Chapter 1: Mishna 5: Part 1
Yossi ben Yochanan Ish Yerushalaim says: Your home should be open with abundance; poor people should be members of your household; and don’t carry on excessive conversation with a woman. This was said in relation to his wife. All the more so is it true with the wife of his friend. This is the source for the Rabbis who taught: A person who converses excessively with women causes himself harm, distracts himself from Torah study, and in the end he acquires Gehinom.
These two Tana’im were a “pair,” joint leaders of their generation; Yossi ben Yoezer being the “nasi” (political leader) and Yossi ben Yochanan the “av beith din” (the judicial head). As such, they taught two dimensions of one principal: How man can perfect his home. There are a number of questions that arise in this Mishnah. What is the connection between ones house being open to abundance, having poor people frequent his house, and limiting excessive talk with women? Where is it implied in the words “don’t carry on excessive talk with a woman” that it refers specifically to his wife? If it is so obvious that “ha’isha” means his wife, then the Mishna should have concluded very simply with the phrase “Kol shekein (all the more so) with his friend’s wife.” (And if “ha’isha doesn’t necessarily refer to his wife, how can the Mishna say so matter of factly that it does. The phrase “This was said in relation to his wife” begs for explanation.) It teaches “A person who converses excessively with women causes himself harm, distracts himself from Torah study, and in the end he acquires Gehinom.” a) What is the nature of the harm caused by excessive conversation with a woman? b) Furthermore, ALL excessive talk distracts one from Torah study! What is unique about excessive conversation with women? c) And why should this have such an extreme result – leading to Gehinom!? (The last part of the Mishna has the potential to be quite explosive in today’s “poltically correct” environment, with the “gender wars” raging. We will approach it as we are supposed to approach every teaching of Chazal: With deep respect for the eternal truths they are teaching us, coupled with a healthy and critical questioning of every word in the Mishna, looking to uncover the REAL message that is being communicated.) Yossi ben Yochanan is teaching one how to create an elevated home. There are three groups of people associated with ones home. First there are neighbors and guests who come to ones home, whether to make use of the resources of the home, borrowing something, or to be hosted as a guest in the home. Second, a home has members of the household (“bnei bayit”), who live together and make the house their “home.” And finally, a home has the “akereth bayit,” the woman who is the foundation of the home. (See Shabbath 118b, Yoma 2a: A man’s wife is praised by being identified as his “bayit”, his home.) Yossi ben Yochanan is teaching one how to elevate and perfect ones home in relation to each of these three elements. If his home is open with abundance, his neighbors will frequent there to make use of the resources, and passersby will find a place to receive needed food and lodging. (He has thereby ensured elevation of the home in relation to neighbors and guests.) To ensure elevation of his home in relation to those who live in the home, the Tanna teaches us that we should make poor people members of our household. (This is more than simply giving charity to poor people.) If poor people constantly frequent his home, they become like members of the household, enabling them to receive their needs in a respectful way, maintaining their sense of dignity. (Contrast this with the feeling poor people have after most instances of receiving charity nowadays…) Finally, avoiding excessive talk with his wife ensures that perfection exists in relation to what is the foundation of the entire home, ones wife. Because the intention of the Tanna was to teach how to perfect and elevate ones home, the caution against excessive conversation must be referring specifically to ones wife. Because the woman is the foundation of the home, one must be admonished to avoid excessive conversation with his wife (even) in matters relating to the home. (Next time we will discuss the ambiguous phrase “excessive.”) If excessive conversation with his wife, even in matters relating to his own home, should be limited, then it follows “all the more so” that this is true with ones neighbor’s wife. For conversation with her would (usually) not relate to necessities of his own home. (The Maharal has extracted from the strange language of the Mishna “This was said in relation to his wife. All the more so is it true with the wife of his friend,” that the Tanna is focusing on conversation with ones wife specifically about matters relating to ones home. It in no way implies that speaking to ones wife is bad, or even that one should limit conversation with ones wife, EXCEPT IN MATTERS RELATING TO THE HOME. This is because the home is the domain of the woman, and — to put it as bluntly as the Maharal seems to imply — the man should not mix in excessively to things that aren’t in his domain. We will pick up this thread next time. It is deep and complex, and I am not sure to what extent we will succeed in going too far below the surface in an electronic forum. Meahwhile, I would like to suggest that you read the article “Gray Matters” that appeared in the Newsweek dated March 27, 1995 on brain differences between men and women. It will give a little “scientfic” backing to some ideas that border on the philosophical and could be considered lacking in “political correctness.”) The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.