The Four Types of Parents

The Four Types of Parents

By Avi Lazerson

One of the first learned and best know Mishnas (teachings that were selected and recorded by Rabbi Yehuda the Prince who lived near the end of the 2nd century CE ) is the first mishnah in the tractate of Baba Kama, called Arba Avot Nizikin, the four types of damages. Baba Kama is Aramaic and is translated as meaning "First Gate"; since the tractate of Nezikin (damages) is so large it was divided into three. The other two are Baba Mitziya and Baba Bathra (the Middle Gate and the Last Gate). Baba Kama is the first tractate and deal with civil matters such as damages and torts.

Children who learn religious studies seem to focus on this mishnah and even adults who are able to participate in learning groups find this a very popular mishna to learn.

This Mishnah is the basic source for understanding responsibility for damages. In addition it can give us a very interesting understanding if we apply some of the principles of Mysticism to it as well, as we shall see shortly. But first let us understand the Mishna as it is traditionally understood and then we shall add the perspective of the mystic.

The Mishnah identifies four separate types of damage ("avot nezikin" literally avot means fathers of damages) and they are:

Hebrew

English

Shor

Ox

Bor

Pit

Ma’Aveh

Animal, eating

Hev’er

Fire

 

The Mishna tells us that none of these four types of damages is like the other, that is why they are called Avot, (fathers). The ox damages because its owner was not watching properly and it does not derive any benefit from its damage, rather it just tramples on some one else’s property in the course of its walking.

The pit damages due to some one who dug a hole in the public way and did not cover it and subsequently another person came walking down the path and falls into the pit sustaining injury. The animal is different than the ox, its damage comes through the desire of the animal to eat, the owner here derives a benefit, since he does not have to feed his animal because it ate food from some one’s field. The fire does damage when some one is careless with a fire that he lit and it burns some one’s field.

All four are called the Four Fathers of Damage and the creator of the hole or fire, or the owner of the animal are responsible for any damages that come about from them.

This is a very short synopsis of the normal understanding of the mishna. Let us see how we can extend and expand on this understanding with a little knowledge of mystical thought.

When the world was created, it was created with four elements. (Do not confuse these elements with the elements in the periodic table of elements as we know them. These four elements are considered spiritual elements as will be seen.) These four elements are called by the mystics by their acrostic, “Arma” and are: Aish (fire), Ruach (wind or air), Miyim (water), and Affar (earth, soil or dust). According to mystical thought these are the four building blocks of everything in the universe. We can understand these elements in this manner: Everything has a combination of one or more of these properties: heat (fire), dimensional space (air), wetness or dryness (water), and mass (earth).

Continuing with our thoughts, we are taught that the human person is compounded with two souls, an animal soul and a G-dly soul. The G-dly soul is his connection to the upper worlds, to G-d and to the spiritual; the animal soul is his connection to the lower levels and is the medium through which he relates to the physical world. Therefore in each person the animal soul is made up of these four elements (remember they are spiritual elements) heat (fire), dimensional space (air), wetness or dryness (water), and mass (earth). Some people have more of one of the four elements than the other and the generally rule is that no two people posses the same “elemental makeup” rather each has his own special spiritual elemental makeup. These four spiritual elements generate the person’s character traits.

We can list these elements as follows:

Hebrew

English

Description

Aish

Fire

Anger

Ruach

Air

Jocularity

Miyim

Water

Pleasure

Affar

Earth

Laziness

 

Each element adds to the individual a characteristic that is a negative character trait. These four elements are part of the build of the animal soul. A person who has a large proportion of Fire will tend towards anger, whereas one with a extra portion of Air will be one who enjoys fooling around, joking and laughter. The element of Water gives a person a desire to seek physical pleasures and the element of Earth is that aspect that promotes laziness.

Now we can establish a correlation between the mishna in Baba Kama and our understanding of the four aspects of the animal soul. Let us list them in one table as follows

Damager

Elements

Description

Negative Characteristic

Ox

Earth

Laziness

Insensitivity to others

Pit

Air

Jocularity

Lack of Brains, love of frivolity

Animal, eating

Water

Pleasure

Hedonism

Fire

Fire

Anger

Anger

 

Our new conceptual understanding of the mishna is now this:

There are four extreme types of fathers (and/or mothers) who cause damage to their children. We can define them using the same nomenclature as the mishna: the Ox, the Pit, the Animal (eating) and the Fire. Each one of these types of parents has a problem and this problem causes damages in the children. The Ox is the type of parent who is insensitive to those around him. What their children do, with whom they play, how they dress, etc, is of no importance to them. They seem to laze about like the lazy ox and let their children linger and develop however they happen to turn out.

The second type is that of the Pit. The pit is empty, like people with no brains who follow and believe everything and anything that they are told. They haven’t the sense to properly raise their children even though they love and care much for them. They just follow the cultural whims of the society in which they are found.

The third class of parents is that of the Eating Animal. This group of parents are those bent on having as much pleasure as is possible to get from life. They have children as a result of their desire for pleasure and raising them maybe fine if they are able to get pleasure from them, but they can deviate and thwart logic in order that they may pursue their hedonistic desires, leaving their children to suffer.

The last class of parents is that of the Fire. These are parents who fall frequently into fits of anger. They are always yelling at their children and relating to them in harsh manners. They inflict much damage on their children as can be imagined.

Now we have a new understanding of the Mishnah based on our understanding of Mysticism. Interesting!

It must be pointed out that we have taken these elements to a extreme, which we hope that no one does. There is a time and a place for pleasure, for anger, for joviality, etc, in child raising, but it is in the extreme that damage is caused. Each element does have a positive use and that is when it is used in the proper time, in the proper amount and with proper understanding.

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