Today’s daf (Ketubot 45b) discusses the punishment due to an adulteress and a defamer and it notes how זו מעשיה גרמו לה – ‘in terms of this one (i.e. the adulteress), her actions caused her [to be punished]’ while וזה עקימת שפתיו גרמו לו – ‘in terms of this one (i.e. the defamer), his curving of his lips caused him [to be punished]’.
Admittedly, from a purely legal perspective, the Gemara is correct in stating that it is the actions of the former, and the words of the latter, which constitutes what they did so wrong as to be deserving of a punishment. Nevertheless, I would like to explore the word גרם, meaning ‘cause’, because life isn’t just experienced from a purely legal perspective.
In terms of an adulterer or an adulteress, aside from a series of events ultimately leading to an act of adultery, there are further contributors to such actions. For example, as I explained in my commentary to Ketubot 44 (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/ketubot-44/), ‘marriage begins with the kiddushin ceremony to remind us that sanctity stems from fidelity and not doing harm to the integrity of one’s marriage’. Therefore, among the ‘causes’ of someone who is unfaithful in a marriage is their lack of respect for their spouse and for their marriage. While in terms of the defamer, among the things that ‘caused’ them to speak as they did is an underappreciation of the dignity that they should afford others, and how the gift of words should be used to create and do good, and not destroy and do bad.
True, it is a court of law that evaluates and judges actions, and it is those actions that ‘cause’ that individual to be punished. But in order for such incorrect actions to have been deliberately performed, the foundational ‘cause’ of them are our flawed and faulty attitudes. And this is why all of us must engage in a process of ‘Tikkun HaMiddot’ (meaning ‘the rectifying/repairing of our character traits’) because, as the Vilna Gaon writes in his Even Sheleimah 1:1, כל עבודת השם תלוי בתקון המדות – ‘Our entire service of God depends on [the efforts we make in] the rectifying/repairing of our character traits’.
Ultimately, bad middot are the ‘cause’ of bad actions, and though we are held liable for our bad actions, we are responsible to do what we can to repair our bad middot. Yet unlike the former which occurs in a court, the work of Tikkun HaMiddot occurs in our heart and soul, and though the former is decreed by a judge, the latter is – ultimately – up to us.