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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 2: Methodology)

In order to resolve this seeming contradiction, we must have a clear idea of what בושה is. Then we can try to understand if and when it is appropriate. When analyzing a character trait, it often helps to examine its extreme forms (see Rambam Hilchos Daos Chapter 1).  The appropriate trait that we are generally commanded in, is the middle path between two extremes.  Comprehension of the extreme forms of a trait enables the mind to see a way in between them.  The middle way is not exactly a compromise of the two extremes, yet the path is illuminated by a study of them.

When the Rambam praises the trait of בושה as it is typified in the Jewish nation, he does it by contrasting it with its improper extreme of עזות פנים, brazenness, which was exemplified by the גבעונים.  That being the case, let us closely examine עזות פנים as it appears in the story of the גבעונים and the sons of Shaul, found in Shmuel II Chapter 21.  (It is a truly fascinating story that brings with it many questions that lie outside the scope of this piece.)

There was a famine in the land, and David was told by Hashem that it was because of what the House of Shaul had done to the גבעונים.  When David asked the גבעונים how he could appease them, they responded by requesting vengeance through the death of the sons of Shaul.  This is described by the Rambam as being cruel, ungrateful, and having עזות פנים.

We can understand how this is cruel, and also ungrateful for the past kindness shown to them. But how is brazen-faced an appropriate description of their character?  What would it mean for them to have had בושה in that situation? Being that this doesn't really seem like בושה, it indicates that we do not fully understand what בושה is. Thus, pursuing this line of thought may be a clue to understanding בושה and thereby answering our original question.


  1. In general, we try to differentiate between halacha and philosophy/psychology. When doing an area in Hilchos Daos, the line can get a little blurry. We don't think that you can really understand the law regarding בושה and learning Torah without having a clear concept of how the psychological trait of בושה properly fits into a Jew's psyche.

  2. From this story it seems that the brazenness is a sort of lack of respect. King Shaul had clearly wronged them and they requested a harsh form of Justice (especially that be acted out on his house). but a secondary aspect to their vengeful request is the lack of respect due to the King's family.

    I say this because one has to first be vengeful but then relate to the Kings and his family as equals - which they are not.

    Good direction?

    1. if brazenness is a lack of respect for the King, shouldn't its opposite be showing proper respect (kavod or yirah)?

      However, the Rambam seems to contrast brazenness with shame (בושה). Aren't בושה and kavod two different things?

    2. Maybe it's not exactly respect for the King but the appearance of respect for the King.

      A normal person, whether he respects the King or not would be uncomfortable or embarrassed to disrespect someone everyone else respected. I know that I hear this very same struggle among many British who dislike the monarchy and think of the concept of royalty as foolish but at the same time could never bring themselves to disrespect them.

      I see the brazenness not so much in the disrespect but the lack of concern of how the disrespect will be received by society.


    3. definitely better. concern, or lack thereof, about how society perceives an action, seems to be the right realm to think of shame/embarrassment.


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