַף אַתָּה קְבוֹר מֵתִים
One should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. He provides several examples. Just as He clothes the naked, as it is written: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21), so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the sick, as it is written with regard to God’s appearing to Abraham following his circumcision: “And the Lord appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre” (Genesis 18:1), so too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, consoles mourners, as it is written: “And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son” (Genesis 25:11), so too, should you console mourners. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, buried the dead, as it is written: “And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab” (Deuteronomy 34:6), so too, should you bury the dead.
But what about the other attributes of God? We know God can also mete out punishment and be vengeful. As it states (Shemos 34:6-7):
ה׳, הי א-ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת׃
נֹצֵ֥ר חֶ֙סֶד֙ לָאֲלָפִ֔ים נֹשֵׂ֥א עָוֺ֛ן וָפֶ֖שַׁע וְחַטָּאָ֑ה וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה פֹּקֵ֣ד ׀ עֲוֺ֣ן אָב֗וֹת עַל־בָּנִים֙ וְעַל־בְּנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים
Hashem, Hashem Almighty, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in kindness and truth. He preserves kindness for thousands [of generations], bearing [forgiving] iniquity, transgression and sin. He clears [acquits the penitent] and he does not clear [acquit the impenitent], visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and children’s children, [even] upon the third and fourth [generation].”
We understand the divine name composed of Aleph-Lamed translated by some as Almighty, implies the strength of Middas Hadin. And of course, some of the other listed attributes toward the end if the list do not provide forgiveness under certain circumstances.
Ben Yehoyada quoting Pesach Einayim cleverly notes that our Gemara instructs us to follow “after” Hashem’s attributes. Similarly the verse in Devarim (13:5) says to follow “after” Hashem. אחרי השם אלקיכם תלכו. Ben Yehoyada says this instructs us to follow the ways of Hashem after the first Middos listed, that is the merciful Middos and not to judgemental ones.
All of us have difficulty relating to the perceived sins of others, be it our family members, children, or friends, without summoning up a sense of righteousness and judgment. It is not our fault. First of all, it is how we were parented, and necessarily so. There are points of development in a child’s life where he needs to be told unequivocally what is right and what is wrong. As he or she gets older, they should be encouraged to develop their own moral judgment and discernment, and we should focus on collaboration and dialogue mixed with appropriate discipline, but that is only after some internalization of right and wrong occurs. Secondly, if you look at the Torah as a model, we certainly see God employing, punishment, retribution, judgment, and vengefulness.
However, we should stop and think for a moment, we are not God. If God engages in such a manner, it is due to a perfect understanding of what people need at the time that they need it. We humans, who are subject to our own fears, anxieties and defenses, cannot be trusted to routinely mete out judgment and punishment, except under limited circumstances.
Sotah 15 Our Inner Exile
Our Gemara on Amud Beis notes that the Sotah’s sacrifice is made of barley, which is considered animal food. The Gemara exhorts: She conducted herself in a beastly manner, therefore her sacrifice is that of a beastly food.
It is important for us to reflect when reading such statements that they are not only for the Sotah, but are for all of us. Let us recall what we have learned on the first page of this Masechta: “Whoever sees the Sotah in her state of disgrace, will take upon himself a vow of Nazirhood to abstain from wine (as a preventive measure against sinful and hedonistic behavior).“ The person who saw the downfall of the Sotah, did not smugly reassure himself that he is better than her. The other way around, he was directed towards self inquiry.
Maharal (Ohr Chadash 6:11) remarks that similarly, the first sacrifice brought after Pesach, after the redemption from Egypt, is the Omer, which also consists of barley. Only after the seven weeks of counting and preparation for Torah, do we then bring a different kind of sacrifice made out of wheat. At first, we are still on the level of animals and must work our way up to a different level.
Likkutei Halachos (3:26) asserts that, in fact, the meaning behind all the sacrifices, are to remind us that we have behaved in an animal-like fashion. The animal meets its untimely death as our surrogate, but not just a surrogate for punishment, but a representation of how we actually behaved. Our sins caused us to be as animals. He also sees a hint in the teachings of the fifth chapter of Mishna Zevachim which states, אזנו מקומן של זבחים literally, what is the proper place to slaughter the sacrifices? However, his chassidish reading is, “Realize the place of these sacrifices. Realize what they represent, where they are going, and what they belong to. Understand your beastly nature.”
There is an extensive Rav Nachman story known as the Story Of The Son Of The King That Became Switched With And The Son Of The Servant, (you can access a version here: https://www.azamra.org/Essential/exchanged.htm ) which I encourage the reader to look up. For our purposes, the extremely abridged version of the story is: There were these two children, maliciously switched during infancy, so that the king actually was raising the child of the servant, and the servant was raising the child of the king. Throughout their childhood, the true royal prince gravitated toward higher and higher behaviors and studies, but at the same time was treated with contempt, while the son of the servant, whose nature gravitated to more base and frivolous matters, was given honor due to his false royal status. Overtime as each one developed in the courses of their lives they each went through various despair. One for being a fraud that he was, and the other for suffering and being deprived of his royal status. Over a long period each one goes through tribulations and travels which serve as a form of repentance and tikkun. The climax of the story is when the imposter son of the king cedes his throne to the true son of the king.
I can’t claim to fully understand or explain this parable in this column, however, the gist of it is that our spiritual, true selves are in exile and deprived of the throne. At times, our soul suffers great despair, and is persecuted and other times we enter into deep depression, but at the end, our soul finds its way through, and she gets the recognition that it deserves over the non-royal physicality of the body.
Rav Nachman explains that the two lambs that are brought daily for the Tamid Sacrifice also remind us of this dichotomy. There is a royal true part of ourselves that often lives in the form of exile not being recognized for what it is, and then there is the bestial part of our self that often is ascendant in an undeserved manner.
If we can learn from the Sotah, and from the other sacrifices that point out our tendency toward behaving as a beast, we could find our noble princely selves, and fulfill our birthright, like the long lost king returning from exile.