Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

True Wisdom, Respecting Pregnancy and Believing You Can Fix It Kiddushin 33-35


The Beginning of Wisdom

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us why Rabbi Yochanan would stand up and honor a gentile, elderly person:

רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן הֲוָה קָאֵי מִקַּמֵּי סָבֵי דְאַרְמָאֵי. אָמַר: כַּמָּה הַרְפַּתְקֵי עֲדוֹ עֲלַיְיהוּ דְּהָנֵי. רָבָא מֵיקָם לָא קָאֵי, הִידּוּר עָבֵד לְהוּ.

Rabbi Yoḥanan himself would stand before Aramean, i.e., gentile, elders. He said: How many experiences [harpatkei] have occurred to these individuals. Rava would not stand before them, but he displayed reverence to them.

Presumably, Rabbi Yochanan and Rava’s rationale stems from a belief that someone who has lived that long must have successfully negotiated many challenging situations in life and has therefore acquired valuable wisdom. This explanation is self-explanatory, and also the Arukh says it explicitly, translating “harpatkei” as difficult times. So, according to the Arukh, it is not the accumulated wisdom of life experience, both good and bad times, but specifically the wisdom acquired from difficult times. While we do not look for painful experiences, the adage is still true: whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. And yes, it is the painful experiences that are often the most educational and growth-inspiring.

Rashi here emphasizes a different point about the elderly person’s life experience. While he does agree that the translation of “harpatkei” is difficult times, he adds an extra point. Rashi says that this elderly person must have gone through difficult times and witnessed miracles and wonders. So, according to Rashi, it is not referring to the accumulated wisdom from going through the painful experiences. But rather, it is the gratitude and awareness of God through lived experiences and salvations that makes this elderly person a source of wisdom. Rashi is differentiating himself from the simpler peshat, and this must be because he feels that wisdom alone is not worthy of honor. It must be wisdom with recognition of God.

A while back, I heard an interview with the conservative pundit, Dennis Prager. Apparently, he had a meaningful Jewish education as a child. During the secular interview, he quoted a verse in Hebrew and translated it, saying he learned this in Jewish day school, said it every morning as part of the liturgy, and it is a fundamental point about the use and misuse of intelligence. He quoted the verse in Tehilim (111:10):

רֵ֘אשִׁ֤ית חׇכְמָ֨ה ׀ יִרְאַ֬ת ה׳ 

The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD;

Dennis said, in order to truly acquire wisdom, one must incorporate appropriate humility and fear of God.

Readers can go to the 15-minute mark and listen for about a minute to hear it live:

Dennis, you taught me some Torah, so I’ll be standing up for you.


Giving Pregnant Women Their Due

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph questions the Mishna’s declaration of a general rule regarding women not being obligated in time-bound mitzvos:

וּכְלָלָא הוּא? הֲרֵי מַצָּה, שִׂמְחָה, הַקְהֵל, דְּמִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁהַזְּמַן גְּרָמָא, וְנָשִׁים חַיָּיבוֹת! וְתוּ: וַהֲרֵי תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה, פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה, וּפִדְיוֹן הַבֵּן דְּלָאו מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁהַזְּמַן גְּרָמָהּ הוּא – וְנָשִׁים פְּטוּרוֹת!

The Gemara asks: But is this an established principle? But there are the mitzvos of eating matzah on the first night of Passover (Exodus 23:15), of rejoicing on a Festival (Deuteronomy 16:9–11), and assembly on Sukkot following the Sabbatical Year (Deuteronomy 31:10–13). And each of these is a positive, time-bound mitzva, and yet women are obligated in them. And furthermore, one can raise a difficulty as follows: But there are the mitzvos of Torah study (Deuteronomy 6:7), procreation (Genesis 1:28), and redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:12–13), each of which is not a positive, time-bound mitzva, and yet women are exempt from them.

Rav Yosef Engel (Beis Haotzar Klal 48, and אתוון דאורייתא כלל כב) asks why the commandment of peru urevu is considered not time-bound. On Yom Kippur, it is forbidden to engage in marital relations; therefore, ipso facto one is not obligated that night. Rav Engel uses that question as proof of the idea that if one is missing only one day out of the year, it is not considered missing, and it has various halakhic implications. While he brings many proofs to this idea, regarding his proof, from this particular question, I believe that another answer is possible.

The question is posed from the wrong direction. If we looked at it differently, and we imagined women are obligated in the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, then they actually would be able to fulfill the commandment even on Yom Kippur. This is because the act of carrying the baby would be part of the fulfillment of the mitzvah. The proof for this comes from an analogous case, in regard to returning a lost object. The General Bava Kama (56b) discusses the idea that because one who is involved in one mitzvah is exempt from performing another, therefore, somebody who is involved in tending to a lost object will be exempt from giving Tzedaka to a beggar if he is solicited during that time of occupation with the mitzvah. Let us keep in mind, the real mitzvah is to actually return the lost object to the owner. Watching the object, seeking the owner, etc. is not the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose, yet it still considered being involved in the mitzvah. So too, we can argue that while a woman is pregnant, and therefore tending to her unborn baby, she also is fulfilling the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiply. And, this obviously could be done on Yom Kippur. Now it turns out for technical and separate reasons, women are exempted from that mitzvah, however, the point is that if they were obligated, part of the fulfillment would be carrying the baby and therefore could be done even on Yom Kippur.

Aside from this being an interesting lomdishe argument, it is also an important reminder that though women may not be obligated in the mitzvah of bearing children, carrying the baby, and managing the pregnancy, is certainly fulfillment of a Mitzvah, obligation, or not.


If You Believe That You Can Damage, Then Believe That You Can Fix.

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the halakhic significance of female facial hair if it is considered like a beard. The matter is relevant regarding whether the laws of leprosy of the beard will apply to this area or the laws of skin leprosy, which have different criteria. The Gemara seems to consider the possibility that even though the verse explicitly includes female facial hair as part of the beard leprosy (Vayikra 13:29, “A man or woman who has a plague upon their beard”), the baraisa still needs to teach that she can be purified as well. To this, the Gemara responds:

כֵּיוָן דְּבַת טוּמְאָה הִיא – בַּת טׇהֳרָה הִי.

Since impurity applies to a woman, surely purity must likewise apply to her.

This implies that it is counterintuitive to impose impurity without the ability to purify. If so, this contradicts a different Gemara (Nazir 61b) that assumes if not for a special additional verse, a Gentile might acquire impurity but not be able to become purified through the Red Heifer. Gemara Nazir seems to hold the exact opposite assumption, that impurity can be imposed even without a way to become purified.

I believe Rashi on our Gemara (“LeTaharas”) avoided this question by interpreting the purification of the beard area under discussion as the rituals of purification. Meaning a Metzora shaves beard hair when undergoing purification, so would a female beard need to be shaved? The Gemara never asserted that becoming impure automatically qualifies for being eligible for purification; rather, the Gemara is saying, “If the facial hair is treated as a beard for the laws of impurity, so too it will be for the ritual of purification and need to be shaved.”

If I’m right, then Rashi avoids contradicting the Gemara in Nazir. However, the simple reading of our Gemara is that it was the actual eligibility for purification that presumptively must be granted if laws of impurity apply. If so, how do we reconcile with Gemara Nazir? It could be that this presumption was only for a Jewish person and not a Gentile. The Gemara Nazir was discussing a Gentile without an additional derasha considered that a Gentile can become impure but not become eligible for purity through the Red Heifer. This is a credible distinction for two reasons: 1. A Gentile does not have to offer sacrifices, frequent the Temple, nor give Terumah, so his need for purification is less. 2. The Red Heifer is a sacrificial ritual, and perhaps someone outside the covenant cannot qualify for this ritual.

In any case, taken metaphorically, this teaching has a powerful message. Our Gemara considers it untenable for a Jewish person to become impure and remain stuck in that state. If one becomes impure, then he or she must be eligible for purity. Rav Nachman says, “If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.”

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