Ben Bag Bag says: hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, dcholah bah (Avos 5:22)

Hafoch in it and hafoch in it.  What is it?  The Torah.

What does hafoch mean?

Rav said to Rav Kahana, hafoch with an animal carcass, do not hafoch with words.  (Pesachim 113a)

This means a person should involve himself (hafoch) with a carcass rather than involving himself with words because the latter leads to inappropriate speech...

(Maharsha ibid)

According to this understanding of the word hafoch, Ben Bag Bag is teaching us to involve ourselves in Torah.

The Chasam Sofer and the Ben Ish Chai offer us a different understanding of the word hafoch in Ben Bag Bag’s message.  They see the verb hafoch as related to the noun hefech, the opposite.

The gemara in Sotah 44a says that a person should first build a house, then plant a vineyard, and then marry.  The Rambam in Hilchos Daos 6:11 writes “in the admonition (Devorim 28:30) these are reversed: You will marry a woman; you will build a house; you will plant a vineyard; you will do everything in reverse.”  Yet we do not act this way...we do things the opposite way (hafuchim).  (Chasam Sofer, Avos, ibid, page 97 in Machon Daas Sofer, Yerushalayim, 5758 edition)

It appears to me, with the support of Hashem, that hafoch bah v’hafoch bah means...the ability to reverse the meaning of the words...such as azivah which can mean to abandon and it can mean to assist.  (Chasdei Avos, ibid, page 256 in Siach Yisroel, Yerushalayim, 5747 edition)

Ben Bag Bag is teaching us that to complete ourselves in Torah we need to master opposites.

And Yaakov saw the face of Lavan…. The Torah often tells elaborate stories of individuals because from these stories we learn the characteristics and the stratagems of men.  From these stories we will learn to know ourselves, for every middah found in any person exists in every person, to varying degrees. It is not possible to serve Hashem to the fullest if we do not recognize the middos hidden within us. (Limudei Nisan on Braishis 31:2, page 247)

Completion [of character] is not discernible in a person unless he has two opposite middos such as mercy and cruelty.  When a man acts according to one middah, you don't know that he is tzaddik because that may just be his nature. But when he has two opposite middos such as mercy and cruelty then it is certain that he is a tzaddik. This is why Hashem gave Israel the merciful mitzvah of honoring father and mother.  This is a great mercy, according to which when they come to old age and have no place to rest, it is he who will have mercy on them.

And Hashem gave them cruel mitzvos like sending the mother bird from the nest, which is a great cruelty.  It says in the Yerushalmi: When he sends the mother bird, she sometimes drowns herself out of pain. This shows how very cruel this is. This is why these two commandments assure longevity, because with these two middos a person reaches the epitome of completion.  (Gra, Imrei Noam, Brachos 33b cited in Middos Dilei, page 78 of the p'sicha)

This [necessity of using an opposite middah is illustrated by] what it says in Tehilim (149:7,9) to exact revenge on the Nations...this is glory to all of His righteous ones.  This means to say that even though they are righteous ones who conduct themselves with the middah of mercy, nonetheless they will exact revenge on those who hate them using an opposite middah and it will be a source of glory to them.

And this [need for using the opposite middah is implied by] what it says here at the Akeida: now I know that you revere Hashem (Braishis 22:12). Before this,    [Avraham was known to be] very merciful, hospitable, and kind, but the middah of cruelty and willingness to force himself to fulfill a mitzvah was still not evident in him. It could be said that Avraham is not a complete tzadik, chas v’shalom.  But with the Akeida he employed the middah of cruelty.  He wanted, with all of his soul, to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvah and slaughter his only son.... With this it became entirely clear that he is a complete tzadik.  (Kol Eliyahu, Parshas Vayeira, 17)

Having discussed the paltry nature of bad middos… we will now explain their value and place in this world.   There is a great need for these bad middos as much as for good middos for every person is created with various strengths and characteristics such as love and hate, acquiescence and anger, mercy and cruelty, generosity and parsimony, timidity and brazenness, diligence and sloth, courage and fear.  One who walks on the path of Torah will use all these middos.  For example, the middah of contentment is appropriate for material possessions and the middah of jealousy is necessary to motivate one to reach the level of those more righteous than he. (Dubno Magid, Sefer haMiddos with Shuirer haMiddos, 5622, pages 99-100)

Parents teach their children al pi darcho for each child.  That means you teach each child in the way in which he or she most comfortably and effectively learns.  Learning is best accomplished when a child is in their comfortant zone.

Then you teach your child how to act outside of their comfort zone, when and how to employ the middos they do possess and seldom access, the ones outside of their comfort zone.

I have a sign that says Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone.  I’m not sure that is true.  I am sure that sometimes life has to go on outside of your comfort zone.  Help your children to understand and accept that.



Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.

He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time  Available at bookstores and on Amazon.

He can be reached at 718-344-6575.