By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 25 – You’re Shy? Good for You!
One of the ways it can be established that a man is a Kohein, such that we will allow him to receive terumah, is if he is a regular receiver of the zeroah, lechayayim, and keivah. Those are the three parts of the animal that have to be given to Kohanim. The interesting thing, as Rashi points out, is that there is no prohibition on non-Kohanim to eat these parts of the animal, just that they have no monetary right to withhold them. Therefore, someone who regularly accepts these gifts under the assumption that he is a Kohein is a good indication that he indeed is.
With one stipulation.
It has to be that this is going on in a major city. A place where there’s always lots of hustle and bustle. Plenty of people always coming and going. Why does that make such a difference? Because, elaborates Rashi, a person would just be too embarrassed to be doing such a thing and holding himself up as a Kohein in front of an endless number of people, unless he really was one. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t manage to muster up the chutzpah to do it. That’s why, when he is always accepting the zeroah, lechayayim, and keivah in a big city, we take that as a solid indication that he’s indeed a Kohein and rely on that to allow him to accept and consume terumah as well.
It’s an interesting thing, this concept of lo machtzif enash nafshei; that, generally, a person would not act with brazenness to do certain things, if it was all a sham. The Orchos Tzadikim (Shaar Shlishi) says that the middah of embarrassment helps us greatly in that it serves as an iron wall to separate us from doing aveiros; as the Gemara in Brachos says, that, before he died, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai blessed his talmidim that they should fear Hashem as much as they fear man. When they asked him, “What? Only that much?” Rabban Yochanan responded, “Halevai!”
But he doesn’t leave it at that. The Orchos Tzadikim goes so far as to say that the middah of busha can be a source of great pleasure for a person, that it is one of the finest attributes man can possess. There is also another point that he makes, which is particularly intriguing: “The intellect is the middah of busha and the middah of busha is the intellect.”
This is easily recognizable in the maturation process of human beings. Little children, whose intellects are as yet quite undeveloped, generally don’t have any problem with being completely undressed in front of other people. Often, even in front of perfect strangers. The older a child gets though, and the intellect becomes stronger, the sense of shame and embarrassment sets in, until there comes a point at which a person would be horrified at the thought of being unclothed in front of others.
Now, this romanticizing the attribute of embarrassment sounds really nice on paper. And there are many people who still strongly identify with and can feel an inherent sense of endorsement for this idea. But for those of us who grew up on the let-it-all-hang-loose ideology (if you can call it that) of American culture, this can be an extremely difficult concept to digest. A big part of American culture is the engendering of a very solid approach of assertiveness and transparency. This, to an extent, can inherently demand that an individual – and a whole society for that matter – divest himself of his natural sense of reticent-dignity.
We Americans will tend to not necessarily see a natural reluctance born of a strong sense of busha to be a positive thing. So we struggle with this concept. What we may not realize, though, is that there are a lot of people – in our very own American society – who struggle with a completely different type of a problem. A challenge which is opposite in character to the one just described.
They struggle with finding a way to fit in to a society and social structure that does not look favorably upon their natural shyness. It would be an interesting subject of study to research how many people with shy personalities have been encouraged to engage in some type of therapy to “cure” them of their “problem”. If those problems really are problems, or have been artificially foisted upon them.
Obviously, if a person is so severely shy that it is interfering with his ability to function in a normal manner, that should indeed be a reason for that individual to seek help. However, where precisely we place the borders of the normalcy-spectrum is a different question altogether.
Chazal tell us that the three defining characteristics of the Jewish nation is that they are rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chassadim; merciful, shy, and kind.
To be honest with you, and I am detouring for a moment by saying this, as I am writing this article, I have been dealing with my own struggle every time I try to give an English word as a translation of the word busha. Should I write embarrassment? Shyness? Humiliation? Shame? They all sound so negative! Some more, some less; but they all don’t exactly sound so great. And this is supposed to be describing a very, very positive middah! Maybe that fact in of itself is one of the strongest indications of how far Gentile culture can be from that which we are trying to cull from the Torah ha’kedosha. When you just cannot find a word or phrase that can effectively convey the point, besides being extremely frustrating and fumfiting-feeling-inducing, you can’t help but wonder if the reason the expression doesn’t exist is because the concept doesn’t exist.
In any event, if Chazal tell us that bayshanus is one of our distinguishing characteristics, that means that one of the major ways you should be able to tell the difference between a Goy and a Yid, is by how naturally shy (or whatever translation you want to give it) he is.
So, for those of us that struggle with how to relate to bayshanus as a positive middah (one of the most important, no less!), I don’t really have any quick-fix solution to that issue. We need to find a way to engender a positive sense for it without feeling like we are negating who and what we are.
One thing that can be said with a decent amount of certainty, though, is that if we do encounter people (even, and perhaps especially, if they are our own children) that seem to personify this singularly Jewish middah of bayshanus, we should leave them alone! Meaning, we shouldn’t try to divest them of that middah just because we may tend to feel that it is “holding them back”.
Of course, as said, if someone’s shyness (child or adult) is so extreme that it truly is preventing them from doing things that they deserve or ought to be doing, then, by all means, help them. But, and this is perhaps the main point, let’s not be quick at the trigger. Just because a child (or adult) seems to be displaying shy tendencies doesn’t mean that we should immediately whisk him off to the therapist’s office. Instead of harboring an automatic sense of suspicion towards demonstrations of shy behavior, we may be better off cultivating an automatic posture of respect for such character expression.
And who knows, maybe by increasing our tolerance and respect vis a vis others’ middah of bayshanus, perhaps we also will come to inherently and personally appreciate and relate to it for ourselves as well.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.