VAYEIRA (Genesis, 18:1‑22:24) — “Girl Talk?”

Ethical conduct is an essential component in religious life.  It is not good enough to follow the rituals of the Torah; Kosher food and kosher Mezuzahs must be accompanied by kosher behavior.

Therefore, our Sages didn’t leave anything to chance.  As they compiled the legal section of the Talmud known as the Mishnah, they included, along with all of the ritual laws, a separate tractate called “Avos”, commonly known as “Ethics of the Fathers”.  This book extols the virtues of Torah study, charity, honesty, and humility.

In the first chapter of Avos, Yose ben Yoezer and Yose ben Yochanan offer some advice as to how a Jewish home should be maintained:

Mishnah 4 — Yose ben Yoezer … says:  “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise; sit at their feet, and drink in their words.”

There is much we can learn from Torah scholars.  By insuring that our homes are the types of places where the wise choose to gather, we have gained much before they even speak.  Once they do speak, we should thirstily take in the uplifting messages that they choose to share with us.

Mishnah 5 — Yose ben Yochanan says: “Let your house be open wide, (some of the Commentaries explain this to mean your home should be accessible to anyone who requires assistance) treat the poor as members of your household, (when you give charity to the poor, treat them like family, not like “shnorrers”) and don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.” This was said about one’s own wife; all the more so does it apply to another’s wife.… the Sages said: “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom.  (The Hebrew term for … a very hot place!!)”

Not very politically correct!

This is, to say the very least, very difficult to understand.  The part about overdoing conversation with someone else’s wife is understandable.  Human nature being what it is, it is certainly wise for men and women who are not married to each other to set parameters as to how much friendly conversation is appropriate.  But what’s wrong with talking to your wife??!!  Is Yose ben Yochanan telling us to relegate one’s wife to serving in the kitchen, and not to engage in conversation with her?  This idea seems to resonate with the old stereotype of keeping your wife barefoot and pregnant, serving as little more than a domestic!  Could this be what Yose ben Yochanan means??!!

We certainly don’t get that impression from this week’s Torah Portion.

Abraham was distraught.  He had two sons; Ishmael, the son of Hagar the Egyptian maid, and Isaac, the son of Sarah.  Sarah saw that her stepson Ishmael was pursuing a life of idolatry and promiscuity.  She was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. (See See “Under the Influence of Dregs”.)  Ishmael had to go!

Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” (Genesis 21:10)

Understandably, Abraham was not happy with the turn of events.  How could he banish his own flesh and blood?

G-d gave Abraham his answer:

“…Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice…”  (Ibid, 21:12)

The Talmud tells us that “her voice” was divinely inspired; that Sarah’s level of prophecy was greater than that of her husband.

—————–

Rabbinic literature is replete with references to the importance of husbands relying upon the sage advice of their wives.  Women, we are told, enjoy a “Binah Yesierah”, an extra level of understanding that we Philistines, i.e., men, lack.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger wrote a letter to his children while mourning his wife’s death.  In it, he declared, “… the little bit of Torah in me is only due to her help … who will pasture our young sheep (children); with whom shall I share my worries and find some respite? … Which human being knows better than I of her righteousness and modesty?  Many times we held deep discussions on topics related to the fear of Heaven until the middle of the night…”  (Igros Soferim p. 65, quoted in Artscroll Pirkei Avos Treasury, p. 23)

It doesn’t quite sound like Rabbi Eiger avoided speaking to his wife!

So what was Yose ben Yochanan talking about?  What’s wrong with talking to your wife?

——————

Rabbi Akiva Eiger certainly appreciated his wife’s wise counsel.  So did Abraham.  Sarah was Abraham’s partner in teaching Torah to the masses.  He taught the men and she taught the women.  They certainly had much to discuss.  Abraham would never have been willing to give up the opportunity to be encouraged and uplifted by the judicious advice of his wife.

Yose ben Yochanan is not saying not to talk to your wife!  He is saying not to speak INAPPROPRIATELY to your wife.  Don’t waste your and her time with idle prattle.  Don’t gossip with her about the office scuttlebutt.  Don’t dump on her with complaints.

Don’t take liberties in divulging confidences.

A newlywed I know got some advice from a famous rabbi, who made it clear that he wasn’t to repeat it to anyone.  He went home and told his wife that Rabbi ____ had told him something that he didn’t want to be quoted on, but that it surely didn’t apply to her.  She stopped him right there.  “Unless you have his permission to tell me, I don’t want to hear it.”

He went back to the rabbi to get permission to repeat the story to his wife.  The rabbi smiled and said, “You’re a very lucky man!”

If someone confides in me, he has a right to assume that his secret will go no further.  I don’t have a right to turn around and tell it to anyone, including my wife.  If I have an argument with you, that is MY fight with you; I don’t have a right to make it my wife’s fight with you.

————————————

As we read above, “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself…”

Anyone who fails to utilize the precious asset he has available puts himself at great spiritual risk.  To be sure, conversation is very important.  “Small talk” between a husband and wife is also important.  But the man who realizes how much his wife can teach him and inspire him will make sure that his conversations are always of a positive and constructive nature.

We’ve been discussing the words of Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan, in Mishnah 5.  But lets not forget that his comments come right after the other Rabbi Yose — Yoezer’s son, in Mishnah 4: Yose ben Yoezer … says:  “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise; sit at their feet, and drink in their words.”

If you value the guidance of your wife, your home is provided with an in-house resource; a repository of keen perception and insight.  She is the one who will help to insure that your home is worthy of a visit from wise and righteous people.

Let’s read that quote from Yose ben Yochanan once more: “…don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.”

Perhaps he means: too much conversation; too much dialogue; too much MONOlogue!  Hey, Mister!  Don’t talk so much!  Why don’t you try closing your mouth and opening your ears?  Maybe if you’ll stop talking long enough to listen you’ll learn something!!

Good advice.  Advice that all of us married guys need to learn to follow.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

———————————————————————————

FROM THE ARCHIVES

“Sodom & Gomorrah… and Sandy” (2012)

It is easy to look at the pictures of the devastation and be reminded of this week’s Torah Portion’s story of the overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah.  After G-d was finished raining destruction on those cities, there was nothing left.  The Torah tells us that before the destruction, Sodom was a green and lush paradise.  After the destruction, it was a barren desert.

No doubt, there will be some who will glibly attribute the hurricane to …

Read more.

———————————————————————————

 “A Prayer and an Opportunity” (2010)

… We, the People of Israel are a compassionate People.  We try to take care of our own.  And there they are, at synagogues and cemeteries, jingling change in their hands, and calling out, “Tzedokah, Tzedokah.” (Loosely – and incorrectly – translated as “Charity, Charity.”)

… It can be very disturbing.  It can even be annoying.  And this is what led to my dilemma two years ago.

I was praying at Rachel’s Tomb.  I had many things to pray for.  I was standing there, at that holy site, pouring out my heart to G-d.  I was reciting Psalms with a fervor that is difficult to match in other places.  I felt close to our Father in Heaven.

Then it happened.  A hand was thrust into my face, with a quick description of a difficult situation of an impoverished family… taking advantage of the opportunity to pray in this holy place.  I was inspired.  I was uplifted.  And this charity collector burst into my conversation with G-d and totally destroyed my concentration.  How dare he?!!

…Who was right, I pondered; the collector or me?… 

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Immaculate Deception?” (2009)

The world was a desolate place. Sodom  and Gomorrah had just been destroyed.  They were such dens of iniquity that G-d would no longer tolerate their existence.

But He didn’t destroy everyone…

Lot  and his two surviving daughters hid in a cave… They assumed, after the massive destruction they had just survived, that the entire human race had been wiped out… Lot’s daughters had to make a difficult decision…

Lot  now had two illegitimate sons/grandsons, who were the fathers of two nations who would, some day, be a source of problems to their cousins the Israelites.

They were illegitimate.  But why advertise it? …

Read more.

 ———————————————————————————

 “Girl Talk?” (2007) 

Yose ben Yochanan says: “… don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.” This was said about one’s own wife; all the more so does it apply to another’s wife.… the Sages said: “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom.  (The Hebrew term for … a very hot place!!)”

Not very politically correct!

This is, to say the very least, very difficult to understand.  The part about overdoing conversation with someone else’s wife is understandable.  Human nature being what it is, it is certainly wise for men and women who are not married to each other to set parameters as to how much friendly conversation is appropriate.  But what’s wrong with talking to your wife?…

Read more.

———————————————————————————

 “What’s So Funny?”  (2006) 

… Two people hear the same prophecy.  Abraham laughs, and G-d says nothing.  Sarah laughs, and is criticized by G-d.  What’s the difference?  If Sarah is criticized for doubting the truth of the prediction, why isn’t Abraham?…

Read more.

———————————————————————————

 “Would Abraham Give Candy to Trick-or-Treaters?” (2005) 

… You are a Sabbath-observing Jew.  You are taking a Shabbos afternoon stroll when a car pulls up next to you.  The driver, also Jewish, asks you for directions.  What do you do?…

What do you do?  Good manners would dictate that you politely tell the driver how to reach his destination.  Jewish Law, however, dictates that you may not assist another Jew in violating Jewish Law.   Should you say you don’t know how to get there?  You’re not allowed to lie.  What do you do??!!! …

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“The Most Powerful Force on Earth” (2003) 

…Lot… moved to Sodom  to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.” …Lot …seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyle of his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem  vs. San Francisco, Lot  chose ‘Frisco! …

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Not Now, G-d, I’m Busy . . . I’ll Talk to You Later!” (2002) 

… You have been selected for a visit from the President of the United States…

“Forgive me, Mr. President. I have something to take care of.  Make yourself at home.  I’ll be back soon.”

You then proceed to run to your itinerant guests, waiting on them hand and foot while the President cools his heels and leafs through your wedding album.

You give them your best food to eat and your finest cigars to smoke.  All the while, the President stands there incredulously, flabbergasted by your audacious and outrageous behavior…

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Could the Twin Towers Have Been Saved?” (2001)

… At the risk of being controversial (who, me?) and politically incorrect, I would like to suggest that there seems to be Biblical precedent for the profiling of Arabs, expecting the worst.  After all, our cousins the Ishmaelites have been at war with us for thousands of years…

Read more .

———————————————————————————

“Under the Influence of Dregs” (2000) 

… Sarah … was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. “Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

Abraham was distressed by his wife’s suggestion. “My son Ishmael?” he must have asked. “How can I send him away? Who will teach him the right way to live if not I?”

Abraham lost the argument…

Read more.

——————————————————————–

This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

——————————————————————–

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

——————————————————————–

If you enjoyed this message, email it to a friend.

To subscribe to this mailing, send an e-mail to TorahTalk@gmail.com and type SUBSCRIBE on the subject line.

To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to TorahTalk@gmail.com and type UNSUBSCRIBE on the subject line.

Advertisements
Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: