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Thought for the Day: Be Very Careful When You Write (or Print) Divrei Torah

This is a topic that I found to have a surprisingly practical application.  First some background.

Because we Jews are sensitive to the holiness in the world, we have laws that forbid us from debasing objects/places of holiness and also from using base places for holy purposes.  That's the 10,000 foot overview.  Here are some examples.

One is not allowed to store money in his תפילין bag.  The bag itself is used regularly for storing holy objects (תפילין), so it would be debasing to use it to hold ordinary objects (money, for example).  In fact, it would even be problematic (read: don't do this) to store one's טלית in his תפילין, since the טלית is only a mitzvah object, while the תפילין is a holy object.  There is, in fact, no problem at all in keeping money in one's טלית bag.  Putting one's תפילין in his טלית bag is ok once in awhile, but repeated use can upgrade the status of the bag to "holder of both mitzvah and holy objects", which requires some care to get right; don't do that.

Another situation that arises when a shul does remodeling and wants to replace the aron hakodesh.  The old aron hakodesh must be put into storage, as it cannot be used to store anything less than Torah scrolls.  You might think (as I once asked R' Fuerst) that it would be better to repurpose the old aron hakodesh into a bookcase for siddurim or other s'farim; but no, that is not better.  The widow of the king is not going to marry anyone less that another king of equal or greater status.

On the flip side, doing holy things in base places is also forbidden.  For example, reciting a bracha in the bathroom is not allowed even in our modern, clean facilities.  That is true even though the waste has been flushed away and there is not even the trace of a bad smell (thank you, Febreze).  The bathroom (nice euphemism, no?) is a place designated by regular use for base activities, which is not in consonance with the performance of holy activities.  Speaking of bathhouses, though, we do have real ones of those today: workout facilities with changing/locker room.  In the outer room where everyone is always dressed, one may make brachos.  In the inner/shower stalls, one may not make brachos even when one is dressed and no one else is around.  In the middle region -- the lockers/changing area -- where people are sometimes dressed and sometimes not; it depends.  If everyone is dressed now, then you can make brachos there; if not, not.  I leverage that halacha on a nearly daily basis looking for a private place to say אשר יצר at work.

Now... when, precisely, does the area/bag/what have you become a holy or base place?  If I am planning a house and have designated a place for the bathroom, I can make brachos there as long as it isn't actually used.  If I am making/buying a new תפילין bag, but haven't actually placed my תפילין in it, then I can still put money in the new bag.  The concept in halacha is הזמנה לאו מילתא היא/designation ain't nuthin.  There are some exceptions to that rule, however.  If the designation is done by actually physical manipulation of the materials that will be used in the construction of my holy object, then הזמנה מילתא היא/designation is something.  For example, when I being the process of curing the leather to be used for תפילין, that הזמנה מילתא היא.  I can still use the leather for mundane -- and even base -- purposes, however, if I include that condition in my designation.  That is, I declare that I am preparing the leather for תפילין, but might also want to use it for things of lower status.  Then I am good to go.

All of this is explained very well by the Mishna Brura 42:2.  In the Biur Halacha there (ד''ה סודר דאזמנה) one more very practical consideration is noted.  If I prepare the actual object that will become holy, then not only is הזמנה מילתא היא/designation is something, but making a condition does not help.  The example cited is writing divrei Torah on a piece of paper.  That paper, by virtue of that preparation and beginning use is now an object of holiness and may not be used for mundane purposes.  That is, I am sitting in a shiur and start making notes, then I have now elevated that piece of paper to a new level of existence.  I can no longer use that paper for a shopping list nor balancing my checkbook.  The Biur Halacha says that the Chayei Adam allows one in that case to make it conditional, but says he really doesn't know where the Chayei Adam got that and he disagrees completely.

By the way, the Dirshu Mishna Brura brings that the Chafeitz Chaim rules that printing (not writing by hand) divrei Torah is just הזמנה for learning.  It seems to me, that is why one need not be careful with Jewish magazines about bringing them into the bathroom; as long as you don't actually read the divrei Torah in the bathroom, of course.

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