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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 1: Facts)

The Rambam In Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:4-5 says:
 לא יאמר התלמיד הבנתי והוא לא הבין אלא חוזר ושואל אפילו כמה פעמים. ואם כעס עליו רבו ורגז יאמר לו רבי תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך ודעתי קצרה.  לא יהיה התלמיד בוש מחביריו שלמדו מפעם ראשונה או שניה והוא לא למד אלא אחר כמה פעמים. שאם נתבייש מדבר זה נמצא נכנס ויוצא לבית המדרש והוא אינו למד כלום. לפיכך אמרו חכמים הראשונים אין הביישן למד
A student has to ask questions until he understands. A student should not be ashamed of his peers who understand faster than him; thereby inhibiting him from asking questions.  This is essential to the learning process.  If the shy student doesn't ask questions when he doesn't understand and (it seems to him that) everyone else does, he ends up not learning anything.  That is why Chazal say a shy person does not learn (אין הביישן למד).  It would seem from this Rambam that בושה, or shame, is a bad characteristic.

However, the Rambam in Hilchos Issurei Beiya 19:17 says:
וכן כל מי שיש בו עזות פנים או אכזריות ושונא את הבריות ואינו גומל להם חסד חוששין לו ביותר שמא גבעוני הוא. שסימני ישראל האומה הקדושה ביישנין רחמנים וגומלי חסדים. ובגבעונים הוא אומר והגבעונים לא מבני ישראל המה לפי שהעיזו פניהם ולא נתפייסו ולא רחמו על בני שאול ולא גמלו לישראל חסד למחול לבני מלכם והם עשו עמהם חסד והחיום בתחלה
The hallmark characteristics of someone from the holy nation ישראל is that they are shameful (ביישנין), merciful, and kind.  In fact, if someone isn't shameful, but is brazen faced (עזות פנים), you have serious suspicions that he is not from the main lineage of ישראל, but is rather from a גבעוני lineage.  It would seem from this Rambam that בושה is a good characteristic.

How would you resolve this apparent contradiction in the Rambam?


  1. Busha in regards to learning torah is a bad thing.

    Busha in regard to sin ie;usually sin in public, but even in private, is a good thing.

  2. I agree with Mio. This is referring to two different things areas. The concept of busha, like most other emotions, is neither good nor bad on its own but only in context. In the context of learning busha holds you back. It pulls you into a state where you can't grow or learn anything because you're afraid of how you're being perceived. Your mind creates a fiction that someone will be angry or your classmates will make fun of you for asking or not being "as smart" as they are.

    On the other hand, busha is an important aspect on the world stage. It is a bad thing when your mind creates a fiction that you're important, that your ego is so great that you run the world, etc. The character traits the Rambam lists are to make you realize God is the source of everything and we're just humble people here trying to do the will of God. Busha then causes us to hold back from braggadicio. Mercy and kindness help us realize our place in the world. These traits reflect the true personality of a Jew because he knows his place, he knows the reality that as great as a person may appear, he is really nothing and he's embarrassed to even try to show off but instead simply does mercy and kindness.

  3. Mio and Merm,

    are you saying that there is only one personality type of a byshun, just that busha applies differently to different areas? if so, could you elaborate on the general principles involved, thereby enabling one to know how to act.

    or are you saying that there are two qualitatively different personality types, byshun of sin and byshun of learning? if so, could you better define the two types (as oppose to just describing the situations they apply to).

    or are you saying a third possibility?

  4. I'm not sure if I understand the first tzad.

    I think I'm thinking along the second tzad.

    Hesber: The first bayshun of learning is a bayshnus to maintain his ego-he doesn't ask so that he won't be embarrased.
    The second type of bayshunus is maintaining basic self respect-he doesn't sin in public or private because he views himself as part of a kadosh nation, and as such are a certain class of individuals. This is not maintaining a projected image of the self which the first bayshun does. Projected images are figments of our imagination where we perceive ourselves to be above the level of where we really are. This bayshun wants to maintain his 'status' as smart, therefore he doesn't ask.

    I'm not sure if this is what your asking for, but I'm trying to define the nature of the embarrassment in each case within a psychological framework.

    1. perhaps this is supported by the fact that the first bayshun should say when his rebbi yells at him "and my knowledge is small." The question is why should the student have to add in that part? Perhaps you can say that it's to go to the extreme of the opposing emotion of him thinking about himself as to smart to ask. In other words the gayva is rooted in his maintaining this inflated image of himself.

    2. Correct-not "gayva is rooted" rather "bayshunus"

  5. I'm saying there's one personality type. Busha is a recognition of limitation relative to something. In the case of learning it's the recognition of a limitation of one's own ability or one's status relative to the teacher or other students. In the other case it's a recognition of limitation relative to God and His creation. In the first case it may be a real or imagined recognition. In the latter case, it's real.

    What's wrong in the learning case? What if the talmid's skills are indeed inferior to the other students or unable to comprehend the teacher if it was repeated 100 times? It's a hinderance to the student's ability to grow. It lacks a recognition of his purpose as an intellectual creature and the abilities of man to understand and comprehend things that may seem difficult. It's withdrawing from what man is supposed to do.

    On the other side lacking busha and showing off is not recognizing the role of man. It's making man into a superior being and failing to recognize the limitations of man and his obligations as a created being.

    Basically it comes down to this. Busha is good when it keeps man in line with reality (from being a baal gayvah) and bad when it withdraws him from reality (man as an intellectual creature with the ability to learn and grow.)

    1. Merm

      It seems like the kedusha of am yisroel is because they are bayshanum. How does that idea play into the fact that the person is embarrassed because of his limitation relative to God( and creation.) Or stated otherwise why is it relevant to the Rambam halacha. Just say the first statement and we would then say that the reason why this bayshanus is good is because we see ourselves as limited in regards to God.

  6. even though you both chose different sides of the chakira above, both of you also made guyva the focal point of your explanation, which we think creates similar difficulties.

    The statement by learning is אין הביישן למד. according to both of you, shouldn't it really say that a baal guyva can not learn (as the rambam does say earlier in 3:9)?

    it seems like you are explaining the trait of pride/humility as opposed to shame/brazen-faced

  7. The gayva in 3:9 is referring to a person who doesn't want to learn under a rabbi. He feels he can learn how to learn by himself.

    i think there might be two types of gayva: a) a gayva which maintains self esteem-such as I'm not going to ask questions so that I don't look like an idiot. That is maintaining his ego, so that he can maintain a healthy sense of self.

    b) gayva which inflates one's sense of self and is not functioning to maintain basic psychological health, such as not learning under a rabbi. In other words, there is a universal understanding that one can't learn how to learn by oneself, so if he chose to learn under a rabbi, he would still have a healthy sense of self, and would not be intellectually inferior. The case of not asking questions however is different. If everyone else understands and he doesn't, or something like that, then his not asking is maintaining his basic self respect of not being labeled an 'idiot.'

    That is the chiluk I want make between the gayva in 3:9 and the 'gayva' I'm saying is going on over here. Perhaps the 'gayva' of the bayshan is not the standard gayva which we talk about in general. Perhaps.

    1. Yes. But it still sounds like a form of gayva, not busha.


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