Monday, February 19, 2024

A real talmid chachom needs to be cruel and insensitive to his family?

A possible explanation of the parameters of insensitivy is presented in later post Alter Rebbe admonished his son for insensitivity

Eiruvin(21b-22a): His locks are curled (Shir HaShirm 5:11). Mar Ukva says that teaches us that we are to make many interpretations on every point of the letters of the Torah. black as a raven – With whom do you find this ability? It is with he who gets up early (shachar – shacharis – Rashi) and remains late (aruv – aravis – Rashi) to study Torah. Rabbah said you only find this ability in a person who blackens his face like a raven (from hunger and deprivation). Rava said this ability is only found in someone who makes himself cruel in relation to his children and wife – as a raven. [And therefore G‑d provides insects which go into their mouths - Rashi] Someone such as Rav Adda bar Masnah who once when leaving to study Torah in the beis medrash was stopped by his wife. She asked him how she would be able to feed his children? He responded by saying, Are there no more edible herbs that can be found for free in the marsh?
update added
Kli Yakar (Devarim 33:9):Who said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; nor did he acknowledge his brothers, nor knew his own children; for they have observed your word, and kept your covenant. That is because our Sages (Megila 17a) said that whoever is involved in Torah study is exempt from honoring his parents. The proof of this is Yaakov who was not punished for the 14 years that he remained with Shem and Ever and did not fulfill the mitzva of honoring his father and mother. This is what the verse is saying that “He says to his father and mother that he hasn’t seen him” because he is not required to look after them and surely he doesn’t not have to pay attention to what his brother is doing.Furthermore the verse says He doesn’t know his own children.This is stated in Eiruvin (22a). “What is the meaning of the verse (Shir HaShirim 5:11), “black as a crow.” Rava says it is referring to talmid chachim because of the necessity for him to be cruel to his children as a crow in order to be proficient in his studies. An example is Rav Adda who when he was leaving to study in the beis hamedrash his wife asked him where his children would get food. He responded that there were herbs in the marsh that they could eat.” This that it says in this verse that “he doesn’t know his own children” it also means that his children act as if they don’t know their father. That is because they also are studying Torah and thus don’t know him.

Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel #63):  Eiruvin (21b),” (Shir HaShirim 5:11) curled locks black as a crow. Mar Ukva says it teaches that every aspect of Torah should be interpreted to produce many halachic understandings. Rabba says it indicates that Torah mastery depends on deprivation of food which is indicated by the face darkening like a raven. Rava says it means Torah mastery is depends on being cruel to one’s family and wife as a crow.” The underlying concept of expressed in this gemora that the great amount of halachic knowledge which is indicated by curls – they in fact are refined abstract understandings (hasagos hanivdalim) that are separate from this world and are far from the man who is materialistic. That is why the gemora uses the language “with whom do you find these halachos” The first answer is one who devotes his mornings and evenings to understand them. In other words Torah mastery is found in someone who turns his back on the material issues of this world and instead devotes all this time to study these matters. That is because it is impossible that he be a talmid chachom if he is immersed in the material issues of the world. Rabbah provides a higher level in that a real talmid chachom needs to darken himself. That means not only his thoughts are turned from materialism but that he minimizes his physical connection with the materialism of eating and other comforts. In this manner he is fit to acquire these concepts which are separated from a person. The third level described by Rava is to be so separated from this material world that he is cruel to his children. This is a higher level of separation then depriving oneself of material enjoyment such as food. The significance of this is clear that one who is not merciful to his own children has overcome his material nature to a higher degree than one denies himself food. Thus he is more able to acquire these non-physical concepts which are alien to the man immersed in physicality.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (Chashukei Chemed Bava Basra 73b): Question: A father-in-law sees that his son-in-law is a great masmid - however he doesn’t bring any income into the home and his children are going hungry. He is very disturbed by the suffering of his daughter and his grandchildren. He wants to intervene and to request that his son-in-law go to work and provide properly for his family. What can be said to the father-in-law to dissuade him from intervening? Answer: It says in Bava Basra (73b) Rabbah b. Bar Hana further stated: I saw that frog the size of the Fort of Hagronia. (What is the size of the Fort of Hagronia? Sixty houses.) There came a snake and swallowed the frog. Then came a raven and swallowed the snake, and perched on a tree. Imagine how strong the tree was. R. Papa b. Samuel said: Had I not been there I would not have believed it.” The Gra explains the significance of the frog according the medrash. Why were the Egyptians afflicted with frogs? Because they prevented the Jews from studying Torah like the frog that didn’t stop day and night. That is the meaning of “that frog” – meaning a great Torah scholar. “The size of Fort of Hagronia which was the size of 60 houses” – alludes to the fact that the scholar reads and learns with his throat (garon) – 60 tractates which he has mastered. “Then a snake came” – that is referring to the yetzer harah which is called snake which stays close to the talmid chachom to prevent him from studying Torah because of the lack of food. Then the crow comes and swallows the snake. This is explained in Eiruvin (22a) regarding the verse “black as a crow” – that one who make himself a cruel as crow regarding his children. That is because the yetzer harah tries to seduce the person to stop learning because of the lack of food. However the one who makes himself as cruel as a crow and continues learning Torah day and night – then G‑d Himself provides them with food. That is the significance of the crow sitting on the tree – that G‑d Himself supports the talmid chachom like in a Yissachar Zevulen relationship. “Thus imagine powerful that tree is” – meaning how great is the power of those who support people who study Torah from the fact that Yaakov and Moshe preceded the Berachos of Zevulen to Yissachar. And a certain talmid chachom related that immediately after the war the Brisker Rav met the Mastrikover Rebbe. Both of them had lost many family members. The Brisk Rav said, Our Sages tell us that the verse, “Man when he dies in the tent” teaches us that Torah is only mastered by someone who is willing to kill himself for it. One can also interpret these words to mean that a man is obligated to kill his emotions in order to learn Torah. 

Orchos Tzadikim (Gate of Cruelty): Up to this point we have been describing how how bad cruelty is. However there are situations that in fact require a person to act cruelly against the wicked... Furthermore our Sages (Eiruvin 22a) say that Torah scholarship is found in a person who is cruel to his family as a crow and it cites as an example the case of Rav Ada bar Masna who was asked by his wife as he was leaving to learning in the beis medrash how his children were to be fed. He responded they can eat the herbs growning in the marsh. It is obvious that a person who shows too much kindness to his child will focus on making money and he will not be so concerned on whether the money is obtained legally or not. That is because love distorts one’s thinking. In addition because of the effort that he has to exert day and night to produce a livelihood and ample supplies he ends up being idle from Torah study. That is because he makes his work the main thing and consequently his priorities become confused. 

Vayikra Rabbah (19:01)  Seeing that the words of the Torah require to be attended to early at dawn and late in the evening, whence will one's livelihood come, even as it is said, ’ Who shall provide for the raven his food,’ when his young ones cry unto God, and wander for lack of food? This implies: If a man does not show himself as cruel towards himself, his children and his household as a raven to its young, he does not succeed in acquiring Torah. 


  1. Is this normative?
    There are plenty of statements you can bring, but not all are normative, eg that there is no MOshiah for Israel.

  2. If I replaced the word "talmid chachom" with "doctor" or "lawyer" or "CEO" or "politician" - would you have any problem with accepting it?

    1. If Rambam replaced his requirement for a member of the Sanhedrin to have a wife a children and not be "achzari" for doctors or politicians, would you have a problem with it?

    2. Eddie the two situations are not comparable. A Talmid chachom/dayan needs the ability to have or feel mercy. That is only when oneis married and have a family. However to be a talmid chachom one needs to suppress that quality.

      If you don't have a quality you can't suppress it.

    3. DT, I need a flow chart to look at our discussion so far. So a few points:

      1) We previously concluded and agreed that a blogger "disagreeing" with a Gemara is irrelevant - the issue is to find the parameters of where the statement is applies and where not.

      2) You asked if you replaced it with Doctor etc, and hence my reply in the same style.

      But the Rambam, I believe is very relevant to our gemora here. It seems tome you are misreading the Rambam or that I have misread it. I understand Rambam to be making a very realistic statement - he wants a Sanhedrin composed or young men with their feet on the ground, who still remember what it means to be young and to have physical needs and desires. What good is it having a 110 year old ascetic Dayan, who meditates on death and not on life? He can easily say everything is forbidden, since he has forbidden all pleasures to himself in his pursuit of spirituality.

      You are then arguing that "to be a talmid chachom one needs to suppress that quality." Again, I would claim that Rambam disagrees with your position, or the implicit position of the Gemara. Someone who doesn't have children will be cruel. you are saying that if someone has children, but is cruel to them, he is qualified to be a dayan, it seems to me the Rambam is saying the opposite. he is just presuming it is natural for someone with children to be a baal chesed.

    4. Eddie the sources I have posted so far seem very consistent. In order to function in this world you need a full range of emotions. In order to be a judge you need a full range of emotions. To be a husband, father or member of a community - you need a full range of emotions.

      However to study Torah you need to block out the world. It is simply a question of what role you are playing at a particular time. A person who didn't get married or is an old man - is missing fundamental feelings that are critical to be a judge. No one argues with that. Look at the sources again - and tell me that any disagree with what I have said.

    5. Th updated sources you posted grapple with the problem, some suggesting that the herbs on the marsh mean that G-d will provide for the family.

      However, this is not consistent with the Rambam in Sanhedrin, where (referring to membership of Sanhedrin), the Shoftim or dayanim must be worldly and not have the traits of cruelty.
      It is here I disagree with the Maharal - and I think that is less "heretical" than disagreeing with the Gemora. Being cruel to one's own children is not a higher madrega, and Rambam clearly outlaws this in Deot, where he forbids someone to live in ascetic isolation.

      Furthermore, if you are going into negative middah territory, you can no longer pray to Hashem asking for his Mercy, since you deny your own mercy. You claimed earlier
      "A Talmid chachom/dayan needs the ability to have or feel mercy. That is only when oneis married and have a family. However to be a talmid chachom one needs to suppress that quality."

      If one suppresses that quality, one is not qualified to be in the Sanhedrin, and by analogy, to be a Gadol HaDor - according to the Rambam.

    6. Eddie why do you keep insisting that a judge is identical with a person studying Torah? the Maharal points out - study requires abstract thought - while being a judge is more engineering. Torah study does not need a connection to the real world - while being a judge clearly does.

      A person who suppresses kindness in order punish the wicked or to concentrate on learning - can stop suppressing it if he is a judge - if he can't than he is disqualified to be a judge - if he can he is qualified to be a judge. Read the Orchas Tzadikim's chapter on Cruelty.
      You seem to think that a person has to have all his qualities on all the time. I am arguing that the midos are situationally dependent.

    7. SO we agree that as far as a Dayan is concerned, this would not apply.

      However, there are still many other problems which limit the applicability of this statement. For example, "he who is cruel to the merciful, will in the end be merciful to the cruel". This brilliant psychological statement goes much deeper than the robotic concept of switching on and off middot as one pleases - which is impossible. the "cruel to the merciful" teaches us that having middot or cruelty will cause subconscious damage to us, which results in a perverted view of tzedek - and Parshas Shoftim teaches Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof.
      Where will this cruelty lead to?
      A story is told of the Besht, whose son had become a maskil - or secular. The Besht took responsibility for this on himself, because he was too busy learning, to have time for his son.

      And this has been the pattern, where a strict fixation on Torah learning at all costs is causing a breakdown in the children going OTD.

    8. Eddie the principle you quote is not relevant for a person who acts in an insensitive manner because G-d said to be insensitive in that situation.You keep ignoring the gemora and the fact that it is clearly accepted in principle by a wide variety of diverse sources. G-d is also described as being cruel.

      Don't know where you get your knowledge of the subconcious - are you a navi?

      Please produce your sources for your claim that the gemora's directive is the cause of children going off the derech. I haven't seen any studies - where are they

    9. DT - your argumentation is not very well made -
      you claim that your gemora is G-d's word, and thus the otehr Gemora that I mention does not apply, since it conflicts with G-d's word - yet if you hold by the view that every single teaching in the Shas is direct from G-d, then you are rejecting one in favour of another!
      I am using the case of the Besht as an example of a broader principle. There were other cases in the Talmud, eg Rashby and his son living in a cave - does this make it normative for today?

      And so, if you actually hold by what u say, then Bennett and Lapid are tzaddikim, because they are only following the Talmud, and being cruel to Talmidei Hachamim and their families.

    10. Eddie it is obvious that you aren't following what I am saying. You have an amazing ability to fix in your mind a mistaken understanding of what I am saying - and you just keep returning to attributions which I keep telling you are not what I have said. This is an exercise in one hand clapping.

      It would be helpful if you could actually realize what the gemora is saying before you start applying your pilpul. The gemora is not saying that if you are cruel to talmidei chachomim and their families you are a tzadik. That utter nonsense. The fact that you keep making these gross distortions of the gemora which you then view as proofs against my views - is really a waste of time.

    11. Well I am not quite following what you are saying. are u following what I am saying? You are saying that the principle of merciful tot he cruel and vice versa must give way because this Gemora is from G-d. But the princ8iple I quoted (admittedly I said it the wrong way round at first) is not from Kant or Buddha, but ti is from the same Talmud you are quoting,and has equal "Divine" status. so far you have not shown why it is inferior or must submit to your gemora.

      FYI, the comment about Bennet was a bit exaggerated. The point is, that you are claiming to be a talmid Hochom, you must be cruel to your children. Since, bediaved, Bennet is realizing this, then he is not a sonne daat, but is ohev daat, since he is putting to practice what you are arguing for.

      Also, it is quite offensive for you to allow someone to post Loshon hara about a blogger who has contributed much to this blog, and is a good frum yid.

    12. Eddie you keep insisting that the gemora is requiring a person to be cruel to his family to be a talmid chachom. However it is clear from the sources that it means that only in order to learn Torah the talmid chachom needs to be block out the needs of his family. It doesn't mean that he torture them but that he neglect them for the sake of Torah study. It doesn't mean that he needs to acquire a personality of cruelty in general.

      Bennet being cruel to talmidei chachomim has nothing to do with this gemora! Bennet getting people to leave yeshiva and get a job or join the army - is not getting them to learn Torah.

      regarding your last concern

      There are times where I miss an inappropriate comment - and sometimes the comment delivers a stronger sting then I realize. - please indicate what you find offensive [or send me an email - I have no problem deleting comments.

    13. "Eddie you keep insisting that the gemora is requiring a person to be cruel to his family to be a talmid chachom."


      "it means that only in order to learn Torah the talmid chachom needs to be block out the needs of his family"

      Both statements refer to starvation. That is cruelty.
      It would be cruelty even to starve, lehavdil, an animal.
      quite apart from it being a crime in secular law, it seems to go against all the values and ethics of the Torah itself.

      Since the gemora talks explicitly about starvation, then that is what I am talking about, not violence or other abuse.

      The Bennet-lapid issue is a sideline, and my focus was more on their proposed cuts to yeshiva stipends etc, and the financial disaster it would place Bnei Yeshiva in. Now this is an absurd situation, and that is precisely why I have difficulty with the gemora, since they are both suggesting financial austerity for yeshiva families.

    14. I actually found this on another discussion of our topic. Now, fear and cruelty are not the same, but perhaps it still has some relevance:

      Gittin 6b:

      אמר רב חםדא לעולם אל יטיל אדם אימה יתירה בתוך ביתו שהרי פילגש בגבעה הטיל עליה בעלה אימה יתירה והפילה כמה רבבות מישראל אמר רב יהודה אמר רב כל המטיל אימה יתירה בתוך ביתו סוף הוא בא לידי שלש עבירות גילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים וחילול שבת.‏

      Rav Hisda said, "One must never instill excessive fear within his household, for (in the case of) Pilegesh BeGiv'ah, her husband instilled excessive fear within his household and she felled several myriads from Israel." Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, "Anyone who instills excessive fear within his household will end up succumbing to three sins: illicit sexual relations, spilled blood, and desecration of the Sabbath."

  3. :אורחות צדיקים-שער האכזריות
    ....עד עתה סיפרנו רעת האכזריות. אך יש מקומות שצריך לנהוג באכזריות
    כי זה דבר ברור: המרחם על בניו יותר מדי, מתוך כך חושב להרוויח ממון, ולא יחוש איך יבוא לו הממון באיסור או בהיתר, כי האהבה מקלקלת את השורה. וגם מתוך הטירדה שהוא טורח יום ולילה להמציא מזונותם וצרכם ברווח – מתוך כך הוא בטל מדברי תורה, כי יעשה עסקיו עיקר. ומתוך כך כל מעשיו מבולבלים

    See also the תורה תמימה- שה"ש ה:יא :
    מאן דאמר שמשחיר פניו עליהם כעורב הכונה שמענה עצמו על דברי תורה ומשחיר פניו, ורבא מוסיף כי לא די שמענה עצמו אלא גם אין דואג הרבה
    למצב בני ביתו

    Both of these source indicate that we should not take the gemara literally. I'm sure you can find (especially in the U.S.) people who think they are cruelly depriving their children if each kid doesn't have their own room, TV, game console, dancing and riding lessons, etc, etc. What some people would consider cruel are in fact reasonable sacrifices for the sake of Torah. I suspect that the gemara is using extreme language to wake people up from their complacency. Many people overestimate their financial needs and thereby neglect Torah (and their family too- as per RDE's comment.)

    1. Ephraim I disagree with your reading. The sources indicate that the ideal is to be cruel if you want to a serious talmid chachom. I don't see how you are reading them not to be taken literally. Furthermore look at the additional sources I have added. They are all consistent with the idea that it is best to focus on Torah learning and literally be cruel to your family.

      Of course the family may welcome the neglect to promote Torah learning

    2. Orchos Tzaddikim doesn't say it's ideal to be cruel -- he just says not to focus too much on making money.

    3. RDE, the sources I cited most certainly indicate some moderation. Hence, the Torah Temimah uses the term "אין דואג הרבה"- which implies some concern is appropriate. Hence, the Orchat Tzadikim's "המרחם על בניו יותר מדי" which implies some mercy is appropriate. He then writes, "כי יעשה עסקיו עיקר" which implies that his finances should be subservient to Torah study- as opposed to being non-existent.

  4. This brings up the following question: R. Akiva went to learn 24 years away from his wife and kids - possibly displaying this mida. Yet he remained married and returned to his family after aquiring Torah. Ben Azzai divorced his wife because of his attachment to Torah. Why was Ben Azzai not able to simply separate from his wife and learn like R. Akiva did? Also difficult - why did Ben Azzai divorce his wife - was he at the level of Moshe? A higher level than R. Akiva? If not, what justification is there for that?

    1. Excellent questions. You might add - why was it necessary for Moshe to divorce his wife

  5. As to the question about whether this (frankly, disturbing) teaching is normative, many sources indicate that when it comes to non-halachic statements in the Talmud and other sources, we can take it or leave it depending on whether it makes sense to us.

    Rav Hai Gaon was asked what is the difference between those Agada and medrashim which are written in the Talmud and those that are not? He replied that whatever is found in the Talmud is
    more valid that what is not found in the Talmud. Nevertheless, even those Agada and Medrash which are found in the Talmud if they make no sense or are erroneous are not to be relied upon. That is because in general we dont treat Agada as being authoritative. However that which is found in the Talmud, we should correct their errors if possible. That is because if they didnג€™t have validity they would not have been included in the Talmud. Those that we cannot figure out how to correct should be viewed like that which is not the Halacha. In contrast that which is not in the Talmud, we have no need to attempt to correct them and make sense out of them. We merely should examine them as to whether they are correct and nice. If they are, we teach them. If they are not, we pay no attention to them. (Sefer HaEshkol)

    Agada are all the statements in the gemora that are not concerned with Mitzvos. You should only learn from them what makes sense. Those statements of Halacha which Chazal indicate are from Moshe Rabbeinu which he received from G‘d can not be modified, however Chazalג€™s explanations of verses were done according to whatever each one thought was correct. Therefore, whatever makes sense of these explanations you should study and the rest do not rely on. (Shmuel HaNagid.)

    It's also worth mentioning that wild herbs from the marsh may have actually been very nutritious. People have always eaten a variety of wild foods. Of course, you need to make sure to eat enough calories -- and I would think all poskim today would agree it is a man's responsibility to make sure his children are not going hungry, regardless of how committed he is to Torah study.

    1. Yeshaya is making the same statement as i did, but with better sources. Hence, according to R Hai Gaon, we do not take every statement as being binding halacha, and perhaps not direct from G-d, since there is possibly an error in them.

    2. Yeshaya and Eddie - aggada is not necessarily relevant to halacha especially where it is not clear what is being said or it doesn't make sense to us.

      However in our present cases - we have a large number of comments of rabbinical authorities who understand the gemora the same way that we are literally talking about insensitivity for the sake of Torah learning. In such a case you can't dismiss the gemora.

      My new post on the matter offers a solution by describing the parameters as to how and when this principle of insensitivity applies.

  6. Serious question: How does this shtim with the obligation of kesuba? Bishlama if the family is mochel, but here it's mashma even if they are not

    1. couldn't find any reference to the issue - but it bothers me also


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