Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Thought vs. Speech, Heresy and Misinterpretation Bava Kama 32-34


Lights, Candles and Action

Our Gemara on Amud Beis describes how the sages would greet the Shabbos:

Rabbi Yannai would wrap himself in his tallis and stand at the eve of Shabbos at twilight, saying: Come, bride; come, bride. 

Ben Yehoyada comments that the Arizal would recite the greeting three times, corresponding to Chokhma, Bina and Daas. He says this corresponds to the three realms of interaction: Thought, Speech and Action. Since thought is hidden, one of the recitations are said quietly. What is the meaning of bringing Shabbos in these three dimensions? 

Without getting deeply into the mystical significance of these terms, we can intuitively grasp that each of these dimensions are distinct in operations. For example, Thought connotes intention, which is separate than Action. Action can connote physical deeds with or without intention. However, how does speech occupy a different dimension than thought? Many people consider thought to be merely silent or internal speech. Plato’s Theaetetus considers thought to be an inner dialogue (and therefore can be full of falsehoods, amongst other things, since it is not pure apprehension of the idea, rather a description of it.) If thought is just inner speech, it is hard to see how Thought and Speech are considered a separate dimension.

Lev Vygotsky, the “Russian Freud”, is most famously known for his final work, “Thinking and Speech”, which asserts that thought and speech are a social process. Through his observation and research of young children and how they talk to themselves and others, he concluded that there is a reciprocal relationship between speech and thought. The child learns through social interaction how to identify and construct the experiences recalled and imagined with the words used by caregivers who interact and respond. But then the words are internalized, and the child uses the dialogue he learned externally to organize his own internal norms and ideas. 

Significantly, though Lev was by no means observant, he had a solid Jewish education, knew Hebrew and prayers, and was a proud Jew often using Biblical and Jewish concepts. (“A MAN OF HIS COUNTRY AND HIS TIME: Jewish Influences on Lev Semionovich Vygotsky’s World View Bella Kotik-Friedgut Theodore H. Friedgut Achva Academic College, David Yellin Hebrew University of Jerusalem College of Education, Jerusalem.) He grew up in a town that had a strong Chabad presence. Were his ideas about speech and thought influenced by Jewish tradition and mysticism? If so, he would not be the only 20th-century psychologist to have been influenced by Jewish traditions, as so many of psychology’s early pioneers and theorists were Jewish. It is hard to imagine modern psychology as ever having come into existence without the influence of Jewish philosophy on human nature and spiritual process. For example, there are Midrashim that describe Human motivation as critically dependent on channeling inner drives such as the Yetzer Hara (see Yoma 69b and Bereishis Rabbah 9:7), which must have had a profound influence on Freud, whom we know studied Talmud as a young cultured German Jew.

Using Vygotsky’s theory of thought and speech, we can define the sphere of Speech as the idea and concept learned initially from the social input, and the sphere of Thought might be the internalization of the idea in personal dialogue and terms. Thus, Shabbos is learned socially by the traditions, which are the outer norms dictated by speech and social communication, and ultimately fulfilled in physical action. But Shabbos also must be internalized and constructed with inner meanings and interior thoughts that make Shabbos personal and private, aside from communal. This may be why Shabbos is greeted via Thought, Speech and Action, and in accordance with mystical rituals, the third “Bo-i Kallah” is uttered silently to represent this final stage.


How to Avoid Misinterpretations in Communication 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph describes the liabilities of an employer whose worker enters his property to collect payments and is bit by his dog. The question of liability revolves around a misunderstanding of the word, “Yes”. Did it mean, “Yes, enter”, or “Yes, I acknowledge your presence at the gate and I will come to greet you.” Regardless of the halakhic outcome, the worker who assumed the homeowner meant, “Yes, enter”, paid a nasty price for his assumption. 

Cognitive Bias is highly operative in communication. We often hear what we want to hear, and project interpretations onto what people say. These distortions can come from fears or wishes. If a person has social anxiety and insecurities (“People think I’m dumb”), it can lead to assumptions of insults that might have been benign. If a person has a narcissistic personality, it can lead to ignoring and steamrolling other persons’ opinions. Even as the other person is struggling to be heard, the words are filtered and judged or reinterpreted without fully reflecting or internalizing their idea or state of mind. 

One excellent way to combat cognitive bias in relationship communication is to constantly work on not jumping to conclusions. No matter what we think we hear, or what we believe we know, we should be careful to ask for clarification before reacting. When you ask before reacting and verify first, you either clear up possible misinterpretations, or at the very least, give the person a way to save face and retract. Tone counts too, as the request for clarification must be calm and open, not sarcastic, so as not to trigger a defensive or hostile reaction. 

The great sage and Tzaddik, Bava Ben Buta was once accosted by a woman who suddenly smashed two lamps on his head (Nedarim 66b). Though he was obviously humiliated in public, and as a revered sage, had every right to defend k’vod HaTorah even on principle. Yet, he calmly enquired of her, “What is the reason for this that you have done?” As it turns out, there was a whole backstory where he surmised she was obeying specific directions, which she took literally, believing this is what her husband wanted and thought was proper. Bava Ben Buta must have quickly ascertained that she was a pious, but person of simple intellect, who just did as she believed she was told by those whom she respected. (Perhaps she was what we would call today, “on the spectrum.”) Instead of scorn, Bava gave her a blessing that she will have two children who will grow up to be great sages (and enlighten others), symbolically represented by the two smashed lamps.

Bava’s calm curiosity and humility saved this woman from harsh retaliation, and even more importantly, saved Bava from inadvertently hurting an innocent person. We must always strive to calmly clarify before reacting.


Heresy and Bull Stories

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the liabilities and after effects from an ox that gores another ox and injures it. The Gemara says that the owner of the damaging ox is liable for further deterioration in health and value of the ox. This is because the owner of the injured ox can claim, “The horn of your ox is still buried in my ox”. That is to say, the effects of the original attack continue.

Bereishis Rabbah (2:4) states that Greeks would religiously persecute the Jews and force them to declare in writing upon a bulls’ horn, “I have no portion with the God of Israel.” Some say, the horn of an ox was devised as mocking the Jews for the sin of the Golden Calf. Additionally, the Minoan religion, which many Greeks followed, used the symbol of the ox horn for power, so they may have meant it as a simultaneous rejection of the Jewish God and an offering to the Minoan Gods.

Sefer Ohr Avraham (Miketz, 5367, Shabbos Zos Chanuka) says the horn represents the horn of our Gemara. An insidious injury whose toxic effects continue to burrow deep into the victim, as if the horn remains stuck inside. This represents the demoralization and heretic influences that the Greeks inflicted on the Jewish psyche.

In our times as well we struggle to fight off the poisonous aspects of secular culture. The relentless indoctrination of media has been effective in influencing young people to adopt values that are arbitrary at best, and destructive at worst. For example, in my professional encounters with persons who grew up with social media, even those who are religiously meticulous, they unequivocally accept that homosexuals “are just born that way”, even though the scientific evidence for this is utterly inconclusive. Many also see abortion in a sympathetic light, using the tropes and propaganda of “right to choose”, instead seeing it as a halakhic and moral issue, subject to competing interests of mother’s health and the fetus’s right to live. These influences, like the trauma from the ox’s horn, continually burrow deeper into the soul. Seemingly innocuous children’s shows and movies foist values and messages that are hostile to Jewish spiritual sensitivities. If any of us once thought more liberal modes of thought at least stemmed from well intentioned moral equations, the cat’s out of the bag. We have seen over the past few weeks how these same “compassionate activists” for human rights supported terrorists who would happily murder, rape and decapitate anyone who is not of their faith. 

There are close to one million abortions committed in the United States annually. What percentage of these fetuses are viable humans, and not posing material physical or mental danger to their mothers? Let’s say even 20%. More chillingly, one statistic is that 13,000 month month abortions are committed annually ( ) Can all of them be medically necessary? I doubt that by far. Our so-called civilized society is murdering humans who can live outside of their mother’ womb in wholesale quantities! How easily the propaganda of “the right to choose” stopped all conscience and reflection, even just reasonable moral equations. How could a fetus in the ninth month not be considered a viable human under any legal or moral system? 

But these are only glaring examples of toxic, immoral  and frankly irrational ideas that claim to be civilized. There are many other secular modes of thought that hurt us and destroy the Jewish spirit, such as defining the management of sexual impulses as unhealthy, or the belief that happiness and satisfaction are achieved by self-gratification. We are actually happiest when giving to those we love and making sacrifices for what we believe in. We must be constantly vigilant to avoid being brainwashed, and to use the lens of Torah principles to ground our behavior and ideas to achieve true civilization.

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