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: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…