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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.

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