Tze U'lmad Lekh L'kha 5769

Weekly Talmud Lesson with Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz

We are able to understand clearly wrong acts and clearly right acts with ease. Robbing the local grocery is readily categorized as bad behavior in our minds. Helping a less able person across the street is just as readily categorized as good behavior. Many acts, however, fall into a gray area. Is stealing to feed one's family a bad act? What about exceeding the speed limit to arrive on time at a child's piano recital or soccer game? There are many acts we can think of that we would describe as technically forbidden, but mitigated by the circumstances. Keep this in mind as we delve into Shemuel's statement.

Our Sages divided all work performed on Shabbat into three categories:

  1. Chayyav (liable). If a Jew is aware that he/she is performing melakhah (Torah-forbidden labor; lighting a fire, for instance) on Shabbat, and he/she does so willingly and deliberately, he/she is liable for punishment. If the melakhah was performed accidentally, he/she would have been required to bring a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem.
  2. Mutar (permitted). This is work that is totally permitted on Shabbat, like taking a walk, reading to a child, or setting the table.
  3. Patur (exempt). This is the gray area. If a Jew performs these acts on Shabbat, he/she is exempt from punishment or the obligation to bring a sacrifice, yet the act is forbidden. These are generally acts that our Sages forbade because they have the potential to lead to performance of melakhah. For example, transacting regular purchases falls into this category because both parties are likely to record the transaction in writing, a definite melakhah. Interestingly, there are some credit-like exchanges of foodstuffs needed for Shabbat that our Sages allowed, precisely because an actual transaction is not melakhah.

The Sages seem to want us to consider our acts carefully on Shabbat. The deep mindfulness and presence in the moment required by the practice of constant consideration of our behaviors on Shabbat can lead us to a powerful spiritual awaking. It is difficult to be mindful of all of our actions at all times, but it is less difficult to enter this mind-frame for the twenty-five hours of Shabbat. My blessing for us all is that we become more thoughtful in our everyday actions as we grow in our observance of Shabbat.

Questions:

  1. What are the gray areas of our behavior?
  2. How can we use Shabbat to become more mindful and present in our daily lives?