Yossi ben Yochanan Ish Yerushalaim says: Your home should be open with abundance; poor people should be members of your household; and don’t carry on excessive conversation with a woman. This was said in relation to his wife. All the more so is it true with the wife of his friend. This is the source for the Rabbis who taught: A person who converses excessively with women causes himself harm, distracts himself from Torah study, and in the end he acquires Gehinom.
We left off the last regular shiur with the Maharal making the point that the intent of the Tanna was to instruct a person on the need to limit excessive conversation with his wife even in matters relating to the home. If this is true in regard to his own wife, it is all the more true in regard to his neighbor’s wife.)
If the Tanna warned against excessive talk with one’s own wife, his underlying assumption must be that excessive talk with a woman has negative consequences. How is this different than any excessive talk?
The woman was created as a being more connected to the “chomer” (material; physical world) while the man’s role was that of “tzurah” (abstract direction).
(The relationship between “chomer” and “tzurah” was brought up last week. To summarize: The ability of the “chomer,” is to take an abstract principle and implement it in the real world. A principle which is not translated into tangible reality exists only in theory — or in some “upper world,” which does nothing for furthering G-d’s goal in having created this physical world. This is the underlying dialectic between Moshe Rabbeinu and the Angels about whether the Torah can be sent down to the physical world or must remain in the purer spiritual heavens. A famous and cryptic Gemara in Shabbath 88b well worth studying in depth.)
The male role, embodied in his requirement for study of the Oral Torah, is to inhabit the world of the abstract, the world of the theory and the principles. It is the female role to translate theory and abstract principles into the real world, to implement it in real life. The “drawback” of the “chomer,” this connection with the physical world, is that the physical world is a temporary and deteriorating one, lacking eternity. (A woman’s daily connection with the life cycle — its potential either actualized or lost — is but one example of this.) A man carrying on excessive (sic) conversation with women is indicative of his desire to attach himself to this deteriorating reality, and in relation to his prescribed role he “causes himself harm, distracts himself from Torah study, and in the end he acquires Gehinom.”
Each of these three negative results are formulated precisely, rather than simply being exaggerated examples of how “really bad this is.” (This approach to learning “pshat” is a recurring one in the Maharal, and it can’t be overemphasized how important it is to study the words of Chazal in such a rigorous way.)
The Tanna’s language for “causes himself harm” is “gorem RA’AH l’atzmo.” The root of the word “rah” (which is normally translated as “bad”) refers to something which lacks continuity and stability. [Examples: “Truah” refers to a broken sound of the Shofar. In Tanach the word refers to something which is shaky or crumbling. See Isaiah 24:19, Yirmiyahu 11:16 and other places. In the Talmud a wobbly ladder is called “sulam ra’uah.”] “Rah” is the word used for “bad” because something “rah” has no stability, and since it leads to no durable purpose, it has no continuity. When a man is drawn to attach himself to the physical world more than he is called upon to do, indicated by his excessive talk with women, he is choosing to attach himself to the “chomer,” which lacks the dimension of an eternal reality. This is also what leads to his acquisition of Gehinom, Gehinom being the ultimate lack of any eternal existence.
This in NO WAY implies ANY inferiority in the woman’s potential for eternity or her place in Olam Habah, where it is equal to the man’s (assuming each one equally fulfilled their personal mission/role as required by G-d). While the woman’s role is one of “chomer,” fulfillment of this role is exactly her path to eternity. It is in the domain of the home and in “real world” matters that Chazal tell us (Bava Metzia 59a) that the woman is the authority — literally the “balabosta” if you will 🙂 — for she is the foundation of the home, where principles and values are turned into reality. But in the realm of setting those principles and values, it is the man, in the role of “tzurah,” who is the final authority. As such, he is subject to the inherent limitations of the “chomer” if he unnecessarily attaches himself to it, which is the cause of his detachment from what is his reality in the eternal scheme – which brings him to “acquiring gehinom.”
The “botel midivrei Torah,” distraction from Torah study that we are being taught about here, is of a different nature than the normal time lost from Torah study when one simply engages in excessive conversation (or any other unnecessary activity). The latter is a man spending time unproductively. It does not prevent him from resuming his study when he completes what he was doing. But for a man to attach himself to the female reality, there is a departure from the male role in Torah study.
(Chazal understand that there are different dimensions of wisdom and thinking, and there are gender differences in these different dimensions. NO implication of inferior or superior – but definitely different. See Yoma 66b, implying that a woman’s wisdom is oriented to the practical; Kiddushin 80b indicating greater flexibility and adaptability in woman’s thoughts and opinions, in contrast to a man’s which is more rigid, strict and principled; Niddah 45b about a woman’s greater intuition; the Newsweek article we mentioned, and many more studies on gender differences in thinking, on problem solving methodologies, etc. There was always a controversy over whether these differences were genetic/innate or caused by environment/sociology. The current brain studies indicate an innate/biological base. While there is still a theory that the biological brain differences are themselves caused by environmental and social factors, the view of Chazal and the Rishonim is certainly that these differences are of a biological and innate nature. Studies of women that enter what had previously been virtually all male professions indicate that they can succeed very well both on an academic as well as a professional level, yet they do the job very differently than men. In many cases, it should be noted, they do it better. The two striking ones in my book are law and medicine. IN GENERAL – and that note must be added in all these discussions, because there are always exceptions in both directions — women lawyers are better at reaching negotiated settlements, and are more in touch with the spirit of the law. Woman doctors have a better grasp of the human dimension of the patient and the “non-medical” nature of many an illness and its cure. This is in line with how Chazal/Rishonim view the female reality. )
(We have just scratched the surface on the issue of gender differences. I hope what I have written presents both a balanced approach and an accurate reflection of at least one Torah dimension of a very complex topic. There are many questions left to explored. A couple of examples to get you thinking: 1) Given what was written above, it sounds like women would make better “poskim” than men! How come the men are the judges and poskim? 2) How come a woman isn’t admonished about entering the man’s domain the way the man is warned against entering the woman’s? I don’t feel we can go deeper in an electronic forum. But you are all invited to continue this with more first-hand study with us in Jerusalem!)