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.
(There was some interesting feedback from the last set of shiurim on the gender issues, and I need to repeat that the complexity of the topic, coupled with its “political” nature, makes it very difficult to deal with adequately in an electronic forum. It requires personal discussion in a focused learning environment to clarify the Torah perspective based on accurate interpretation of Chazal’s teachings. I will try to deal with one point that I raised which seems to have led to some misunderstanding, then move on to the Maharal’s summation of our Mishna. (What I had intended as a thought provoking question — How come the men are the judges and Poskim — seems to have led to some confusion. Two clarifications.
- “Tzurah” — which refers to the abstract prinicple and the direction to be taken — and “Chomer” — which refers to the physical matter being utilized and guided to concretize the tzurah — does not deal with specifically with abilities. These are functions. Each role is played in relation to the other, and implies certain functions in how G-d wants the world to run. This is why Klal Yisrael can be described as chomer in relation to G-d, as the tzurah; while also being described as tzurah in relation to other nations of the world as chomer. The neshama, the soul, is the tzurah to the guf, the physical body, as chomer. Moshe Rabbeinu was tzurah in relation to Aharon HaCohen as chomer.
- The nature of the Posek in Jewish life is to clarify the principles at work in any given situation, deciding which Halachot apply and to set policy according to those principles. This is the function of the “tzurah.” While the Posek can’t be oblivious to the practicalities of the decision, he can’t be unduly influenced by them, either. This was the role of Moshe Rabbeinu in our pre-Pesach Dvar Torah. The “chomer” role would then be to find the proper way to implement those policies. So it is the male role to be the posek. This does NOT mean that all men are suitable to be poskim just because of their gender. But the posek is fulfilling the “tzurah” role, and it is from among those fulfilling this role that we draw our poskim. Women certainly need to know Halacha, and they certainly need to make Halachic decisions. They do it every day, and in fact there are Halachot that they are entrusted with exclusively. In the homes of many shul and communal Rabbis, the women answer innumerable Halchic questions. But a posek is a very different function.
(As we cover more ground in the Maharal, some of the confusion over tzruah and chomer may be dispelled, and I hope the above didn’t add to the confusion. :-). Since the last shiur, there seem to be quite a few new subscribers, and I ask them to bear with this shiur which is more theoretical than is my usual intention, and is built on three earlier shiurim, which may make it misleading.)
(To better understand the concept of chomer and tzurah in a simplified form, we will use a concrete example: “table.” The “chomer,” the raw material of the table is wood.
- Wood can be fashioned in any number of ways in to any number of things. “Table” is the tzurah, the function or construct, we are giving, injecting, in to the wood, the chomer, the matter.
- It is specifically the “chomer” of the table which can deteriorate, wear out, disintegrate. The “tzurah” of “table,” as an abstract concept, doesn’t deteriorate.
- Without wood, the chomer, the tzurah would be useless. And without tzurah, an abstract construct, the wood would remain potential, waiting for actualization.
[Please be careful in applying this simplified example too literally to male/female relationships!])
(Now back to the Mishna – finally!)
“…and in the end he acquires Gehinom.” Gehinom is the state of “non-existence.” It is the consequence of a person failing to fulfill his role in this world, since he then lacks any connection to an eternal existence. In this physical world, it is “chomer,” the physical matter which is subject to deterioration leading to its losing its existence. “Tzurah” as referring to something abstract, is not subject to to this deterioration. (Woman, as chomer, is more intimately involved in physical life as well as death on a monthly basis. The nature of her physical body, metabolism, etc. is also very different than a man’s, reflecting a “chomer” reality in contratst to a “tzurah” one.) If the man, whose role is one of tzurah, attaches himself to the female role through excessive involvement in her domain, (excessive conversation with women) rather than fulfilling his role, he is attaching himself to a deteriorating reality, which ultimately leads him to a state of non- existence, gehinom, rather than eternity and Gan Eiden. The woman, however, whose role in this world is chomer, is not led to this state of non-existence, since she is FULFILLING her role through attachment to and involvement with the physical world. As this world is one of “chomer” of physical matter, she is uniquely positioned to know how to deal with it. This is why the Gemara in Bava Metziah 59a admonishes the husband to follow his wife’s input in matters relating to the “real” world and the home. This ensures existence in the physical world, which is the role of the woman, and when she fulfills this role she has a place in the eternal world equal to the man who fulfills his role. But the man who descends from his assigned role, which should transcend excessive involvement in a system which has certain physical limitations and deteriorations, and attaches himself to the reality that is subject to them, sets himself on a path leading to deterioration and away from eternity.
(For those of you who are wondering, I have changed many a diaper and washed many a dish in my “career.” But Chazal’s perspective, as indicated from the ealier sources we quoted as well as many others, would disagree with the prevalent attitude, which has beome developed into a principle of our modern society, of equality between husband and wife in every aspect of running the house. It is clear that the Torah’s principle is one of role differentiation. How this plays out in practice is a very individual matter, based on personalities, talents and circumstances. But the PRINCIPLE must be our starting point.)
So the three results of excessive conversation with women listed in the Mishhah are not simply a dramatic way of telling us that this is something one shouldn’t do, but rather are very precisely formulated consequences of that excess. As in all teachings of the Rabbis, they don’t use generalizations or approximations, but precise and accurate statements, reflecting deep realities.
In summary, Yossi ben Yoezer and Yossi ben Yochanan are teaching us perfection of the home in the service of G-d, one from the perspective of love (follow the positive) and one from the perspective of fear and awe (refrain from the negative). This follows the teaching of Antignos who admonished us about our overall service of G-d, teaching that it should be done with a combination of love and awe. Antignos, as the single receiver of the transmission of the Torah, was on the level of being able to embody both love and fear within himself and his teachings. From now on, with the deterioration of the generations, the transmission passed through pairs of Tanaim, one who taught his mussar, his discipline, from the perspective of love of G-d, and one from the perspective of fear of G-d.