Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: It Makes a Difference Why It's Different -- Lessons From Sha'atnez

The gemara (Brachos 19b) says that if you see someone wearing sha'atnez, you must tell them and they must remove it immediately -- even if it will leave them in nothing but their birthday suit (though I think it unlikely that even woolen long underwear would be sha'atnez).  Why?
(אֵין חָכְמָה, וְאֵין תְּבוּנָה וְאֵין עֵצָה, לְנֶגֶד השם (משלי כא:ל
There is neither wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against HaShem. (Proverbs 21:30)
Meaning to say, the Torah says it, so deal.  Something like that actually happened to me many years ago.  I was wearing very warm boots; very warm because they were two part: a water proof outer and a woolen felt inner.  Ahhh... Someone came over to me during vasikin one Shabbos (when it was snowing furiously and there was already a six inch accumulation) to tell me, "I think I heard that some of the boots from that manufacturer might be sha'atnez d'rabanan."  I left the inners there, used my wool mittens in their place, and walked home with my hands in my pockets.  (They were not, in fact sha'atnez, but I still got a great story out of the ordeal.)

The gemara then spends most of a page arguing the point.  (Kind of like arguing with your wife.  You know you are going to lose -- because she is right; right, dear?  -- but you just can't help yourself.)  First the gemara notes that we have another ma'amar Chazal that says that כבוד הבריות/human dignity is so important that it pushes off a Torah prohibition.  The gemara explains that the Torah prohibition that is pushed off is the "don't transgress the decrees of the Rabbis".  In other words, if it is sha'atnez d'rabanan, you can wait till you are in a private setting to both tell your friend and for him to strip.  Otherwise, no deal.

The gemara than tries two more attacks, one from returning a lost object, one from burying an abandoned corpse.  In both cases there are exemptions that seem to come from a consideration of human dignity.  Actually, both are based on an exegesis of the Torah verses themselves, but the gemara wants to use that to prove that the Torah is revealing it's intention that human dignity should be taken into consideration in all cases.  The gemara concludes that human dignity -- like any other Rabbinic decree -- can only help you to refrain from doing a mitzvah (such as returning a lost object or burying an abandoned corpse), but it cannot allow you to transgress a prohibition -- such as wearing sha'atnez.  Known in the vernacular as: שב ואל תעשה שאני/to sit and do nothing is different.

In this process, we discovered the extent and mechanism of Rabbinic decrees, that monetary mitzvos do not necessarily operate the same way that "ritual" mitzvos do, the importance of human dignity in every evaluation of how to act, and what it means in very practical terms that HaShem's Will as revealed through the Torah and as explained by our Chazal is the ultimate decider.

Not a bad day's work.  (It was actually more like a week...)


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: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…