Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Allowed to Skip vs Exempt

In the old days, when newspapers were on paper and not feeds from web sites, they had a thing called "pictures".  Not images, jpegs, or gifs; pictures.  In the real old days (like 40 years ago or so), those pictures were black and white.  Even though one could see shades of gray, they were called "black and white".  That wasn't a mistake.  The pictures were actually composed of little black dots on a white background.  You could have every shade of gray from pure white to jet black just by making the dots denser (more per sq. in.) or less dense.

I have, on occasion (lots and lots of occasions) been accused of being "black and white"; and I don't mean when commenting on my taste in fashion.  My response is, "The Torah is black and white."; which is an explicit Chovos haL'vavos.  The Chovos haL'vavos notes that people misunderstand the term "divrei r'shus".  They think it means "optional" or "do what you want".  He says that is not true; in fact, there is always a single correct behavior.  The difference, he says, between divrei r'shus and mitzvos (or the opposite) is that mitzvos and aveiros are absolute, while divrei r'shus are situational.  So far so good; but it turns out there are different kinds of r'shus.

Some divrei r'shus are really just for extra credit.  Matzah on pesach (except the first night), eating in the sukkah (except the first night).  That is, when you do them you get credit for fulfilling a mitzvah, but you don't have to explain yourself for not doing them.  Other things are really obligatory, but we have permission to skip them (in case of need).   For example, one (men, anyway) is obligated to sleep in the sukkah during Sukkos.  Many of us, however, do not.  One reason is brought by the Rema that is is just too darn cold.  Another is that "teishvu k'ein t'duru" (reside there like it is your home) requires a man and his wife to be able to both sleep there.  Many of us do not have a sukkah that is tzni'us enough for that, so we sleep inside.  It doesn't mean we aren't obligated to sleep in the sukkah, just that we have (good, valid) exemptions.  Another example is ma'ariv for women (to be discussed further in a an email near you).

What difference does it make?  We'll see.  In the meantime, it is worth contemplating that even though you are not in principle going to be required to have a good excuse for divrei r'shus of the first type, you are certainly going to have a good excuse for not utilizing every moment of your life for avodas HaShem.  That problem is only made worse by the plethora of divrei r'shus that HaShem has given us.  Have a good rest of the day.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…