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Thought for the Day: Good Sense Complements -- Not Replaces/Overrides -- Halacha

I have a tendency to forget small things and to be a bit lazy about being careful.  To adjust for that, I make myself little habits that have built in safeguards.  For example, I always lock my car door with my key; I never just lock the door with the inside button and close the door.  That way, it becomes physically impossible for me to lock myself out of my car.  When I say "always", I mean that when I first started this practice, if I forgot once in a while and locked the door with the button, I would then unlock the door (with the key in my hand) and then relock it... with the key in my hand.  You may think that is just silly.  I am good with that; I know I'd feel even sillier standing outside my locked car looking in at my keys in the ignition.

I learned this practice from the structure of halacha.  A violation of Shabbos is a capital offence, and to protect us Chazal instituted many fences.  For example, as we all know, one is not allowed to even leave food (that is not completely cooked) -- even before Shabbos -- on an open flame/burner.  In order to keep food warm on Shabbos, Chazal mandated that the oven should either have the heating embers removed nor covered with ash.  The Shulchan Aruch brings that (253:1) with a slight caveat: the coals should be covered with ash to decrease their heat.  The Mishna Brura (sk 14) explains that this is purely psychological; the point is that by covering the coals, one's mind is removed from using them for cooking.  Just to stress that point, the Mishna Brura notes that even if the coals were to subsequently spontaneously burst into flame, there would still be no problem.

As you may be thinking, "Hmm... I don't actually cook with wood nor coal!  How does that apply nowadays?"  Or (more likely), you are just thinking, "Yeah, yeah... that's why I put a blech over the burners."  Here's the thing, though: our heat source and and the controls for that heat source are in two different places.  Whereas covering coals with ash would certainly remind me not to stoke said coals; how does covering the flame/burner with a bit of metal remind me not to turn the knob?  True, the stove top looks different that usual; but is that enough?

The Shulchan Shlomo (R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz"l on Hilchos Shabbos) makes the problem worse by noting that we often adjust the flame after we put the pot on the burner.  Should we therefore say that a blech only works if you adjust the flame before putting the blech on the stove?  If you adjusted it afterwards, would that render you preparations null and void?  What about covering the knobs and not covering the burner at all?  After all, Chazal were concerned about stoking the coals; which is much more akin to covering the knobs than the burner.  He brings up a few more points that are more relevant to they way the do things in Israel.

At the end, though, he says that the entire discussion was simply to get us thinking.  None of it changes the halacha: the burner needs to be covered.  You are not required to cover the knobs.  Should you cover the knobs?  I think that is only prudent.  (In fact, we have the knobs covered all week to protect from/for my two year old grandson who loves turning knobs.  We'll probably tape them closed next time we need a blech.)  Should you make the final adjustments before putting on the blech?  Again, seems quite prudent.

There are lots of things that are prudent; but be sure you don't mix up your own prudence with the decrees of Chazal.  Every other protection you take is something like my locking my car door with my keys.  The consequences of making a mistake, of course, are much, much more grave.  What may seem silly about a car door, become prudent and even laudable when it comes to Shabbos.


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