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Thought for the Day: Shomei'a k'Ona

I got a beautiful lesson in mesora on the eve of the first Pesach after my second daughter began walking.  We were about to begin b'dikas chameitz and here older sister began explaining the events of the evening -- the candle, the feather, looking for bit of bread.  Very cute and heartwarming.  Then I thought again and realized that my eldest (the expert) had only seen this ceremony twice before over a quarter of her life ago!  That gave me an inkling of the power of the "ceremonies" that Chazal have given us.

One the of (few though they may be) advantages of starting to learn about Judaism as an adult, on the other hand, is that you have words.  As you are learning how to function as a Jew, you are also learning a vocabulary to go with it.  Case in point: "shomei'a k'ona" -- hearing is like saying.  I know what the verb ayin-nun-hei means in modern hebrew (though it can also mean to testify; cf Inbal, "Modern Hebrew/English/American Dictionary"), but for Chazal the word means more like "proclaim"; as in "lechem oni" -- breads over which a lot of things are said; as in u'va l'tzion wherein the angels "onim v'omrim" -- proclaim and say.  Perhaps a better translation of "shomei'a k'ona" would be "he who harkens to his fellow shall be accredited to have accomplished with his careful listening all that his fellow has accomplished".  Yuch.  Let's just stick with "shomei'a k'ona" and be done with it.

Whether you have heard the expression or not, it is something we regularly use.  Kiddush every Friday night, for example.  Every Jew -- men and women -- have an obligation sanctifiy the Sabbath with a proclamation, yet it is common for only one person to actually say the "kiddush".  How does that work?  Shomei'a k'ona; everyone one listening has intent to have their obligation fulfilled by the recitation of the m'kadesh (who likewise has intent to fulfill their obligation, as well as his own).  We also rely on this principle for k'rias megilla; one person reads and the rest of us listen.  Note, by the way, if the reader dozes off for a few moments and then continues -- no problem; he said and heard all the words.  If the listener dozes off for a few moments -- big problem, since he now hasn't heard all the words.

Shomei'a k'ona only works when the mitzvah is to accomplish some purpose in the proclamation, but not when the mitzvah is to actually say the words.  That is why shomei'a k'ona does not work for k'rias shma.  There the mitzva is to actually say the words, not just proclaim the message.  There is a discussion about whether the mitzvah of counting s'fira means you actually have to say the count; better to be stringent and count yourself.  To be yotzi the bracha, of course, you certainly can rely on shomei'a k'ona.

There is a somewhat similar concept, "kol yisrael areivim ze la'ze" (all Jews are guarantors for each other); but that is a horse of  a different color and a topic for another day.


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