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Thought for the Day: What Could Be Wrong With Drinking Instant Coffee on Shabbos?

I heard from R' Yisrael Belsky, shlita, that uncomfortable childhood experiences contribute to shaping your personality and outlook.  Reviewing them helps to enhance their good effect and subdue the collateral damage.  Baruch HaShem, I had oodles of painful childhood experiences (many my own creation), which may help to explain my personality.  One of the less painful, but nevertheless, effective experiences I remember was a discussion with one of my mother's cousins about coffee.  I was about 8, he was mid-20s.  He and I had an affinity, as he was a physical sciences major and I was a smart alek.  I asked him if he really liked coffee (something that I could not imagine liking... no matter how much milk and sugar you put in that stuff, it was bitter and disgusting), or if he just drank it to wake up.  I actually argued with him (I know, you are shocked) when he said he really liked coffee.  "Wait.. are you saying that even if you weren't tired, you'd sometime rather have coffee than orange juice or a coke!?", I asked incredulously.  He answered, kindly be with equal incredulity in the affirmative.  I had enough respect for him that even I couldn't dismiss his opinion.

 It was my first uncomfortable confrontation with the fact that knowledge is not enough; experience counts and that only comes with age.  At least, though, I learned that ideas and tastes mature over the years, and it is worth paying attention to those who have already been through your stage of life and more.  I now actually also like coffee.  In fact, I just checked and found that I have written 25 TfdDs that mention coffee (for comparison, cholent is only mentioned in 13).  In fact, even though I do drink instant coffee on Shabbos, it is only because I have no choice if I want to get caffeine into my system; and I most certainly do want to get caffeine into my system.  Have I mentioned that I really, really don't care for instant coffee?  (In fact, IMHO, anyone who says they like instant coffee is either lying or patur from mitzvos.)  Therein, as they say, lies the rub for me to drink coffee on Shabbos.

There is a rabbinic decree not to use cures/medicine on Shabbos for minor illness, aches, and pains.  The Shulchan Aruch says in 328:37 that food and drink that healthy people usually consume, may be consumed even if one is not feeling well and needs the boost.  The Shulchan Aruch continues and paskens that if it is not a food or drink normally consumed by healthy, normal people, then one who simply needs a boost may not consume it at all -- even if he is consuming it because he his hungry/thirsty (MB sk 120).  Since, according to me, normal, healthy people don't consume instant coffee.... I have a problem.

Maybe you think being tired and needing a boost doesn't fall in the category of cures/medicines that were forbidden.  Au contraire!  The Shulchan Aruch forbids vigorous exercise to intended to induce sweating.  The Mishna Brura (sk 130) further extends that issur to vigorous massage intended to relieve stress and energize.  Drinking instant coffee just to perk oneself up, therefore, seems to be a problem.  On the other hand, sniffing snuff -- even to forestall a headache -- does not present a problem (Mishna Brura, sk 127), because we see adults and children alike doing snuff for fun.

It's time for Da'as Torah.  R' Nissim Karelitz, shlita, gives two s'varos/lines or reasoning to permit drinking coffee on Shabbos.  First, coffee is considered a drink that healthy people regularly enjoy.  Second, coffee doesn't actually improve your constitution, it just triggers a reaction in your (already existing) physical state that causes you to be more alert.

That, and the fact that the Mishna Brura's example of snuff shows me that just because I think no one could possible enjoy something (snuff and instant coffee, for example) doesn't mean that normal people don't enjoy those things.  Therefore, it seems I am still permitted to drink instant coffee on Shabbos to help me feel more alert.  Still... being the nervous type that I am, I am going to start drinking a better (read: more expensive) instant coffee.

Of course, my idea of good instant coffee is a brand of coffee that many of my closest friends consider barely potable, so according to them I am back to square one.  On the other hand, their choice to be friends with me may call into question their judgement in general...


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