Misery Loves Company
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph teaches us that, although a Jewish slave often has the option to choose to continue his servitude after undergoing the ritual of having his ear pierced, there are certain situations where he will not be allowed to remain a slave under any circumstances. This is because the verse states, “I love my master” (Shemos 21:5), implying a state of relative equivalence and harmony between master and servant. Thus, the Gemara rules:
הוּא אוֹהֵב אֶת רַבּוֹ וְרַבּוֹ אֵינוֹ אוֹהֲבוֹ – אֵינוֹ נִרְצָע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי טוֹב לוֹ עִמָּךְ״. רַבּוֹ אוֹהֲבוֹ וְהוּא אֵינוֹ אוֹהֵב אֶת רַבּוֹ – אֵינוֹ נִרְצָע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי אֲהֵבְךָ״. הוּא חוֹלֶה וְרַבּוֹ אֵינוֹ חוֹלֶה – אֵינוֹ נִרְצָע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי טוֹב לוֹ עִמָּךְ״. רַבּוֹ חוֹלֶה וְהוּא אֵינוֹ חוֹלֶה – אֵינוֹ נִרְצָע, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״עִמָּךְ״
Furthermore, if he loves his master but his master does not love him, he is not pierced, as it is stated: “Because he fares well with you” (Deuteronomy 15:16), indicating that it is good for both of them to be with each other. If his master loves him but he does not love his master, he is not pierced, as it is stated: “Because he loves you.” If he is ill and his master is not ill, he is not pierced, as it is stated: “Because he fares well with you,” which excludes a sick person. Similarly, if his master is ill and he is not ill, he is not pierced, as it is stated “with you,” which equates the well-being of the pair.
Then one Amora asks a question based on these rulings:
בָּעֵי רַב בִּיבִי בַּר אַבָּיֵי: שְׁנֵיהֶם חוֹלִין, מַאי? ״עִמָּךְ״ בָּעֵינַן – וְהָא אִיכָּא, אוֹ דִילְמָא ״כִּי טוֹב לוֹ עִמָּךְ בָּעֵינַן״ – וְהָא לֵיכָּא? תֵּיקוּ.
Rav Beivai bar Abaye raised a dilemma: If both of them are ill, what is the halakha? Do we require only that the slave be “with you,” i.e., in the same condition as the master, and that is the case here, as they are both ill, and the slave can be pierced? Or perhaps we require “because he fares well with you,” i.e., it must be good for both of them, and that is not the case here, as they are both ill. If so, he cannot be pierced. No answer was found, and therefore the Gemara says that the dilemma shall stand unresolved.
Ritva raises a question: since the entire process is voluntary to begin with, why do we need a verse to tell us that he does not get pierced nor does he stay if he hates his master? Ritva answers that the verse teaches us that even if he is impoverished and wishes to stay but really dislikes his master, he is not permitted to make a “marriage of convenience.” He may only stay if he truly likes his master.
Returning to the unresolved question of the Gemara regarding a situation where both master and servant were equally disabled, it seems that the question revolves around the adage “misery loves company.” That is, since both master and servant are unwell, is there an automatic affinity, or are they each miserable in their own unique manner?
As an interesting aside, Malbim (Shemos 2:13) uses this as a rationale to understand how Moshe knew that Dasan and Aviram were both evil. After all, why not just say the person who was hitting the “victim” was the evil one, and the other one was just fighting in self-defense? Malbim answers that it is in the nature of man when he is in dire straits to become friends with a comrade, not enemies. The fact that Dasan and Aviram were quarreling under the relentless persecution of their Egyptian overlords indicated something corrupt about both their natures.
This reminds me of something told to me by a person who had been single for a long time before she found her bashert. She said, “Often, because I was a little bit eccentric or different, people would set me up with somebody else who was offbeat and different, but to the point of social inappropriateness. They must have reasoned, well, she’s crazy and he’s crazy, so they’ll probably get along.” This kind of thinking could be dangerous. Yes, in some sense we should look for certain compatibilities or complementarity when making matches, and if one person has a disability, there is rationale in looking for a partner with a disability of a similar degree. Yet, we must be careful when we do this, and we see from our Gemara’s implicit ethics, that such a strategy could still lead to incompatibility.
The Messenger is the Message
Our Gemara on Amud Beis delves into a recurring question throughout Shas concerning the status of the Cohanim’s service in the Temple: When they offer sacrifices, are they acting as our representatives or as agents of God? The Gemara concludes that the Cohanim are indeed acting as agents of God, carrying out His directives (while, of course, one of those directives is to offer sacrifices on our behalf).
Bas Ayin (Emor 23) expands on the role of acting as agents of God. Rashi (Vayikra 21:1) underscores the importance of parental involvement of the Cohanim by emphasizing the repetition of the words “tell” and “tell to them,” signifying that parents should instruct and warn their children to maintain priestly purity. Bas Ayin goes further, stating that this role is metaphorical as well. The Cohanim must embody God’s compassionate ethos and, akin to a father nurturing a child, warmly and lovingly encourage their spiritual development. Bas Ayin asserts that an agent must strive to embody and enact the will of the Principal who appointed them. Therefore, the Cohanim must strive to act as God would.
Similarly, when one engages in prayer, which serves as a substitute for Temple service, they must also embody this ethic. Before praying, one should meditate on the commandment to love thy neighbor, ensuring the correct frame of mind in relation to fellow humans. This is not solely a matter of Chassidic Torah but is also reflected in the Shulkhan Arukh (OC 53:19), where it is acknowledged that a person may object to the appointment of a chazan who harbors enmity toward him. Prayer is service of the heart, therefore how could we expect God hear our prayers if our hearts are not aligned with expectations of showing love and graciousness to all?
In our Gemara on Amud Aleph, we explore a question regarding the status of a Canaanite slave who sustains injuries inflicted by his master. If these injuries affect an organ such as an eye, tooth, or other limb, the slave is automatically freed. However, the Gemara delves into a nuanced discussion regarding whether an injury to the slave’s ear or eye caused by the master making a loud and frightening noise is considered a direct injury, which would result in the slave’s freedom:
תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: הִכָּהוּ עַל עֵינוֹ וְסִמְּאָהּ, עַל אׇזְנוֹ וְחֵרְשָׁהּ – עֶבֶד יוֹצֵא בָּהֶן לְחֵירוּת. נֶגֶד עֵינוֹ וְאֵינוֹ רוֹאֶה, כְּנֶגֶד אׇזְנוֹ וְאֵינוֹ שׁוֹמֵעַ – אֵין עֶבֶד יוֹצֵא בָּהֶן לְחֵירוּת. אָמַר רַב שֶׁמֶן לְרַב אָשֵׁי: לְמֵימְרָא דְּקָלָא לָאוּם הוּא?
The Sages, in a Baraisa, taught that if a slave owner struck his slave on the eye, causing blindness, or on the ear, resulting in deafness, the slave is emancipated due to these injuries. However, if the master struck near the eye, causing impaired vision, or near the ear, leading to partial hearing loss, the slave is not emancipated by these injuries. Rav Shemen questioned Rav Ashi: Does this imply that a loud sound causing damage is inconsequential?
וְהָתָנֵי רָמֵי בַּר יְחֶזְקֵאל: תַּרְנְגוֹל שֶׁהוֹשִׁיט רֹאשׁוֹ לַאֲוִיר כְּלִי זְכוּכִית, וְתָקַע בּוֹ וּשְׁבָרוֹ מְשַׁלֵּם נֶזֶק שָׁלֵם. וְאָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף, אָמְרִי בֵּי רַב: סוּס שֶׁצָּנַף וַחֲמוֹר שֶׁנָּעַר, וְשָׁבְרוּ כֵּלִים בְּתוֹךְ הַבַּיִת – מְשַׁלְּמִים חֲצִי נֶזֶק.
However, Rami bar Yeḥezkel taught in a Baraisa that in the case of a rooster sticking its head into the airspace of a glass vessel, crowing into it, and causing the noise to break the vessel, the owner must fully compensate for the damage, much like a standard case of damage. Furthermore, Rav Yosef mentioned the view of the Sages in Rav’s study hall: In the case of a horse neighing or a donkey braying, causing them to break vessels in the house, their owners must pay for half of the damage. While these examples differ in terms of payment responsibility, they illustrate that sound can indeed be a source of liability for damages.
The Gemara refutes this proof by stating that humans are unique. Due to their intellectual capacity, the fear generated by a frightening noise is attributed to the individual himself. In other words, it is not the physical sound that directly causes harm, but rather the subjective fear experienced by the person, which does not result directly from the action.
This aspect of human cognition and response to threat, is supported by the famous research conducted by LeDoux (1990) and Pasley et al. (2004), which involves functional brain imaging. Their work has shed light on how the brain processes danger through two distinct pathways often referred to as the “high road” and the “low road.” These pathways provide insight into how trauma affects the brain and influences how trauma survivors react to perceived threats and triggers.
The “high road” represents the default brain process, where visual information is routed through the neocortex before reaching the amygdala. This allows for sophisticated, analytical interpretation of perceived threats before the more primitive, instinctive parts of the amygdala come into play. The amygdala is responsible for triggering survival instincts, and interestingly, the amygdala in humans closely resembles that of a lizard. Humans, however, possess an additional layer of brain material, the neocortex, responsible for higher-order thinking.
In contrast, there are moments when the neocortex is bypassed, and information is sent directly to the amygdala. This occurs when a threat or potential threat is perceived, and the brain takes a “low road” shortcut, instantly activating the amygdala immediately. This rapid response, often seen as “fight or flight,” is highly effective for survival, as even a fraction of a second can make a difference in avoiding danger. When the neocortex is bypassed and information goes directly to the amygdala, we can understand the verse in Koheles (3:19) states, “וּמוֹתַ֨ר הָאָדָ֤ם מִן־הַבְּהֵמָה֙ אָ֔יִן כִּ֥י הַכֹּ֖ל הָֽבֶל׃
Man has no superiority over beast, since both amount to nothing. If a person sees out of the corner of his eye something that looks like a snake, the organism from past experience will not waste an extra microsecond trying to distinguish between a stick or a snake. The person will immediately jump out of the way. This confers an edge in terms of survival, as an extra 100th of a second makes a difference in terms of evading a snakebite, However, since the neocortex is not being recruited to analyze this data, the shortcut is also sloppy and can mistake a stick for a snake.
This system can be maladaptive in non-emergent situation. For instance, a combat veteran may react to minor provocations, like someone cutting them off in traffic, with rage and aggression. In a combat context, such reactions can be life-saving, but they are disruptive and counterproductive in non-combat situations. This explains why survivors of interpersonal violence and abuse might struggle to maintain composure, especially during conflicts and disputes. Such individuals may react with extreme emotions or violence to situations that others perceive as benign or ordinary interpersonal challenges.
Trauma treatment and mindfulness practices play a crucial role in gradually retraining these neural pathways. Anger, fear and intrusive memories need to be processed to allow the person to adjust and respond without extreme emotional reactions. This approach fosters healing and resilience for those who have experienced trauma, offering them the opportunity to navigate life’s challenges with greater emotional stability and understanding.
In our Gemara on Amud Aleph, we encounter an incident involving a group of elders from the city of Nezonya who declined to attend a Shiur (lecture) by Rav Chisda:
סָבֵי דְנָזוֹנְיָא לָא אֲתוֹ לְפִירְקֵיהּ דְּרַב חִסְדָּא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְרַב הַמְנוּנָא: זִיל צַנְּעִינְהוּ. אֲזַל אֲמַר לְהוּ: מַאי טַעְמָא לָא אֲתוֹ רַבָּנַן לְפִירְקָא? אֲמַרוּ לֵיהּ: אַמַּאי נֵיתֵי? דִּבְעֵינַן מִינֵּיהּ מִילְּתָא וְלָא פְּשַׁט לַן. אֲמַר לְהוּ: מִי בְּעֵיתוּ מִינַּאי מִידֵּי וְלָא פָּשֵׁיטְנָא לְכוּ?
The Gemara tells us that the elders of Nezonya chose not to attend Rav Chisda’s lecture. In response, Rav Chisda instructed Rav Hamnuna to “ostracize” them, as he believed they were showing disrespect to the Sages. Rav Hamnuna approached these elders and asked why they had not attended the lecture. They explained that they had posed a question to Rav Chisda, and they were not satisfied with his response, leaving them with no incentive to join his lecture. Rav Hamnuna said to them: Have you asked me anything that I did not resolve for you? Ask me your question.
One may wonder about the connection between the elders’ complaint and Rav Hamnuna’s willingness to help. After all, their concern was with Rav Chisda’s responsiveness to their questions. However, the significance lies in the fact that Rav Hamnuna was a disciple of Rav Chisda and likely assisted during lectures. His offer to “fill in the blanks” indicated his commitment to addressing their inquiries.
This incident and Rav Hamnuna’s response prompt reflection on the qualities of an inquisitive and attuned individual. Such a person should remain open to the possibility that complaints about others might have relevance to their own conduct. When Rav Hamnuna heard the elders’ complaint about Rav Chisda, rather than assuming he was beyond reproach, it inspired him to self-reflect. He considered whether the elders also felt he was unresponsive to their needs.
In essence, this episode serves as a reminder of the importance of self-awareness and receptiveness to constructive criticism. It encourages us to look beyond our initial reactions and explore how others’ concerns might shed light on our own behavior and character.