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Chapter 1, Mishna 5: “Yose the son of Yochanon the man of Jerusalem said: …and do not engage in lengthy talk with women. This is said with regards to one’s own wife, certainly with another man’s wife. From here the Wise Men said: As long as one engages in lengthy discussions with women, he will cause evil for himself, remove himself from words of Torah, and come to inherit hell.”
The Rambam, in his commentary on this mishna, explains that most discussions with women are about sexual matters. It follows from this explanation that the issue in the mishna isn’t that a man is talking to a woman: it is not a question of the people involved in the dialogue. Rather, the issue at hand is the nature of the dialogue itself. The mishna’s example of the different sexes merely reflects that the nature of the discussion pertains to sexual topics. Still, we need to understand: what is the lesson our mishna is trying to teach us?
When the Torah describes the creation of man, it says “And man was living being” (Genesis Chapter 2, Verse 7). The commentator Onkelos explains this verse to mean that man was a “speaking spirit”, meaning that the capacity for speech makes man distinct from all other creatures. This leads to a unique ability for instinctual satisfaction, merely through talking. Whereas animals must perform an action in order to satisfy their instincts, man’s psyche allows for satisfaction through speech. This mechanism isn’t limited to speech: it includes all forms of fantasizing, such as movies, where words and ideas are conveyed through speech. Man’s instincts are spoken about more than actually performed. A prime example of this is ‘Lashon Hara’, when one person speaks negatively about another person. This is considered a form of ‘character assassination’ where a person can be killed, not with a weapon, but with words. The romantic feelings of love are given the same expression through words, as seen by the degree to which people constantly joke about sexual matters or read or write about them. This is a unique ability of man that stems from his ‘speaking spirit’, the ability to express his instincts through speech.
According to the Rambam, the phrase “don’t engage in lengthy talk with women” teaches us to not cater to the instincts through speech. The idea of “lengthy talk” means that there is a greater involvement than is necessary. As much as a person needs it, there will be a necessity for expression. However, when one oversteps the boundary, the desire is awakened and will lead to a type of life, which isn’t the highest level. Our Sages are emphasizing that speech is a means to express an instinct, and if one excites the instincts too much through this vehicle, it will lead to problems.
Chapter 1, Mishna 6: “Yehoshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbeili accepted from them. Yehoshua the son of Perachia said: Make for yourself a Teacher, Acquire for yourself a Friend, and Judge everyone to the side of Innocent”
“Make for yourself a Teacher” Rashi explains this to mean that one shouldn’t just learn alone but also from a teacher and those listening. We may ask why Rashi adds that one should learn from those listening also: why not just learn from the teacher?
The idea of learning from others listening to the teacher is that one should not be concerned who he is learning from. Even if one is on a lower level of wisdom, with the correct approach to knowledge, he may have the capacity to add from an intuition that you may not have.
“Acquire for Yourself a Friend” Rashi explains, that some say this means that a person should have a book to study from while others say that it means that a person should have a friend to learn with because, quoting from a verse in Ecclesiastes, “two are better than one”. There is also a statement in the Talmud that one who studies alone, even if he is a wise scholar, will start saying foolish things.
Rashi refers to two different interpretations as to what is the meaning of a “friend”, a book or an actual person. When we analyze this disagreement, we need to understand what is the reasoning of each side. Why would a book be sufficient to qualify as a friend? Why does the other opinion disagree? (To be continued)