Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Taming the Beast, Attitude and Fringe Benefits Bava Metzia 5-7


Taming the Beast Within

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the parameters of the prohibition against jealously desiring the possessions of another. According to the simple reading of our Gemara, this prohibition applies even when the person is willing to make full payment and purchase the object. If so, is it ever permitted to see something that belongs to another and offer to purchase it? Perhaps it is not allowed to initiate an offer to buy items that are not for commercial sale. However, most commentaries draw a distinction between a gentle inquiry and excessive sales pressure, and/or, not obtaining full consent with genuine volition to sell. (See Tosafos Sanhedrin 25b, and Rambam Gezeila V’aveidah 1:9-10. Tosafos holds if the seller ultimately concedes, it would be permitted. Rambam holds even when the seller concedes with a full heart, if it came only after pressuring him, it is still forbidden.)

That is only with regard to the prohibition of “lo sachmod” “do not lust after”. There also is a separate prohibition of “lo sisave” “do not desire”, which may be for the mere thought alone, (compare Shemos 20:14 to Devarim 5:18, and see Shulchan Aruch CM (359:1, 10.)

We see that thought alone is prohibited. The various commentaries ask how is it possible to expect a person to have no desire for another’s object, the feeling pops into your head without forethought! A number of answers are offered, that are not mutually exclusive, with each shedding light on a particular Torah assessment of human nature and motivations.

Ibn Ezra (Shemos 20:13) says it’s a matter of expectations. He asks rhetorically, would a person be jealous of a bird and imagine that he grow wings and fly? Would a lowly peasant really believe that he could secure the princess’s hand in marriage?  Ibn Ezra is implying the desire only gets triggered by an irrational sense of entitlement. If one accepts that God only allows one to possess what is providentially allotted to him, he will never get frustrated or overvalue the efforts to obtain material objects.  While Ibn Ezra’s arguments are logically true, I find it fascinating that both of Ibn Ezra’s examples are seen differently through the lens of modern self-concepts. In fact, in the advent of the industrial age, humans dreamed of flying, conceived of a means to do so, and airplanes, helicopters and rocket ships were invented. Likewise, due to the reflections of the French philosophers on natural law, equality, basic human rights, class differences have changed dramatically. The pauper can become a prince through entrepreneurship on a more level playing field. So the expectations of modern man really are different and Ibn Ezra’s self-evident logic is routinely defeated by the raw emotion and desire of a consumer culture. Creating demand itself is a key part of the economy and commerce.

Hakesav VeHakabbalah (Shemos, ibid) explains that the heart can hold only so much. If one fills his or heart with longing for God, he will block out desires for other trivial matters. In a similar but more broad fashion, Rabbenu Bechaye (Devarim 29:18) explains that once the lustful thought arises, it is already too late and difficult to control. But, prior thoughts and attitudes preceded this impulse.  That is to say, if one is cultivated humble and God fearing thoughts and behaviors in general, his impulses of the moment will be of a higher nature. By way of metaphor, a junk food addict desires sugar, but a wine connoisseur desires wine. The desire for wine, arguably a more refined desire, only arises from having developed the appropriate taste and value system. 

Human emotions, particularly those stemming from strong instincts such as sex, food or social status, are driven by physical and animal aspects of human physiology. The human mind, which is highly sensitive to symbolism, can re-channel and sublimate baser desires into more meaningful abstract desires.  Thus, the desire to procreate can be partially reframed and redirected toward the desire to create.  Chazal were aware of the function of sublimation way before Freud named it such, as they teach, in Gemara Shabbos (156a) it is noted that a person who is born under the star of Mars, and thus having a bloodthirsty nature may become a murderer, but instead he could become a shochet, mohel, or medical bloodletter. Art, teaching, and emotional bonding are all ways to create, instead of to merely pro-create. This may be what our sages meant when they said, “The main progeny of the righteous individuals are their good deeds,” Bereishis Rabbah (30:6) and Rashi Bereishis (6:9). 

Another aspect of recognizing that the lusts initially come from an animal aspect of human physiology, allows one to consider pragmatic efforts of self management. One can easily calm a slightly agitated animal by petting and soothing it. However, once the horse is at full gallop, it is not so easy to slow it down.  This is true for human emotions as well. Through mindfulness a person can catch triggers and thoughts that are precursors to more instinctive and physical arousals, so that the beast inside is pacified and subdued before it gets out of hand.  This too is part of what Rabbenu Bechaye meant by addressing the prior states of mind that lead to desire.


Your Attitude Counts

Our Gemara on amud beis discusses the procedure of tithing animals.  Animals born from this year’s cycle are put in a corral, and one by one, pass through a gate, counted by a staff.  Every tenth sheep is tagged with a red mark and becomes masser (Mishna Bechoros 9:7).  If a counted sheep somehow jumps over the gate and returns back to the non-tithed group, the entire group is now rendered exempt from any further tithing procedures.  The Biblical directive is to count with certainty, and since there is one exempt sheep mixed within this group, the count is no longer certain.

Tosafos here raises the question as to why do we not say that the already tithed sheep becomes subsumed and nullified, as there is a general Torah principle of following the majority.  Tosafos says we cannot answer that with the additional principle that if an item has enough distinctiveness that it is counted and sold individually instead of by volume, it is not subsumed under a majority. (Davar Shebiminyan, afilu b’eleph lo batel, see Shulchan Aruch YD 110:1.) While this principle is true, Tosafos says it is a rabbinic enactment and thus could not be used to exempt a Torah obligation to tithe, as the animal should be subsumed under the majority and considered un-tithed from the strict Biblical perspective. 

Sefer Daf all Daf quotes a Chiddushei Harim that offers a clever answer, and an interesting metaphysical idea taken from it.  Chiddushei Harim says that the rabbinic idea that an item which is counted individually is not batel comes from a Biblical concept, and as with many rabbinic enactments, they are based on an existing Torah principle (K’eyn Doraysa Takun, Pesachim 116b.) Thus, there can be something that is so distinct, even from a Biblical perspective it is not subsumed. Since the Torah itself mandates that the animal be counted, it makes it into a “Mega” DavarShebeminyan. Based on this, Pardes Yosef (Mishpatim) explains that this can be used as a retort to the gentile who disputed the rabbis (Vayikra Rabbah 6:4) by arguing, “Your own Torah states to follow the majority (Shemos 23:2). If so, why do you people not follow the consensus of the other nations and worship other Gods?  Pardes Yosef says since the Jews are counted in the Torah, they are given a distinctiveness and valuation that is not subsumed under the majority,

The actual verse that discusses the mitzvah to count the Jews, presents an interesting formulation and apotropaic prescription. It states in Shemos (30:12):

כִּ֣י תִשָּׂ֞א אֶת־רֹ֥אשׁ בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם֒ וְנָ֨תְנ֜וּ אִ֣ישׁ כֹּ֧פֶר נַפְשׁ֛וֹ לה׳ בִּפְקֹ֣ד אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה בָהֶ֛ם נֶ֖גֶף בִּפְקֹד אֹתָֽם

When you take a census of the Israelite men according to their assignments, each shall make a payment of requital to Hashem, so that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled.

What aspect of counting requires an advance donation in order to ward off a plague?  Rashi explains that the counting arouses the evil eye, and thus to ward off those effects, a special donation is required. Rabbenu Bechaye and Malbim (ibid) explains that being counted invites additional scrutiny, and brings about judgment as an individual instead of as part of a whole nation. An outcome of this thinking is that making efforts in your heart to join with the rest of the Jewish people serves as a protective measure. The sentiment and behaviors of one heart and one people, lead to a shared group merit. 

The Mareh Yechezkel (Parashas, Ki Tisah and Parah 5) adds a derash to underscore this point: The phrase used by the Torah for the payment is described as “Kofer Nefesh”, which has the same root (K-F-R) denial. Thus, the Torah is hinting that one might become too proud of his accomplishments, worship his own ability and deny God’s providence. Thus when we stand out and are counted, or when we are counting our own achievements, we must be careful to atone for our denials of God’s providence mixed within our pride.


Fringe Benefits of Mitzvos

Our Gemara on amud aleph discusses a situation of two people, in dispute regarding possession of a cloak made with gold threads on certain parts, and how it should be divided fairly.

The literal word used for the cloak is “talis”. Does the Gemara really mean a Talis, the garment which is a mitzvah to wear with Tzitzis fringes attached? Possibly, as it may be that Jews routinely wore four cornered garments as a standard, and did not purchase a separate four cornered garment to fulfill the mitzvah as we do nowadays, since our regular clothing does not have four corners.

Though technically one must wear Tzitzis and a garment of many colors, Shulchan Aruch (OC 9:2) recommends that the garment and the fringes be uniform in color, while Rama says the prevailing ashkenazic custom is to have the fringes white, regardless of the color of the garment. Mishna Berura (ibid 16) says it is preferable for both the garment and the fringes be white. (Presumably, modest decorative embroidery probably does not interfere with this requirement.)

The Zohar (Pinchas 228a) seems to endorse the idea of gold fringes, as they symbolize the inspiration that comes from the appropriate balance and blend of the attributes of judgment and mercy, as represented by the white wool and blue wool.  Sefer Daf al Daf points out that the GR’A amends the Zohar, and changes the word from fringes to Talis.  This is seemingly to align the Ashkenazic custom of only using white threads in the tzitzis with the mystical idea of the gold. Thus Zoahr is referring to the garment, and the custom is referring to the tzitzis.

The reason for the Ashkenazic custom likely stems from the white threads that are reminiscent of God’s giant Talis and Tzitzis by which he used to create the world, see Maharsha (Rosh Hashana 17b.) Likewise, Bereishis Rabbah (3:4) describes the light of creation as coming from God’s cloak, based on the verse in Tehilim (104:2):

עֹֽטֶה־א֭וֹר כַּשַּׂלְמָ֑ה נוֹטֶ֥ה שָׁ֝מַ֗יִם כַּיְרִיעָֽה׃

wrapped in a robe of light;You spread the heavens like a tent cloth.

Why does this require us to wear white Tzitzis? Kaf Hachayyim (9:15) says this is part of the overall directive to emulate God. If God wore white Tzitzis, so should we.

But, what does it really mean?  I will suggest the following. Tzitzis are to remind us of the mitzvos (see Bamidbar 15:39 and Menachos 43b). So what are Hashem’s “mitzvos”?  If a mitzvah represents a good thing and God’s will, then we might say God does mitzvos when He is doing whatever He does. God is a creator, and He gave us mitzvos so we too can create and establish our reality and our world. Moreh Nevuchim (III:27) states that the purpose of the mitzvos is to promote health of the body and soul. Societal welfare is part of many of the mitzvos, because humans cannot be spiritual without healthy bodies, and they cannot easily have a healthy body without the security offered by a stable society and civilization.

The white Tzitzis represent the light of creation, which is the divine enlightenment, not just physical light. Just as light allows us to see what is hidden, divine light gives us the ability to see what is mystical and spiritually true.  We must make efforts that our creativity and actions in this world are infused with purity and divine intent, that is symbolized by the white Tzitzis.

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