Sicha Im Ha'Isha and Self-Deprecation  

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I wanted to write about the famous often-quoted (and often misquoted) phrase in Pirkei Avot about excessive conversation with a woman, but my schedule has been very busy, so I had no choice but to wait for a better time. Right now seems like the right time though, especially since Bad4Shidduchim just wrote a post about self-deprecation and the impression it makes on a date. So, how do these two things -- self-deprecation and excessive conversation -- connect? What do they have to do with each other?

There are a few lessons written in Pirkei Avot 1:5 in the name of Yosi ben Yochanan. The one I will be focusing on is the following:

ואל תרבה שיחה עם האשה. באשתו אמרו. קל וחומר באשת חברו. מכאן אמרו חכמים כל זמן שאדם מרבה שיחה עם האשה, גורם רעה לעצמו

Yosi ben Yochanan warned not to engage in excessive conversation with a woman. This is said about a man's own wife, so even more so about another man's wife. From here, the sages say that one who talks excessively with a woman causes himself harm.

This can be interpreted a few different ways, but for our purposes, we are going to go with the Bartenura -- Rav Obadiah ben Avraham's commentary. He gives different examples of how talking excessively with a woman can cause a man harm, and his reasons are very logical. I am going to focus on his second explanation of the bad effects of sicha im ha'isha.

א"נ מתוך שהוא מספר לה שחבריו גינוהו וביישוהו אף היא מבזה אותו בלבה. וזה גורם רעה לעצמו

When he talks to his wife (and the same thing can apply to a woman he is dating) and he tells her how his friends shamed him, she will also come to scorn him in her heart.

Sicha refers to idle chatter. When it is excessive, the chances are greater that someone will make a self-deprecating comment to make the conversation more interesting or to entertain the other person.

It is important for a wife to be able to respect her husband, but if he is constantly putting himself down and, so to speak, saying lashon hara about himself, it will inevitably affect the way she perceives him and relates toward him. While open communication and honesty is obviously important in a marriage, or in any relationship, there are certain limits to everything. In this case, one must draw limits when it comes to self-deprecating remarks. Nobody is perfect, and as human beings, we are all flawed -- that is the beauty of it. We would not be as interesting if we were all perfect. But at the same time, there is no need for us to draw attention to our failings.

You might think that you are only being honest because you care about someone and want them to know "the real you," but at what price? Are you willing to risk losing respect in the eyes of your wife or the woman you are dating? Are you willing to risk the failure of your relationship if, as Bad4Shidduchim wrote, you discuss your flaws on the first or second date and that is the first impression your date has of you?

It is easy to say that we should not judge a person or respect him less because of his flaws, since all of us have our flaws, but when that person parades his faults and stamps them onto his forehead, it is difficult not to view him in that light. I know that I try not to judge people unfavorably, but when they display themselves in a negative light and tell me how lazy, useless, or unintelligent they are, I cannot help but see them that way. I might say to them, "No, don't say that; you are not as bad or as unlikable as you think or make yourself seem," but at the same time, those words become imprinted on my mind in connection with this person. It has happened more than once to me that people spoke scornfully of themselves, and I formed a negative opinion of them based on that. And I really did not mean to do that.... That is just what happened as a result of what they said. It feels so ironic though that I lost respect for some people because they spoke self-deprecatingly about themselves.

People are serious when they tell you that sometimes you are your own worst enemy.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at Tuesday, December 22, 2009 and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



WOW- Thank you for clarifying this issue which I've wondered about. It is gr8 to see the actual sources for the interpretations.

December 22, 2009 at 8:48 PM

Great post! It's always great to here something new about a piece of Torah that you've heard so many times before - it's demonstrative of the principle "shivim panim l'Torah." Aside from that, you make a very good point. I'll be linking this...

December 23, 2009 at 12:54 AM

Thanks for the comments! I'm glad you found it interesting.

December 23, 2009 at 5:55 PM

very well written--thank you!

December 25, 2009 at 11:10 AM

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