Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Sotah 8 Self-Punishment, Sotah 9 Love-Hate, Sotah 10 Humiliation and Sotah 11

Sotah 8

Our Mishna on Amud Beis notes how providentially we find that the punishment fits the crime, as well as the Gemara later discussing that the reward also is commensurate, and even more, as we’ll discuss tomorrow on Daf 11. It is understood that the punishment and reward take on the same property or method as the original deed in order to show God’s providence, and it is not merely a coincidence.

Is it true psychologically as well, is there some mechanism where people arrange for their own success or failure based on what they feel they deserve?  Donald Carveth wrote an excellent paper on the psychoanalytic understanding of guilt and shame according to Freud, and makes important distinctions between pathological guilt and constructive pangs of conscience, based on continued development and refinement of the Freud’s original understanding of the mysterious ways that the mind and heart operate. (“The Unconscious Need for Punishment: Expression or Evasion of the Sense of Guilt?”, Psychoanalytic Studies 3, 1 (March 2001): 9-21.):

“In Civilization and Its Discontents and other writings, Freud equates the unconscious need for punishment expressed in various patterns of self-torment and self-sabotage with the unconscious sense of guilt…This results in diverse forms of self-punishment, the “moral masochism” Freud (1916, Some character-types met with in psycho-analytic work. S.E., 14: 311-333.) described in “the criminal from a sense of guilt,” “those wrecked by success,” and other self-sabotaging and self-tormenting character-types.”

In other words, there are those who feel guilty out of legitimate issues of conscience, and this whose guilt instinct has run awry, misfiring and causing them to feel guilty over legitimate forms of success and happiness.  As with all of our body’s instincts, they function well in a general broad sense, but sometimes in a specific situation may become out of balance, such as a high fever which is trying to kill the virus but is cooking the person’s internal organs.  (Human instincts MUST operate in a general broad manner to conserve energy and function autonomously.  The more specific an instinct is, the less instinctive it is and the more energy and brain power it requires. Thus, by definition, any instinct has to be broad and automatic, which also means at times it won’t function well for a particular situation.”)

People have given psychoanalytic theory a bad name because they believe that the goal of therapy is to soothe patients and stop them from feeling legitimate guilt, which is of course against the values of religion, but also against common sense. On the contrary, Freud understood well that civilization itself depends on humans feeling appropriate guilt and empathy. Otherwise, to paraphrase Avos (3:2), “Every man would swallow his neighbor alive.”  At the conclusion of Freud’s brilliant Civilization and Its Discontents, he expresses the tradeoff between gratification of desires versus moderating them in order to maintain civilization.  If all people would did away with their guilt, even if possible because this is a necessary human instinct, then a person’s “…prospects of enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender.  Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security.  We must not forget, however, that in the primal family only the head of it enjoyed this instinctual freedom; the rest lived in slavish suppression.” In other words, even in the world where there are no laws, and it is dog eat dog, only the person on top really benefits.

People who feel guilty may consciously or unconsciously arrange for their suffering in order to contend with the deep instinct of conscience and guilt. However, the key consideration is where is it coming from?  Is it just more self-absorption of an already wounded and hurt person who has now internalized the hateful messages of his childhood, or can this person face himself and contend honestly with who he is, the good and the evil?

Carveth observes:  “To view the unconscious superego activity resulting in self-punishment as guilt is to blur the crucial difference between the subject’s self-torment and what Winnicott (1963, “Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment.”, London: Hogarth Press, 1965, pp. 73-82.) called “the capacity for concern” for the object. Unconscious self-punitive activity is narcissistic. Authentic guilt moves beyond narcissism toward object love.”

If he or she can see this truth and even face it in the confidence of loved ones, the result of such honesty and courage leads to more confidence, not less confidence, because now the personality is whole and not frightened of reality, and no longer relying on “הַקָּנֶ֨ה הָרָצ֤וּץ the splintered reed” (Yeshayahu 36:6) of fake self-esteem versus simple and humble reality, living in God’s love and forgiveness but also the consequences of one’s choice.

Sotah 9 Is It Love, Or Is It Hate?

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the evil plans that the Serpent had for Adam and Chava, namely to eliminate Adam as his rival. His plan was to incite Chava to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, which would lead her to giving Adam to eat as well. Adam would die as result, so he can have Chava all to himself.  The Maharsha raises the obvious question:  If Chava ate from the forbidden tree, would this not also result in her death? In that case, how would the serpent’s plan actually succeed?  The Maharsha answers, as far as the serpent was concerned, he believed that since Chava was only created after the command was given to Adam, she was not subject to its requirements, or at the very least its penalties.

While this is a clever answer, I believe by being honest about the irrational nature of passions, and studying the lessons of an interesting story in Tanach, another explanation is possible. Shlomo Hamelech is confronted with the dilemma of two women, each one, claiming that the live baby is theirs, and the dead baby is the others. He proposes a test of sincerity: (Kings II:3)

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ זֹ֣את אֹמֶ֔רֶת זֶה־בְּנִ֥י הַחַ֖י וּבְנֵ֣ךְ הַמֵּ֑ת וְזֹ֤את אֹמֶ֙רֶת֙ לֹ֣א כִ֔י בְּנֵ֥ךְ הַמֵּ֖ת וּבְנִ֥י הֶחָֽי׃

The king said, “One says, ‘This is my son, the live one, and the dead one is yours’; and the other says, ‘No, the dead boy is yours, mine is the live one.’

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ קְח֣וּ לִי־חָ֑רֶב וַיָּבִ֥אוּ הַחֶ֖רֶב לִפְנֵ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃

So the king gave the order, “Fetch me a sword.” A sword was brought before the king,

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ גִּזְר֛וּ אֶת־הַיֶּ֥לֶד הַחַ֖י לִשְׁנָ֑יִם וּתְנ֤וּ אֶֽת־הַחֲצִי֙ לְאַחַ֔ת וְאֶֽת־הַחֲצִ֖י לְאֶחָֽת׃

and the king said, “Cut the live child in two, and give half to one and half to the other.”

וַתֹּ֣אמֶר הָאִשָּׁה֩ אֲשֶׁר־בְּנָ֨הּ הַחַ֜י אֶל־הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ כִּֽי־נִכְמְר֣וּ רַֽחֲמֶ֘יהָ֮ עַל־בְּנָהּ֒ וַתֹּ֣אמֶר ׀ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִ֗י תְּנוּ־לָהּ֙ אֶת־הַיָּל֣וּד הַחַ֔י וְהָמֵ֖ת אַל־תְּמִיתֻ֑הוּ וְזֹ֣את אֹמֶ֗רֶת גַּם־לִ֥י גַם־לָ֛ךְ לֹ֥א יִהְיֶ֖ה גְּזֹֽרוּ׃

But the woman whose son was the live one pleaded with the king, for she was overcome with compassion for her son. “Please, my lord,” she cried, “give her the live child; only don’t kill it!” The other insisted, “It shall be neither yours nor mine; cut it in two!”

וַיַּ֨עַן הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר תְּנוּ־לָהּ֙ אֶת־הַיָּל֣וּד הַחַ֔י וְהָמֵ֖ת לֹ֣א תְמִיתֻ֑הוּ הִ֖יא אִמּֽוֹ׃

Then the king spoke up. “Give the live child to her,” he said, “and do not put it to death; she is its mother.”

וַיִּשְׁמְע֣וּ כׇל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּט֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שָׁפַ֣ט הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ וַיִּֽרְא֖וּ מִפְּנֵ֣י הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ כִּ֣י רָא֔וּ כִּֽי־חׇכְמַ֧ת אֱלֹהִ֛ים בְּקִרְבּ֖וֹ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת מִשְׁפָּֽט׃

When all Israel heard the decision that the king had rendered, they stood in awe of the king; for they saw that he possessed divine wisdom to execute justice.

Many years ago, I heard a public lecture from  Rav Aharon Soloveichik, who while quoting Freud, observed the following about this story. He said, and I paraphrase from memory: People think the proof of who the mother was came from the selfless act of sacrifice that the true mother made, being willing to give up her own child in order that he live. However, there is another aspect of the story. Freud tells us that the instinct for hatred is even stronger than the instinct for love. Shlomo realized that only a woman who is angry, and filled with hate and jealousy at the loss of her own child could consider having another child cut in half. So Shlomo realized who the real mother was by process of elimination, because the other mother filled with rage and hate must have been the one who lost a child.

So, too, we might consider that the serpent was so consumed with jealousy and rage, wanting Chava to himself, that he barely could consider the fact that he would end up killing her too. This is what happens when our emotions of jealousy, rage and sexuality run unchecked. We are capable of destroying everything, even the objects of our own love and desire.

How Bad is it to Embarrass Someone? Sotah 10

Our Gemara on Amud Beis warns of the severity of causing another person public humiliation, to the extent that he or she would turn white:

מַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן חֲסִידָא, וְאָמְרִי לָהּ אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחַי: נוֹחַ לוֹ לָאָדָם שֶׁיַּפִּיל עַצְמוֹ לְתוֹךְ כִּבְשַׁן הָאֵשׁ, וְאַל יַלְבִּין פְּנֵי חֲבֵירוֹ בָּרַבִּים. מְנָלַן — מִתָּמָר.

Rav Zutra bar Tuviyya says that Rav says, and some say Rav Ḥana bar Bizna says that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida says, and some say that Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: It is more amenable for a person to throw himself into a fiery furnace if faced with the choice of publicly embarrassing another or remaining silent even if it leads to being burned, and not humiliate another in public. From where do we derive this? From Tamar, as she was prepared to be burned if Judah did not confess, rather than humiliate him in public.

Tosafos wonders why this is not included in the three sins that one must martyr himself for (as delineated in Pesachim 25a.)  Regardless of Tosafos’ answer, we see that Tosafos takes this statement literally and halakhically, and not merely as an aggadic hyperbole. Rabbenu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuva (III:137-139) seems to also make the case that a sin that is related in kind to one of those big three are also under the obligation (or at least ethical expectation) of martyrdom.  Thus, he says humiliating someone to the point that they will become white as a ghost, is considered a related sub-violation of murder, as the victim feels like they he is dying and thus also subject to martyrdom.

However, Meiri (Berachos 43b) understands it to be an exaggeration: “דרך צחות אמרו”, and so it would seem to be halakhically.  Rav Asher Weiss wrote about this as well, click here, quoting Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, that it was a Middas Chassidus on Tamar’s. Rav Weiss also raises a brilliant question and proof that it must be more of an ethical directive than a halakhic fact. After all, we have learned in Sanhedrin (72b) that one can kill a rodef, that is, one who is trying to kill you, even if the person is acting unintentionally.  The Gemara over there rules that this is one of the bases for allowing an abortion if the mother’s life is in danger. The baby is considered a rodef, even though obviously, it has no intention to cause its mother harm. If so, why would Tamar have to give up her life, after all, Yehuda was trying to kill her! If you can kill someone who is trying to kill you, surely you could embarrass somebody who is trying to kill you. Therefore, you must say that Tamar was acting in an extra legal manner regardless.

The lessons for interpersonal behavior speaks  for themselves. In fact, if we additionally consider Rav Asher Weiss’ point, we must consider that the emotional pain of embarrassment is even worse than death itself. Because otherwise, it wouldn’t make much sense for Tamar to make that sacrifice. It would be like spending $1000 of your money to save $200 of your friend’s money. That is not Middas Chassidus, that just plain foolish, because there is a net loss in terms of human suffering.

Sotah 11 Is Good Stronger than Evil?

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us that not only does God punish measure for measure, but God also rewards measure for measure. Additionally, the reward is much more than just an equal measure, because the Middah of goodness is greater than the Middah of punishment.

אֲמַר לֵיהּ רָבָא הָא וְכֵן לְעִנְיַן הַטּוֹבָה קָתָנֵי אֶלָּא אָמַר רָבָא הָכִי קָתָנֵי וְכֵן לְעִנְיַן הַטּוֹבָה דִּבְאוֹתָהּ מִדָּה וּלְעוֹלָם מִדָּה טוֹבָה מְרוּבָּה מִמִּדַּת פּוּרְעָנוּת

Rava said to him: But the tanna taught in the mishna: And the same is so with regard to the reward of good deeds. Rather, Rava said: This is what the mishna is teaching: And the same is so with regard to the reward of good deeds. It is rewarded with the same measure, i.e., a person is rewarded in the same manner as the good deed, but the measure of good is always greater than the measure of punishment. Therefore, Miriam was rewarded in the same manner as, but in a greater measure than, her deed.

Be’er Mayim Chayyim (Bamidbar 23:21) adds the following point. Not only is goodness given in greater proportion than punishment, but in another dimension, it is also more generous. A person is not judged for the sins that are known that he will commit in the future as we learned by Yishmael (See Rashi Bereishis 21:17), however, a person can receive a merit based on their future deeds.  This too has scriptural support, as it states in Shemos (3:11) and the Midrash expands (Shemos Rabbah 3:4), that the Jews really did not merit being freed from Egypt. It was only on account of what they would accomplish at Mount Sinai (and perhaps the midrash’s intention also includes what would be accomplished in the future, as a result of the Torah.)

In any case, though God’s goodness is far stronger that His Middah of retribution, humans tend to feel and trust negativity more than positivity. We saw in Psychology of the Daf Sotah 9, at least the power of hate is stronger than the power of love. I will excerpt a part of an essay I wrote, called  The 13 Cognitive Distortions that interfere with successful marriages, that also discusses the idea of negativity being more powerful than positivity, and its implications:

Distorted Belief # 4: When my spouse insults me during a heated argument, he or she shows their true colors and this must be how my spouse really feels about it me.

What is maladaptive about this belief: When people are angry, indeed they are less inhibited and can say hurtful things.  There must be a degree of truth to what is being said, otherwise it would not be said.  However, when people are angry they also want to hurt the other person, which means that not all of it has to be true.  In addition, positive and loving statements said at other times may be no less true.  There is a basic biological process that is hardwired in our brains to attach more weight, validity and significance to negative statements than to positive statements.  This is because the organism stands more to lose by ignoring a potential threat than by ignoring a potential benefit.  Think about it, if one suspects they are about to be attacked by a murderer, even if it is just a suspicion, there is potentially a high penalty to be paid by ignoring the threat.  If, on the other hand, you suspect that someone is about to give you a million dollars, if you ignore it, there is no damage other than a lost opportunity.  Therefore, our minds are automatically hardwired to give more credence to negativity and this is why bad news travels so much faster than good news.  This is also why we tend to believe insults more than we believe compliments.  The bottom line is that this is the mental equivalent of an optical illusion.  It feels true, but it simply is not so.

Correct Belief:  In reality, my spouse, like myself, finds parts of me attractive and parts of me repulsive.  We are no different, more or less, than any other couple.  While what was said in the heat of the moment was hurtful and indeed may have some truth to it, it is not the only truth

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