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Thought for the Day: The Malacha of K'shira -- Tying Knots

Several malachos of Shabbos come in pairs: building/destroying, sewing/tearing, writing/erasing, and the star of today: tying/untying knots.  The basic concept of the assur m'd'oraisa malacha of k'shira is to create a knot that is never supposed to be untied.  There is a machlokes M'chaber and Rema about whether or not the professionalism of the knot affects its status, but the basic principle is as stated.  The malacha of untying is, simply stated, any knot that is forbidden to be tied is also forbidden to be untied; everyone agrees to that (even though they disagree on what conditions make tying a knot assur).

That's weird.  I am certainly not allowed write a note as long as I promise to erase it in a few hours.  True, if I write something that will fade (or otherwise self-destruct) in a few hours, then I have not violated the d'oraisa malacha of writing on Shabbos.  (It is still, of course, assur m'd'rabanan.)  If, though, I were to write something and then a few hours later (still on Shabbos) erase it, I would have violated Shabbos twice.  If I tie a  knot, though, and then a few hours later untie it; I haven't violated Shabbos at all.  This is not just theoretical, I tie (and untie) my shoes every Shabbos at least two or three times.

R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz"l, explains that the malacha of k'shira is different.  As noted above, to transgress Shabbos at the biblical level, the result of the malacha must be permanent.  With all malachos besides k'shira, I have created a new thing.  If that new thing is permanent, it is a biblical transgression; if it fades or self-destructs, it is a rabbinic transgression.  Either way, though, there is some thing that I have created.  With writing it is a document, with sewing it is a garment, with building it is a ... well... a building.  Opening an umbrella on Shabbos is making a temporary tent, and a tent is kind of building; so opening an umbrella (even with an eiruv) is a transgression of the Sabbath.

What's a knot, though?  I started with some string and ended with some string.  Being permanent is not a kind of knot... if it's not permanent, it's not a knot!  An open umbrella really provides protection from the elements; it's really a tent/building.  It's temporary, so the Torah doesn't prohibit it directly, but left it to Chazal to decree that erecting a temporary tent/building is forbidden mi'd'rabanan; something known as a "shvus".. don't erect a temporary building because you might leave it there permanently and come to a d'oraisa transgression of Shabbos.  If you don't untie your shoes for even a few days or a week, you still haven't transgressed Shabbos; you never made a knot in the first place.  The knots that are forbidden mi'd'rabanan are not forbidden because they could become knots; they are, if you will, rabbinic knots.  In fact, in case of distress -- a bandage too tight, for example -- a rabbinically forbidden knot can be untied.  While you cannot transgress a rabbinic ordinance because its aggravating, there are cases (like this one) where Chazal simply didn't extend their decree to the aggravating cases.

Bottom line, then: two wrongs don't make a right.  Two Wrights do make an airplane, however.


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