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Thought for the Day: When You Don't Have to Fast, It Depends Why

The Ramchal in Sefer Ikarim notes that there is no essential difference between d'rabanan's and d'oraisa's; they are both revealed wisdom.  The divine wisdom revealed to the entire population at Har Sinai is called d'oraisa.  The wisdom revealed through those who have "paid their dues" (so to speak) by exhaustively delving into the Torah to the limits of human ability is called d'rabanan.  Being that both d'rabanans and d'oraisas come from the same source -- HaShem Yisbarach, HaKadosh Baruch Hu -- there is absolutely no sense whatsoever to being any more lenient or strict with one over the other.  There are, however, two differences that do make a difference in how they are applied to halacha l'maisah.

First, there is the way they apply in situations of uncertainty.  The rule for d'rabanan's is that in cases of uncertainty the lenient application prevails, in the case of d'oraisa it is the stringent.  I stress again this has nothing to do with the severity of violating the d'rabanan vs. d'oraisa; it is simply a rule in how to come to a halachic decision when uncertainty is part of the equation.  The second difference is that each d'rabanan comes with it's own set of conditions under which it applies.  That is slightly different than d'oraisa's, which typically apply or don't apply, but could be pushed off due to competing d'oraisa or d'rabanan obligations. 

One of the clearest places this is all plays out is in community fasts.  We have Yom Kippur, which is, of coure, d'oraisa.  We have Ta'anis Esther, in commemoration of HaShem answering in times of distress, which is mi'divrei sofrim.  Up till now (and, I"YH, never again) we have had four fasts as a memorial to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, may it be rebuilt soon and in our days, and the seminal events that lead to our current situation in galus.

There are two reasons one may need to eat: one is sick (choleh sh'ein bo sakana), or one is healthy but fasting would weaken his system to the point that he would become sick.  One who is sick is allowed to eat on any fast d'rabanan without restriction.  On Yom Kippur, which is d'oraisa, he needs to eat "pachos pachos min ha'shiur";that is, eat less than a k'zayis ever nine minutes or so.  That makes it appear that d'rabanan's are more lenient.   However, a (currently) healthy person must eat pachos pachos min ha'shiur on all fasts.  That makes it appear that d'rabanan's are just as strict as d'oraisa's.

So what really is the difference?  Eating pachos pachos min ha'shiur is a way of maintaining a halachic fast. (See Mishna Bruru, 168, sk 5; who notes you are not generally allowed eat anything, but eating slowly does not technically break the fast.)  In the case of Yom Kippur for everyone (except, of course, choleh sh'yeish bo sakana; critically ill) and the d'rabanan fasts for the healthy person, they have an obligation to fast and also a situation that competes with that obligation.  By eating slowly they are able to both technically fast and maintain their health status.  For the person who is sick already, however, Chazal never included them in the decree to fast in the first place.  There is not fast to maintain, so once they are in that category there is absolutely no reason for them to eat slowly; there is no fast to maintain, technically or otherwise.

I like this example so much because it is a crystal clear refutation of the "oh... it's only d'rabanan" disease that has become endemic in our generation.


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