Thursday, February 14, 2013

Verbal abusers mistakenly feel superior to Jewish victim - Alshech

The Alshech gets into the theology/psychology of the prohibition against verbal abuse. He notes that one does not torment another person unless the other is viewed as being inferior. He explains that that is why the prohibition describes the other as being "with him".  He also notes that we have no way of knowing who is superior or inferior in this world - it will only be revealed in the World to Come. He thus advises to always view others as superior. He also states this is not a prohibition against abusing a person but to prevent abuse against G-d since the soul of people is part of G-d.

Alshech (Vayikra 25:17): Our Sages (Bava Metzia 58b) understood this verse to be referring to the prohibition of hurting others with words. For example not to tell a baal teshuva, “remember your previous deeds.” Or to tell a person suffering from illness that if he was truly righteous he wouldn’t be sick. The attribution of our Sages of this verse to verbal abuse and the previous verse (Vayikra 25:14) to deception with land – solves the question about why there are two verses dealing with deception. ... 

As regards the literal meaning of the verse, it cautions not to torment another person with words. The person who is being cautioned views himself as man who is as important as all other men or as the men in the Bible - in contrast to the other man who he is ridiculing and embarrassing and tormenting with words. The Torah says that when you abuse others you view yourself as a greater tzadik than he and you deserve being able to call to the L‑rd your G‑d - but in fact you are mistaken. That is what is meant by, “And don’t abuse your fellow man...” You should not view yourself as important but not the other person. In fact however relative to Me your fellow and comrade is a man who is equal to you in value. That is the meaning of do not abuse “a man and his fellow” in this verse. Because if you consider the other as your fellow (amiso) that means that you view him as equal to you. However if you mistakenly view that you have a closer relations to G‑d – you will find that is not so. That is because He is as much your G‑d as He is his G‑d. Which mortal man can know who is better before G‑d – this one or that one or whether both are equally good?

Another issue is that the verse seems to be prohibiting verbally tormenting another because it degrades the honor of his fellow man. But that can’t be the correct understanding because the verse ends with the statement that “you should fear G‑d.” That indicates that verbally abusing another is prohibited because degrading the honor of men degrades G‑d’s honor. That is because G‑d is in fact the G‑d of both of them - because his fellow’s soul is a part of G‑d just as his soul is. Thus G‑d is saying, You are degrading that aspect of your fellow man which is part of Me and therefore you are despising Me since I am as much your G‑d as I am his. This is an important lesson. A person should not view himself as better than another as it says in Job (3:19), The small and great are there and the servant is free from his master.  This lesson is also expressed in Pesachim (50a) where it says that we live in an upside down world. That which is actually superior is viewed as lowly and that which is actually lowly is viewed as superior. That means that the true importance of things will only become apparent in the World to Come. Because G‑d alone knows everyone’s true status and only there will He reveal every man’s correct position.  This is the meaning of Job (3:19), The small and great are there and the servant is free from his master.  In other words whether a person is small in value or great will only be seen in the World to Come. In contrast in this world there is no way to know who is superior and who is inferior. We will also find in the World to Come that a servant who is more free (i.e. superior) than his master because he is judged by his deeds. That is the implication of the mem (“from his master” in Job 3:19). This is also implied in Esther (1:19), “And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.” Thus friends find praiseworthy and look up to one of the perfected men who never met a man that he didn’t honor and didn’t view as better than him. The reasoning behind this is that if the other is younger than me that means he must have committed less sins. If he is older than me then that means he has accomplished more. If he is more knowledgeable than me then he has more merit. If I am more knowledgeable, I view that I have done more things wrong then he since he has less awareness then I regarding sin. This approach of seeing that all men are superior to you can be extended to all aspects of a person.

Therefore Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh has noted that our Sages (Avos 4:4) warned, Be exceeding careful to be humble before every person since the hope of man is  worms. Therefore a man you view all others as being better than he is as we mentioned. This is the opposite attitude of one who verbally torments others. According to our approach we need to examine why this statement in Avos (4:4) said m’od m’od (exceedingly). Also we need to examine why it says that the “hope of man is worms?” The term “hope” is only correctly applied to that which a person hopes and longs for. What kind of man desires worms? It should have simply said that end of man is worms. Furthermore why is the term man enosh instead of adam or ish?

Now we know that for personality traits there is nothing better than moderation and therefore the avoidance of extremes is preferred by intelligent people. Thus it is reasonable to assume that this is  also true for the attribute of humility. However this conclusion is contrary to what we find in the Torah which states (Bamidbar 12:3) , “The man Moshe was very humble from all mankind.” Consequently it is important to investigate why G‑d chose the extreme trait to praise Moshe? Rabbi Levitas apparently understood the expression m’od m’od (exceedingly) to mean the strongest degree possible of humility. Don’t raise an objection from moderation because we see that our Sages said the hope of man is worm. Because what the Sages meant was that a person should desire to be a worm. The term m’od m’od is applied not only to humility but also to how insignificant he is.

We know that there are a number of words that refer to man  - ish, gever, enosh and the most lowly description is enosh. It is only used to describe a person who is not good as is well known. There is also no more negative attribute describing a person than conceit. We see that the most negative characteristic of man (Tehilim 101:5) e.g., the one which most conflicts with G‑d - is pride. G‑d says that He can not exist together in the world with a person who is conceited (Sotah 5a). If so than this is the description of man as enosh. Therefore our Sages tell us that we need to be humble because if we aren’t humble then we will eventually become the type of man called enosh and not one of the others. If you become man as enosh  - then you will desire and hope for the worm. We know that a person who is totally not good and is described as enosh  will not be able to find peace after death until his flesh decays in his grave. Therefore before the worm start to come to him he will strongly desire and hope when will the worm come to him and consume his flesh in order that he finds peace.

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