Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

You Made the Wine, I Just Made the Grapes and More… Bava Metzia 57-60


You Made the Wine, I Just Made the Grapes

Our Gemara on Amud Beis rules that the oath and various other obligations of a watchman are not applicable when it is an item that belongs to the Temple treasury. The verse states, “His peer” (Shemos 22:6) , which excludes something belonging to the sacred coffers. 

Ohr Hachaim (ibid) offers a metaphysical-legal explanation. There is a well known exemption from obligations of the watchmen or borrower when we consider the owner as “with him” in the usage or endeavor (ibid 22:13). The simple logic is that if the owner is somehow working alongside you (various halachic technicalities apply), the object is not fully entrusted to the watchman, and there is less liability. Ohr Hachaim cleverly argues that since God is everywhere, he is always present alongside His objects (the Temple treasury), and so the typical obligations of a watchman are not incurred.

The idea that God is sovereign and intimately involved in our actions is a fundamental religious principle. The Gemara (Berachos 35a) formulates this idea in the practice of reciting blessings before eating or enjoying pleasures of the world:

Rabbi Levi raised a contradiction: It is written: “The earth and all it contains is the Lord’s,” and it is written elsewhere: “The heavens are the Lord’s and the earth He has given over to mankind” (Psalms 115:16). There is clearly a contradiction with regard to whom the earth belongs. He himself resolves the contradiction: This is not difficult. Here, the verse that says that the earth is the Lord’s refers to the situation before a blessing is recited,

The idea is paradoxical but true. We have no right to anything. Once we humbly accept this fact, God grants us the right and permission to enjoy.

We also can use this idea to understand the text of the blessing on bread, “He who takes bread out of the ground.” Really? I have not seen bread grow on trees! Bread is made through complex human engineering. Threshing the grain, grinding it, kneading the dough, letting it rise, and baking it. Yet, the blessing is thanking God for bringing bread out of the ground! This is precisely the point. Even though you have to work hard for it, never forget that God is the one who really gives it to you.

I’ve noticed though that the blessing on wine is crafted in the opposite manner. Here we recite, “He who creates the fruit of the vine.” The blessing references the fruit, not the actual wine, yet ironically the blessing on grapes is not “He who creates the fruit of the vine”, but rather “He who creates the fruit of the tree.” (See Shulchan Aruch OC 202:1). How do we account for this difference between wine and bread? I am wondering whether there is a subtle message here about wine. Human industry and ingenuity can be harnessed for lofty or sinful pursuits, and the choice is solely ours. God says to those who abuse wine, “Don’t blame me, I did not make the wine. YOU made the wine, I just made grapes.”


Inconvenient Truths 

Our Gemara on Amud Beis gives examples of hurtful speech that taunts and belittles:

If one is a penitent, another may not say to him: Remember your earlier deeds. If one is the child of converts, another may not say to him: Remember the deeds of your ancestors. If one is a convert and he came to study Torah, one may not say to him: Does the mouth that ate unslaughtered carcasses and repugnant creatures, and creeping animals, comes to study Torah that was stated from the mouth of the Almighty?

The taunt given to the convert is incongruent.  In comparison, the taunt given to the penitent, and even the taunt to sons of converts, involves a true accusation.  The penitent obviously sinned, and the son of converts did indeed have ancestors who committed sinful acts, such as idolatry etc.  However, why should it be shameful to the convert that he ate non-kosher prior to his conversion, as he committed no sins at that time?  The Mei Hashiloach (Likkutim Bava Metzia 58b) has a different take on the accusation. He says the convert is offended because actually he still may commit these sins, and certainly has a propensity to do so.  Mei Shiloach says, like all insults, they only hurt because there is some truth to it.

Not that anyone should have license to hurt another’s feelings.  However, when we become insulted, we should ask ourselves, “It hurts, but is there some truth to this?”  Tiferes Yisrael (Boaz Avos 4:1) says that a person’s enemies are the people that will give you the most honest rebuke (because, due to their animosity, they don’t hold back), and so it is worth listening to them.

One of my favorite and timely quotes from Tucker Carlson is, “They don’t get angry at you for telling lies (even though they claim you are lying). Lies aren’t dangerous as most lies will eventually be discovered.  They get angry at you when you say inconvenient and threatening truths.”


An Absorbent Jew 

Our Gemara on amud beis discusses the ways in which Dovid Hamelech was verbally tormented by his critics:

They torment me to the extent that even at the time when they are engaged in the public study of the halachos of leprous sores and tents in which there is a corpse, they say to me: David, one who engages in adultery, what form of execution do they give him? And I say to them: An adulterer who commits this sin with a married woman before witnesses and with forewarning, is liable for the death penalty by strangulation, but he still has a share in the World-to-Come. But one who humiliates another in public has no share in the World-to-Come. The transgression of you, who humiliate me, is more severe than my transgression.

The Gemara’s reference to the halachic sphere of “leprous sores and tents in which there is a corpse” or in Hebrew, Nega’im and Oholos” is a distinctive choice. Peri Tzaddik (Vayetzei 7.2) notes that this terminology is used in another area of the Talmud, also seemingly with a purpose.  For example, one of Rabbi Akiva’s peers criticize his forays into aggadah (Sanhedrin 67b):

Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said to him: Akiva, what are you doing occupying yourself with the study of aggadah? This is not your field of expertise. Take your statements to the tractates of Nega’im and Oholos.

Rav Tzaddok explains that Nega’im and Oholos comprise three basic impurities: Tzora’as, Zav, and a corpse.  Each of these three represent specific character flaws.  The Metzora sins with jealousy and anger. He is utterly anti-social and must be sent out of all three encampments.  The Zav’s impurity, which is an affliction of the sexual organs, represents lust.  This sin is not as bad so he can still remain in the Israelite camp, while staying away from the Cohanite camp.  The impurity of the corpse represents arrogance, as of course death is the great equalizer and humbles all of us. While arrogance is problematic and therefore impure as well, it does not necessitate leaving any encampment, though he can render others impure, so contact is necessarily restricted.

Therefore these areas of study, as when Torah is studied properly in any area, opens a path to greater consciousness and refinement in that aspect of moral character development.  Thus, Rabbi Akiva’s colleague was saying, “You have a particular talent in these halachic and psychologically difficult areas, Klall Yisrael needs you to focus on that, so as to inspire repair to these deficits and impurities: Jealous and hatred, lust, and arrogance. \

Likewise, Dovid Hamelech was incredulous.  Even whilst Doeg and Achitofel were studying Torah that should confront and tame their tendency toward arrogance, hate, and lust, they have no problem committing these sins against me. 

Let us hope that in whatever area of Torah we study, we merit the ability to absorb the messages and not be blinded by our distortions and rationalizations.


Beautifying or Deceiving?

Our Gemara on amud aleph discusses deceitful business practices, such as feeding an animal in a certain way to make it temporarily appear more robust than it actually is, or grooming a slave and dyeing his hair so he will appear younger.  Rav Yaakov Emden (Hagahos Ya’avetz, ibid) discusses if it is permitted for a woman of marriageable age to adorn herself with make-up and other cosmetics to appear pretty, and rules that it is permitted. He cites a Mishna (Nedarim 66a-66b) where Rabbi Yishmael plays matchmaker, and convinces a reluctant suitor to marry a woman whom he initially found unattractive. The Gemara tells us that he repaired her smile by replacing a missing tooth and this changed her appearance. Rav Emden cautions that it is only permitted to do ordinary cosmetic enhancements, but not to deliberately cover up a major blemish or flaw.  (In that Mishna, she was given a gold tooth, so no one would mistake it for an original, but apparently in those days that was beautifying.

It appears, within the bounds of tznius, it is a Torah value for every woman to strive to maintain her attractiveness. In that same Mishna Nedarim (66a) Rabbi Yishmael bemoans how poverty has affected the beauty and radiance of Jewish daughters.  This indicates that it is a worthy matter.

Lest one think this sensitivity is limited to young maidens, we find Rav Chisda making a point to his colleagues that even an elderly grandmother is expected to take steps to preserve her beauty (Gemara Moed Kattan 9b).

There are even situations where concerns about possible sin are bypassed to prevent a woman from becoming ugly in her husband’s eyes. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 195:9, as well as Gemara Bava Kama 82b where they permitted unsavory merchants of cosmetics to dispense their wares, so the women can be adorned and not become loathsome in their husband’s eyes.

The Gemara (Ta’anis 23b) tells us that the wife of Abba Chilkiya a great tsaddik and grandson of Choni Hameagel, would adorn and beautify herself in order to greet him when he came home. When a student inquired about the propriety of this behavior, he explained, “She does this in order that I not be tempted to look at other women.”

While perhaps in those times, there was a greater focus on female beauty and male temptation to sin, in today’s times men cannot afford to neglect their looks or appear ugly to their wives for the very same reasons. Therapists will tell you that the male-female infidelity gap is closing, and there are many women who also face temptation.  One of Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT’L’s famous Ten Commandments of Marriage was “Maintain Your Appearance – Do Not Look Slovenly”.  

One of the great gifts of Judaism, is that though it promotes restraint and modesty, it never demands utter suppression of the basic pleasures of life, which most certainly includes enjoying being beautiful and seeing beauty in the right place and time. 

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