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Bava Kamma 97

Our Gemara on Amud Beis describes the coinage in the time of Avraham, on one side was an elderly man and woman, on the other side a young man and woman. (See Tosafos and other commentaries if this was an image, or a written word. By the way, archeological evidence is that not only did the Jews refrain from using images on their coins, but even when under Roman dominion in the first Century, the Romans honored the Jewish custom and used coins without images in the Jewish states, unlike their other provinces. See The Origins of Judaism: An Archaeological-Historical Reappraisal, New Haven, CT, 2022, pp. 93-95)


The simple interpretation of this Midrash is to emphasize Avraham’s dominance as a world leader, to the extent that a coin was dedicated to him. But such an interpretation does not seem likely; do the rabbis need to give us archeology lessons? Rav Tzaddok Hacohen (Kometz Hamincha 2:23) interprets this as depicting the perfect balance that Avraham and Sarah achieved between love and fear of G-d. Youth is filled with passion, but less restraint and balance (one side of the coin), while old age has more capacity for sober restraint, but less passion. Avraham’s “coinage” that he distributed and circulated into the world was the ability to have both qualities in proper balance.

Love seems to be the ideal, but only on paper, as human nature also must operate from a degree of fear. In a marriage, as much as passion and love are critical, without commitment and responsibility there is no vessel to contain the energy. Pure love can too easily lead to pure selfishness and gratification, which leads to dissatisfaction instead of happiness, because a selfish person can never enjoy anything for too long without developing contempt and boredom (see our blog, Psychology of the Daf, Bava Kamma 95.) However, sacrifice and duty alone are empty of deeper emotions and joy. Avraham demonstrated an ability to live in this world with the right balance. Paradoxically, humans do best when they are living in equilibrium between their contradictory natures. We must have our feelings and our passions to be creative and driven, but must moderate them so we behave rationally and pro-socially.


Bava Kamma 98: Is Adolescence a Thing?

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses an incident when Rav Ashi burned another person’s promissory note, and Rafram required him to pay the full amount. In this instance, the destruction of this key evidence prevented the debt from being collected. Even though the loss was not direct, as a mere few pennies worth of parchment was destroyed, but since it caused an immediate and prompt consequential loss, it is treated as if he actually destroyed the value of the debt and not the paper it was written on.

Rashi adds that Rav Ashi burnt this contract in his youth. Presumably, Rashi could not imagine that Rav Ashi could possibly have been so careless as an adult. Thus he was forced to assume that Rav Ashi did this when he was young.

This Rashi sparked a debate amongst poskim regarding whether a minor must make restitution as an adult for damage he perpetrated when he was a minor. Rashi seems to hold yes, but this contradicts a Mishna (87a) that declares minors as exempt from paying, even in adulthood, specifically in contradistinction to a separate case in that Mishna that discusses persons who are in a state where they have no control over personal assets (such as a slave), and therefore do not pay damages. They aren’t really exempt; they just aren’t expected to make payment. Yet once the slave is freed, and has full control over his assets, he will have to make payment, unlike the minor.

Some try to answer that Rashi was referring to an extra-legal obligation that Rafram was holding Rav Ashi accountable for, given his high moral standards and stature. However, in a responsum of the Maharam Padua (90) he suggests a more subtle answer. Rashi was not stating that Rav Ashi committed this offense as a minor, because indeed then he would be exempt, as this Mishna ruled. Instead, Rashi was suggesting that Rav Ashi committed these careless acts during his youth, but past bar mitzvah age. In essence, he is saying that he can be excused due to the impulsiveness of youth. He brings linguistic proof that even a teenager can be called a “yeled”, as we see Reuven refers to Yosef as the “yeled” when Yosef was 17, and that is what Rsahi meant here.

Maharam Padua is basically saying that Rav Ashi was a teenager, and teenagers make mistakes. It is interesting that the Maharam Padua brought only linguistic proof from Yosef. There also is psychological proof, as the verse describes him as a “na’ar” (Bereishis 37:2). Bereishis Rabbah (84:7) describes it as youthful, vain behavior; “He would style his eyes, measure his steps in a strutting fashion, and comb his hair.”

It is interesting that the Midrash makes this observation without much commentary or moralizing. It gives an impression of resigned acceptance that adolescents don’t always do what they are supposed to do, and they are still learning to control their impulses. Yosef, Rav Ashi and every other teenager needs time to learn how to manage, even though they have halachic status of adults in many ways. We even see that bar mitzvah age is only a demarcation for certain obligations, but the rabbis allowed certain abilities to children of much younger age, such as acquisitions of certain objects, and nullified the validity of certain sales until the age of 20 (see Bava Basra 155b.)

Social scientists and psychologists used to consider adolescence as a construct, brought about by the complexity of industrial and urban society, but not an innate developmental stage. The requirements to develop a profession and to navigate the social and legal demands of modern society automatically leads to a protracted young adulthood. To be a full adult in our culture, one needs to know how to drive a car, file taxes, and obtain credibility via education or work experience. However, subsequent research has shown adolescence to be a distinct developmental stage that transcends culture and society (Chen, C. S., & Farruggia, S. (2002). Culture and Adolescent Development. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture).

As religious parents and educators, who feel the imperative of modeling and guiding children to internalize the complex beliefs and requirements of our tradition, we must keep in mind that even though a child is past bar or bas mitzvah it doesn’t mean they are fully equipped to comply with all the dictates of an intricate religious and cultural system. They are at an age that they must begin to assume moral responsibility, and also need our patience and respect as they work out their identity, their choices, and how to be independent but also a cooperative member of society. Our tradition supports the idea that sometimes they still should get a free pass.


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