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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 3: Approach)

In order to understand בושה and its relevance to the גבעונים , we notice that there are two different reasons an action can be improper.  An action could intrinsically be wrong (i.e. it is cruel), or it could also be wrong because of its effects.  Taking revenge, besides for being intrinsically wrong, has devastating social consequences.  Revenge often fosters a vicious cycle of further vengeance in response.  Because of its anti-social nature, society as a whole looks down upon those who take their full measure of revenge as the גבעונים did.


The sense that one's society is looking shamefully upon him, that they have done something wrong and improper, is felt as בושה.  Needless to say, feelings of shame are not pleasant, and most individuals do their utmost to avoid them.  This is an effective mechanism for fostering behaviors in individuals that are conducive to a harmonious society.  (For those more psychoanalytically inclined:  the superego, in its capacity as an internalization of society's values, punishes the ego with a sense of shame in order to promote behaviors beneficial to society.)


Even if the גבעונים were cruel and ungrateful, a sense of בושה should have stopped them from making such a brazen-faced request.  People with psychological dispositions along the middle path (appropriate בושה) would have been too ashamed to have acted so contrary to social norms, especially when the norm is a rational principle designed to foster a flourishing, harmonious society.  In reference to the obligation to forgive and forget, as opposed to bearing a grudge and taking revenge, the Rambam says:
ימחה הדבר מלבו ולא יטרנו. שכל זמן שהוא נוטר את הדבר וזוכרו שמא יבא לנקום. לפיכך הקפידה תורה על הנטירה עד שימחה העון מלבו ולא יזכרנו כלל. וזו היא הדעה הנכונה שאפשר שיתקיים בה יישוב הארץ ומשאם ומתנם של בני אדם זה עם זה
The fact that they made this request is indicative of a fundamental lack of בושה.


Contrary to the גבעונים, the trait of בושה is found among Jews and it is an integral part of maintaining our society. It also helps us avoid sin. Besides for the inner resistance against sin, there is a social stigma of sin. The Jew cares about society's negative judgments, and this concern can help him win his inner battle against sin.  This trait is something the גבעונים lacked, and as such, they are described as not being truly part of  בני ישראל.


Based upon this understanding of בושה, how can we explain the Rambam's statement that a ביישן cannot learn Torah  (אין הביישן למד)This seems to go against the fact that בושה is a fundamental character trait of Jews.

2 comments:

  1. We think that there is a more general conceptualization of בושה, based upon a Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 4:12. However, we believe that the above definition, while limited in its scope (in so far as it is only dealing with the special case of בושה before one's society), suffices to explain the relevance of בושה to the גבעונים and to resolve our contradicting Rambams. We hope to develop a more universal idea of בושה in a later piece.

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  2. I don't have a fully formed approach but I can definitely see that judging one's learning based upon the opinions of others is not really learning. Learning is really dependent upon the mind's understanding of an idea - not the mere acceptance of it. Shame would be an excellent tool if the goal was to accept an idea as it was presented to you but the goal of learning is not simply memorization of transmission but methodology and understanding.

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