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K’Felach HaRimon Rakatech – Divrei Siyum To Massechet Shabbat

Le’iluy nishmat Bracha Miriam bat Chaim Dov and Fruma

Velirfuat Yossef ben Messody, Nissim ben Donna, Gabriel ben Sultana btoch sha’ar kol cholei am Israel.

Recently in the synagoge I often pray mincha/maariv at, there was a discussion regarding people who drive on shabbat on the one hand, yet give a lot to tzedaka on the other hand. How should one relate to people who behave this way?

One of the interesting things that surfaces a few times in massechet Shabbat is the notion of judging a fellow Jew’s behaviour in a positive light.

Somewhere towards the middle of the massechet (around the 70 dapim, I think), an anecdote recounts the deeds on a particular shabbat of two amoraim (an amora is a sage of the Talmud) Abaye and Rava. They carried a bundle of straw and some raw meat, respectively, and put a non-muktzeh item on top of each of the two items they carried.

An important background note: Throughout the massechet is an ongoing debate regarding the issue of muktzeh. Muktzeh, from the root kuf-tzadik-heh, literally means something placed at the edge; for the laws of shabbat it means something which is not fit to be used on the shabbat. How widely or narrowly this applies is a subject of dispute throughout the tractate, depending on a variety of criteria.

Regardless of how we determine what is muktzeh, if something is deemed muktzeh, then one is prohibited to move it on Shabbat.

Of course, sometimes moving these things becomes necessary, and so the Rabbis permitted moving muktzeh items in unusual ways. (I think this is required to  ensure that we remember that these objects are not to be moved under normal circumstances.)

One of the ways of moving these objects is to make them a base for that which one is permitted to move.  Hence, if someone were to pass away, on Shabbat (in which case their corpse is muktzeh), and the sun might damage the corpse (i.e. in a case where they passed away outdoors), then we may put a loaf of bread or a young child on the corpse, and move the corpse by means of this stratagem. The loaf of bread or child are something which is permitted to be moved, and as a result of placing them on the corpse, the corpse becomes a base to that which is permitted. The reason the Rabbis permitted use of this stratagem in the case of a corpse was to protect human dignity.

[End note]

Abaye and Rava it seems, were using this same stratagem (making the objects they wanted to carry bases to permitted objects) to enable themselves to carry the straw bundle and the raw meat.

For this, their master, Rav Yossef, chided them. “They think they’re being clever,” said Rav Yossef, “but in truth they’re not paying heed to when the Rabbis permitted this workaround to be used. And when was that? Only after the fact, with no other choice, did the Rabbis allow this stratagem to be used… but no one permits it to begin with!”

To this, Abaye and Rava responded that in fact, they were both carrying objects that weren’t muktzeh. The straw could be used for sleeping on (remember this is before Sealy and Serta and memory foam mattresses), while some people ate raw meat in those days.

So why place permitted objects on top of them? They did so because both Abaya and Rava were aware of their pre-eminent status in their society, and that people might err in interpreting their actions. Just as Rav Yossef thought they were carrying muktzeh objects, others might too, and if they saw leading rabbis doing so without the stratagem, strangers might conclude that it was permitted to carry muktzeh objects in the normal method of carrying, rather than with a change from the routine method.

(We’re assuming a nuance here between the ordinary folk and Rav Yossef. The ordinary folk would only see Rava and Abaye once they were already moving the objects and assume that they had indeed applied the stratagem in an after-the-fact scenario. Rav Yossef by contrast, must have seen his students put the non-muktzeh objects on top of the items in the first place.)

What’s the moral of the story?

Give the benefit of the doubt. Judge people favourably. 

Indeed,  in his book on the laws of lashon hara, the Chafetz Chaim rules that one is obligated to judge both righteous and ordinary Jews favourably. The former get the benefit of the doubt regardless of how guilty they may appear to be, while the latter get it when things are equal or markedly in their favour. If ordinary Jews appear to be guilty of some wrongdoing, one  not obligated to judge them favourably or unfavourably, but it is the manner of the pious to judge them favourably.

What about the wicked? There’s no obligation to judge them favourably, but I don’t recall (nor have to hand the Chafetz Chaim’s book), whether one is obligated to judge them unfavourably. Regardless, it’s an academic point since for someone to be truly wicked, they would have to have gone to extreme lengths of depravity.

Today, when someone doesn’t keep shabbat etc., they should be considered as a person who was kidnapped as a baby and raised by non-Jews. This is so even if their parents were Jewish. Some of you may be skeptical, so let’s see this point in greater depth.

Let’s talk about the wicked and the number 40.

The number 40 represents wholeness, totality.

When G’ chose to wipe out the world’s inhabitants via a flood, he made the flood last for 40 days and nights.

When G’ gave us the Torah, He gave it to Moses over 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai. Total light and holiness.

When He wiped out the generation of the desert, He did it over 40 years.

When someone is guilty of an offense that is punishably by lashes, the Torah ordains that he receive 40 lashes. Yet our sages of blessed memory diminished the maximum allowable to 39, because 40 would certainly be a total destruction of the person. (The remaining 39 are further reduced according to the degree the guilty party is able to bear lashes.)

How does massechet shabbat address the number 40?

On daf 73, massechet shabbat quotes the mishna that names all the labours forbidden on shabbat. The mishna then proceeds to tell us the seemingly obvious point that there are 40-1 such labours. Why bother? Couldn’t we just count on our own?

The Gemara gives a few different answers such as that one Mishnaic sage held that there were more labours, or to teach us that even if you violate derivative labours (toladot, or descendants) of the original prohibited labours (avot, or fathers), one can’t be liable for more than 39 sacrifices, one for each of the original prohibited categories.

While these answers certainly make sense, I’d like to propose another that explains the peculiar phrasing, 40 minus one. Why not just say 39?

The answer is that no matter how far a Jew may sink… he can’t go totally wrong. There will always be that spark of holiness in him. It may be deep, and covered by misdeeds … but it is indestructible. As our sages taught, Israel kol od shehu choteh, Israel hu. Israel, even while it sins, remains Israel. (Sorry Christians aka  “New Israel”).

To a similar effect (though I can’t explain the numbers), G’ took out of Egypt a Jewish people who the ministering angels rightly accused of being every bit as mired in sin as their Egyptian slavemasters. They’d crossed the 49th of 50 gates of impurity. And in spite of this G’ redeemed them from Egypt and wrought the greatest miracles ever beholden to man for these same people. (China is known in Hebrew as Sin (pronounced seen), and even in modern English people who study China are Sinophiles. In China, the name “China” means center of the universe, suggesting that the word of mouth about what happened at Mt Sinai reached literally to the ends of the earth in China.)

In sum

Reish Lakish interprets in massechet Shabbat and again in Eruvin, on the verse from Song of Songs that says, “k-felach harimon rakatech.” Instead of reading “rakatech” as its plain meaning (I forget it at the moment), Reish Lakish interprets it as a conjunction of “reikanim shebach” – the ignoramuses/boors amongst you (you = the nation of Israel). Even these boors are full of mitzvot as the pomegranate (Rimon), whose seeds we eat at the New Year while blessing that our merits be abundant as the seeds of the pomegranate.

p.s. Need to add story re girls on bus and boy at bus stop with blind man.

Posted in Judaism.


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