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Shabbat Parashat Miketz| 5771

Ein Ayah: Different Types of Obstinacy

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:110)

Gemara: There are three things regarding which a large quantity is damaging and a small amount is good: sourdough, salt, and obstinacy.


Ein Ayah: [Rav Kook apparently understood that the significance of this statement is specifically in regard to obstinacy, whereas the sourdough and salt serve to help define the context of the obstinacy, as we will see.]

There are two types of obstinacy. One is to stand by one’s own opinion and not give in to another person. This is a good thing when a single counterpart or even quite a few other people are trying to do something that is not straight and proper. In general, it is proper for one to rely on his own opinion and not always feel a need to conform to that which others tell him, which would deprive him of his own opinions and initiative. This is the small amount of stubbornness that is beneficial. If one goes too far and refuses to agree with what others tell him when it would be proper to do so, this is a damaging type of obstinacy.

There is a second type of stubbornness, which is more far-reaching. Not only is that person so set in his path that he continues acting his own way, but he tries to make others conform to his views. This too can be good if one acts this way sparingly and even more selectively than regarding the first type of obstinacy. The particular danger here is that he will become embroiled in serious arguments, and problems that are difficult to fix will arise.

To correspond with the various forms of stubbornness, the gemara brought into the discussion the matter of sourdough and salt. Sourdough works by changing the nature of the dough with which it is mixed, making it ferment and become more like the sourdough. If this is overdone and the dough is ruined, then even if one wants to overcome this by adding more regular dough to the mix, it will not undo the changes and the spoilage that has already occurred. So too, one who tries to influence his friend to a damaging degree will find it overwhelmingly difficult to counteract the damage.

Salt is different in that it does not change the food to which it is added but adds a taste to it, which could be positive, or it could be negative if overdone. However, if one puts in too much salt, he can add more food until the salt ends up being at the right proportion. So too, even when one does not try to change others but to allow his approaches to remain intact, he can also overdo it, but if he does, it is easier to rectify.

There are another two forms of obstinacy which can be compared to sourdough and salt. There is a stubborn person who makes changes with great patience because he is so persuasive that he not only impacts people at the moment of argumentation but he even tries to have his way over time. This can be represented by sourdough, whose impact continues to change things over time. There is another type of person who impacts, but only does so at the time of his activity. This is good when it is not appropriate to take things slowly, but this is very damaging when it is not called for. This is the kind of case where “salt-like” seasoning is bad and a sourdough-like influence is proper. This idea can be derived from the pasuk, “A time and a judgment shall one with a bright heart know” (Kohelet 8:5). Every type of obstinacy should be used at the proper time.

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