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Thought for the Day: The Function of a לימד זכות

My granddaughter started to open an umbrella one Shabbos.  I told her we don't do that on Shabbos and she replied, "It's ok, Zeidy; I use the eiruv."  Very cute; adorable, even... coming from a five year old.  On the other hand, I once saw someone carrying and umbrella outside on Shabbos.  When he saw the look of surprise on my face, he gave me the same response (sans the "Zeidy" approbation), "It's ok; I use the eiruv."

I didn't find it cute nor adorable, but perhaps there is a לימד זכות?  Which brings us to the topic du jour.

There is a mitzvah, many hold that mitzvah is from the Torah, to judge every Jew favorably, aka: דן לכף זכות.  On the other hand, it is said in the name of R' Yisrael Salant that the first mitzvah is to not be stupid.  When is one obligated to find a לימד זכות and when is one obligated to not be stupid?  And what difference does it make?

I started thinking about this after hearing a shiur from R' Dovid Cohen of the CRC on the לימד זכות of the ערוך השולחן (Siman 100 of Yoreh Dei'ah; well worth your time to review in depth) for people who are lax about checking for bugs on vegetables.  The לימד זכות goes basically like this: While it is true that bugs are a בריה/whole critter and therefore not בטול; that is only d'rabanan and there is one opinion that we only say that for one part in 60, but they are certainly  בטול in 960.  Moreover, the problem is that a בריה is significant, and these bugs are so tiny (we aren't talking cockroaches, here) that Chazal never meant to include them.  And on more thing, argues the ערוך השולחן, Chazal also never meant give disgusting little critters the exalted title of בריה.

Hang on, you'll cry!  We don't hold like that!  Those are opinions of individuals and none of them may be relied on in practice.  All true, answers the ערוך השולחן, but this is a שעת דחק/time of plight -- the community is in danger of having neither bread nor beans.  In such a situation, one is allowed to rely on opinions of individuals that would not normally be accepted.

The ערוך השולחן is famous for his ability to find a לימד זכות in many situations.  I found this particular siman inspiring for several reasons.  He starts by noting that many people are careful with bugs, but many  just give a cursory glance and eat when they see nothing.  Who are these "many"?  They are people who are shomer Torah and mitzvos.  People who put on t'fillin, daven with a minyan, would never dream to eat anything non-kosher, nor to work on Shabbos; they are truly putting their money, time, and life where their mouth is.  A community of people like that, says the ערוך השולחן, cannot possibly be doing something that is wrong.  When the ערוך השולחן finds a לימד זכות, it is a high caliber, well researched reasoning; with support from main stream rishonim and acharonim.  Certainly there is room to argue that "we don't pasken that way".  The ערוך השולחן amends, "we don't pasken that way in a normal situation, but שעת דחק שאני/difficult times call for difficult decisions.

The way I read him, his motivation is: לא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת/the Torah was not given to angels.  In fact, he finishes the siman with a simple, but profound t'fila that just as he found a לימד זכות for these Jews, HaShem should allows be able to find  לימד זכות for all of Israel.

So... is there a לימד זכות for the fellow I saw?  Maybe, but also maybe not.  A neighbor (ostensibly "frum") once told me, "I don't know what the issues are with the eiruv, so I use it."  He was unabashedly ignorant and looking for leniencies.  He had no compelling reason to need an eiruv; just couldn't be bothered to worry about it.  He has since moved to a less religious neighborhood.

At issue is attitude, not knowledge.  My father, עליו השלום, asked on one of his visits why it was ok to flush the toilet on Shabbos.  I asked, "What could be wrong with it?"  Dad replied, "How to I know?  There's lots of stuff you do that I don't understand."  In fact, when my dad visited, he was careful with everything; even refrained from showering and brushing his teeth on Shabbos.  He wouldn't have dreamed to carry anything outside on Shabbos.

If someone is trying their best, then there is always a לימד זכות.  After all: לא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת

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