Daily dose of wisdom, Eruvin 63: sometimes outshine the master, never prevent intimacy

Our learning today, on Simhat Torah, is a major source for the vital concept of respecting your teacher.  A student, even if he himself is an accomplished sage, may not issue even a simple a legal decision in the presence of his Rabbi.  This was a grave infraction that could bring death at the hand of heaven.

This concept is reminiscent of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, in which Rule #1 is never outshine the master.  Greene takes the approach that you should flatter your master and disguise your own strengths.  That may be valid in politics, but it is not the same as the philosophy of our sages.  Our respect for the Rabbis is based on our concept of “Mesorah”: our Law is handed down from the prior generation, going back to Moses.  The older generation is closer to the Divine revelation at Sinai, and due to that is assumed to have more clarity and authority regarding the Law.  However, if the Rabbi (or a boy’s father) was making a mistake in Law, the student or son was expected to politely remind him of the verse or scripture that would show the master to be wrong.  We don’t want our leaders to make mistakes, this brings disgrace to them and by extension to all of us.

Our Talmud also teaches that the student should take immediate action even in front of the teacher to stop a man from transgression, since there is no greater honor than that due to God.  Indeed, the respect for the Rabbi is due to the master’s connection with God.

The Gemara brings a statement that Joshua was punished for his request that Moses deal with Eldad and Meidad so they would stop prophesying (Numbers 11:28).  Eldad and Meidad were prophesying that Moses would die and Joshua would bring the Jews into Israel.  Joshua objected to this, due to his devotion to Moses.  Joshua never wanted to outshine Moses, not due to Greene’s advice, but his own humility.

The Talmud notes another factor in Joshua’s punishment: when Joshua led the siege against Jericho he brought out the Holy Ark to the siege.  When the Ark was out of place, the Jewish people were not permitted to engage in sexual intimacy.  Because he prevented husband and wife from living together for one night, Joshua never had sons (he did have daughters with Rachav, Talmud Megillah 14b).

On this theme, the Talmud brings:

אָמַר רַב בְּרוֹנָא אָמַר רַב: כׇּל הַיָּשֵׁן בְּקִילְעָא שֶׁאִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ שְׁרוּיִין בָּהּ, — עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר: ״נְשֵׁי עַמִּי תְּגָרְשׁוּן מִבֵּית תַּעֲנוּגֶיהָ״.

Rav Beruna said that Rav said: Whoever sleeps in a chamber in which a husband and wife are resting, (thwarting their intimacy), the verse says about him: “The women of my people you cast out from their pleasant houses” (Micah 2:9).

וְאָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף: אֲפִילּוּ בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ נִדָּה.

And Rav Yosef said: This applies not only to a woman who is ritually pure and permitted to her husband, but even in the case of a man whose wife is menstruating, for even then, although they will not be intimate they are more comfortable being alone together.

Interfering in another couple’s private life is a grave mistake, even when they would not have been physically intimate. Conventional Judaism reminds us of the importance of a couple’s intimate life and the tremendous respect needed for their privacy.


2 thoughts on “Daily dose of wisdom, Eruvin 63: sometimes outshine the master, never prevent intimacy

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