Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Trickle Down Theory, a Whole in One and More Bava Metzia 117-119


Trickle Down Theory 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses liabilities between the upper floor residents and the lower floor residents of a home:

הָנְהוּ בֵּי תְרֵי דַּהֲווֹ דָּיְירִי, חַד עִילַּאי וְחַד תַּתַּאי. אִיפְּחִית מַעֲזִיבָה. כִּי מָשֵׁי מַיָּא, עִילַּאי אָזְלִי וּמַזְּקִי לְתַתַּאי. מִי מְתַקֵּן? רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר: הָעֶלְיוֹן מְתַקֵּן, וְרַבִּי אִלְעַי מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי חִיָּיא בְּרַבִּי יוֹסֵי אָמַר: הַתַּחְתּוֹן מְתַקֵּן. וְסִימָן: ״וְיוֹסֵף הוּרַד מִצְרָיְמָה״.

The Gemara relates: An incident occurred with these two people who were residing in the same house, one in the upper story, and the other one in the lower story. The plaster of the floor of the upper story broke, so that when the resident of the upper apartment would wash with water, it would run down and cause damage to the lower story. The question was: Who must repair the ceiling? Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba says: The upper resident repairs it, and Rabbi Elai says in the name of Rabbi Ḥiyya, son of Rabbi Yosei: The lower resident repairs it. 

Ben Yehoyada sees a moral metaphor in these seemingly dry halachic passages. The leak represents the toxic forces of sin, and the upper story is the power of speech (mouth, top of body), and the sexual organs are the lower floor. There is a tradition from the rabbis that sinful speech leads to sinful sexual behavior, and the Mishna is alluding to this. 

Tiferes Shlomo (Purim 17) finds a clever hint for this in the verse from Megillas Esther (1:22):

וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח סְפָרִים֙ אֶל־כׇּל־מְדִינ֣וֹת הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־מְדִינָ֤ה וּמְדִינָה֙ כִּכְתָבָ֔הּ וְאֶל־עַ֥ם וָעָ֖ם כִּלְשׁוֹנ֑וֹ לִהְי֤וֹת כׇּל־אִישׁ֙ שֹׂרֵ֣ר בְּבֵית֔וֹ וּמְדַבֵּ֖ר כִּלְשׁ֥וֹן עַמּֽוֹ׃

Dispatches were sent to all the provinces of the king, to every province in its own script and to every nation in its own language, that every man should wield authority in his home and speak the language of his own people.

How can one “wield authority in his home”, i.e. master his bodily lusts? He must “speak the language of his own people”, i.e. master his speech.

As to why the sages considered sin with the mouth as a precursor to sexual immorality, on a simple level we may say that lack of boundaries and respect will lead to also breaking barriers of dignity and body integrity. Additionally, I suggest the following:

Both of these parts of the body have been described in the scripture as potentially being obstructed by a barrier, the Hebrew term “Arel”, which is used to describe an uncircumcised state of the body, with the foreskin considered a spiritual and physical occlusion. Actually, we find four uses of the root “A-R-L” in the Torah:

  1. Moshe describes his lips as “blocked” “arel sefasayim” (Shemos 6:12). 
  2. The Torah also describes the unrepentant heart as “arel” (Devarim 10:16), 
  3. The produce of the early years of a fruit bearing tree (Vayikra 19:23)
  4. And of course the actual foreskin “arlah” (Bereishis 17:11). I am not sure if the original Hebrew term “A-R-L” is foreskin and then the borrowed metaphorical term means any spiritual block, or the other way around, that “A-R-L” is a generic barrier of any sort and it is metaphorically used for the foreskin. 

These zones are on a continuum, with each one a further degree of physical action and effect. It starts with thought (heart), continues to speech (lips), then the production of vegetative matter (trees), and finally the human procreative area, which is the ultimate physical act as it produces another human being. If one corrupts the heart, further physical effects will manifest, eventually leading to an undermining of the most powerful form of human physical activity. Human behavior is not accidental. Sinful or sacred activities come from precursors in thought, speech, and eventually action.


Love at First Sight

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the possibility that even viewing certain ownerless items, with the intent to possess them, effects a binding acquisition.

Rav Shlomo Kluger (Chachmas Torah, Vayetze) asks, The sages teach, one who is without a woman, is without Torah (Yevamos 62b). If so, how could Yaakov maintain that he was observant of all the mitzvos while he was at Lavan’s house (see Rashi Bereishis 32:5), when for a good portion of that time he was unmarried? The answer is based on our Gemara, which holds that sight alone can allow for acquisition. From the moment Yaakov met Rachel, he no longer had the status of “without a woman”. I will add, the language of the teaching may have been intentionally precise, in describing the state as “without a woman” instead of being “without marriage”. The implication being that having a relationship, even in the engagement or dating phase, is also valuable. The beneficial social and spiritual functions of relating to another deeply trusted person begins before marriage. The dating process, and certainly the engagement process is where the relationship starts. Friction and disparities between two people are opportunities for new-order thinking.  Torah can only be intelligently expressed when there is humility and perspective, otherwise it can be a tool that is misused to control or hurt people. When one has to cooperate and work together with a different person other than self, it stimulates important functions of empathy, communication and self-knowledge. 


A Whole and One

Our Gemara on amud aleph (and the previous daf) discusses how ownership is determined for produce that grows on the side of a ledge, where the top is a garden owned by one person, and the bottom is owned by another. What is the status of those vegetables that grow on the vertical surface between them?

מַתְנִי׳ שְׁתֵּי גַּנּוֹת זוֹ עַל גַּב זוֹ, וְהַיָּרָק בֵּינְתַיִם. רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר: שֶׁל עֶלְיוֹן. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: שֶׁל תַּחְתּוֹן. אָמַר רַבִּי מֵאִיר: אִם יִרְצֶה הָעֶלְיוֹן לִיקַּח אֶת עֲפָרוֹ, אֵין כָּאן יָרָק. אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה: אִם יִרְצֶה הַתַּחְתּוֹן לְמַלֹּאות אֶת גִּנָּתוֹ, אֵין כָּאן יָרָק.

MISHNA: In the case of two gardens that were located one above the other, i.e., a garden on a plateau that borders another garden below, and vegetables grew in-between, out of the wall of soil resulting from the difference in height between the two gardens, Rabbi Meir says: These vegetables belong to the owner of the upper garden. Rabbi Yehuda says: They belong to the owner of the lower one. 

Rabbi Meir said in explanation of his ruling: If the owner of the upper garden would want to dig and take his dirt and does so, no vegetables would grow here, as that wall made of soil would not exist. The vegetables therefore belong to him. In response, Rabbi Yehuda said: If the owner of the lower garden would want to fill his garden with dirt and does so, thereby raising its level, no vegetables would grow here, as that wall made of soil would not exist. The vegetables therefore belong to him.

אָמַר רַבִּי מֵאִיר: מֵאַחַר שֶׁשְּׁנֵיהֶן יְכוֹלִין לְמַחוֹת זֶה עַל זֶה, רוֹאִין מֵהֵיכָן יָרָק זֶה חַי. אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן: כׇּל שֶׁהָעֶלְיוֹן יָכוֹל לִפְשׁוֹט אֶת יָדוֹ וְלִיטּוֹל – הֲרֵי הוּא שֶׁלּוֹ, וְהַשְּׁאָר שֶׁל תַּחְתּוֹן.

Rabbi Meir said: Since the two of them can object to each other, as they each have the ability to prevent the vegetable growth, nothing can be decided based on such considerations. Instead, the court considers from where this vegetable lives and derives nourishment, whether from above or from below. Rabbi Shimon said: Any vegetables that the owner of the upper garden can stretch out his hand and take, those vegetables are his, and the rest belong to the owner of the lower garden.

אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן: כֹּל שֶׁהָעֶלְיוֹן יָכוֹל לִפְשׁוֹט [וְכוּ׳]. אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: וּבִלְבַד שֶׁלֹּא יֵאָנֵס.

The mishna teaches: Rabbi Shimon said: Any vegetables that the owner of the upper garden can stretch out his hand and take, those vegetables are his, and the rest belong to the owner of the lower garden. In the school of Rabbi Yannai they say: And this is only so provided that he does not force himself, but simply stretches out his hand in the usual manner.

אָמַר אֶפְרַיִם סָפְרָא תַּלְמִידוֹ שֶׁל רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ מִשּׁוּם רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: הֲלָכָה כְּרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן. אַמְרוּהָ קַמֵּיהּ דְּשַׁבּוּר מַלְכָּא, אֲמַר לְהוּ: אָפְרִין נִמְטְיֵיהּ לְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן.

Efrayim the scribe, a student of Reish Lakish, says in the name of Reish Lakish: The halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Shimon. They stated this case before the Persian King Shapur, who expressed an interest in this legal issue, and he said to them: Let us offer praise [apiryon] to Rabbi Shimon. He too felt that this was the best resolution.

Continuing a theme we saw on daf 117, where a Halacha becomes a spiritual metaphor, Ben Yehoyada interprets this dispute between the upper garden and lower garden as the tension between physical and spiritual. Rabbi Meir holds that nothing in the physical world has validity without the divine flow, advocating an ascetic lifestyle. Rabbi Yehuda maintains, the owner of the lower garden can fill it up with dirt, thus blocking the ledge. So it follows to reason that the produce belongs to the lower garden, alluding to advocating a lifestyle of participating in this world and experiencing its pleasures (presumably, without excessive indulgence). 

Interestingly, Rav Shimon offers a compromise position, “Any vegetables that the owner of the upper garden can stretch out his hand and take, those vegetables are his, and the rest belong to the owner of the lower garden.” This is symbolic of advocating for integration of physical pleasures and a degree of abnegation. 

Notably, Rabbi Yannai warns the owners of the upper garden: “And this is only so provided that he does not force himself, but simply stretches out his hand in the usual manner.” I wonder if, along the lines of this metaphor, Rav Yannai was cautioning the “owner of the upper garden”, that is the spiritual consciousness, not to over reach and grab too much. As the sages say, “If you try to obtain too much, you will acquire nothing” ( Succah 5b).

And finally, Ben Yehoyada notes that the Shavur Malka (King Shapur) endorsed and praised Rav Shimon’s approach. The government official, representing societal concerns, appreciates the value of an integrated spiritual and physical approach in order to maximize societal function and order.

Balance and integration between spiritual and physical concerns promotes and maintains mental health and social prosperity. The animal part of us needs gratifications and stimulation to feel motivated and energized, yet our souls yearn for meaning and purpose, and our pleasures are incomplete without them. We find the greatest sense of significance and relevance in life when we can share and be with others. Abstinence can be useful for its own sake, but when this form of spiritual reserve is utilized in order to tune in and care for others, it is uniquely positive . 

There is an old joke about a rabbi who was fed up and bored on Yom Kippur, so he sneaks out of shul to play a round of golf. As luck would have it, he scored a birdie on all 18 holes. At first he was thrilled, but then realized he had no friends who he can share it with! The hedonic pleasures ultimately feel empty without a larger human context that is built on the voluntary withholding of our own selfish needs to make space for the needs of others and society. 

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