Shabbos 156: Our Natural Tendencies
Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l encourages us to soar above our natural inclination to make excuses. “Every person is born with his own tendencies and character traits. How intelligent he will be and how strong or weak he will be is determined at birth. Nevertheless, we must never use this as an excuse that determines the direction of our lives. Even if we reject this consciously, it is all too natural for the subconscious to rationalize our weaknesses. Although we believe in free will, a voice from deep inside drones on: ‘What can I do? This is how I was created.’
“The words of our sages in Shabbos 156 about mazel are well known. There we find that a Jew born when Mars is dominant will have violent tendencies that cause him to spill blood. Although this can be used in a destructive manner, there are also constructive ways to channel this tendency. One can be a mohel or a shochet. He can be a doctor who draws blood. Or he can be a violent criminal. Despite his harsh tendency, he has at least four paths from which to choose his life’s course. He can be a tzaddik, a beinoni or a rasha. All are available to him.
“The same is true of all negative tendencies. Which path we take depends entirely on what we want. If we want purity, we will be assisted and will find a way to attain this goal. If we desire defilement, this, too, is open to us.
“It is forbidden to feel upset by the capabilities and weaknesses with which Hashem has invested each of us. Everyone has a mission in life: to achieve completion with exactly the characteristics that Hashem instilled within him. Hashem has weighed and measured every single trait so that one can overcome the challenge and reach his goal if he really wants. When we understand this, we will feel a great inner tranquility. We will be heartened and encouraged that we can do what Hashem sent us here to do. We can reach our goal just as we are” (Alei Shur, Part II, p. 604).
Shabbos 157: Keeping Body and Soul Together
Rav Yechezkel of Kozmir zt”l offered a deep explanation of the last piece of Gemara in Maseches Shabbos. “In Shabbos 157, we find that when Ulla visited the home of the Reish Galusa, he noticed that Rabbah, the son of Rav Huna, was sitting in a barrel of water and appeared to be measuring the amount of water in it. Ulla immediately remarked that this is presumably forbidden on Shabbos. ‘Isn’t measuring permitted only for a mitzvah? Can we say that measuring not for a mitzvah is permitted?’
“‘I was not measuring it for a particular purpose,’ he replied. ‘I measured it merely so that I would have something to do.’
“This Gemara seems strange. How can we think that an Amora would do anything for no reason at all?
“The answer can be understood in light of the following story about Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk. As is well known, Rav Elimelech was exceedingly holy, never taking time to even look at the mundane world. His followers were astounded when they noticed that during his recital of Kesser,the Kedushah said during Mussaf, which he intoned with crying and obvious longing, he suddenly removed his watch from his pocket and began to gaze at it, obviously completely absorbed. During this special Kedushah,even the simplest of chassidim were filled with devotion and dveikus and would not even think about anything material. How could the great Rav Elimelech go from being completely enraptured by the holy words to aimlessly considering his pocket watch?
“When asked about this, Rav Elimelech immediately explained, ‘When I was reciting Kedushah, I was so filled with dveikus that I thought I would literally expire. I desperately required an anchor to the physical world to calm me, so I focused my attention on my watch to help my body get a grip on my soul.’
“Rabbah bar Rav Huna measured the barrel of water for a similar reason. He noticed that he was so filled with dveikus in the holy Shabbos that he was literally in danger of leaving the world. Is it any wonder that he immediately began to measure the water in the barrel to keep body and soul together?” (Imrei Elimelech, p. 173).
Hadran Aloch Maseches Shabbos!
Eiruvin 2: Mikdash and Mishkan
Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischazt”l provided a powerful explanation of a statement of Chazal on the first daf of Eiruvin.
“At the beginning of Eiruvin, we find that the Mikdash is called the Mishkan and the Mishkan can also refer to the Mikdash. We must wonder what this teaches us in avodas Hashem.
“The answer lies in understanding that one’s yiras Shomayim while he is at home represents the Mikdash, which was in a state of permanence. When one is travelling, however, his yirah alludes to the Mishkan. When one travels, his yirah is generally in a diminished state, since he cannot learn and daven as he would at home. Sometimes, when one travels, he has a higher state of serving Hashem, since he deeply realizes that every motion, even eating, drinking and sleeping, is from Hashem and is a way to serve Him. For such a person, even travelling is an aspect of the Mikdash, so for him, the Mishkan is equated to the Mikdash.
“Sadly, the opposite dynamic also exists. A person can be a shoteh, barely serving Hashem but believing that he alone is worthy. He might even believe that Eliyahu Hanovi will imminently seek an audience with his august self. He constantly checks the door for that great visitor. In truth, this person lacks yiras Shomayim. Indeed, he looks down on yirah, mistakenly believing that he achieved profound yirah long ago. If he was honest with himself, he would understand that he has not even begun to serve Hashem in any way. The home of such a person and others like him is no more than an aspect of the Mishkan. He does not serve Hashem as is fitting, in an honest and genuine manner. Instead, he wastes his life indulging delusions of grandeur. It is enough that Hashem gives this lowly person life and sustenance. Nevertheless, his home is still an aspect of the Mishkan. Although he doesn’t yet serve Hashem as is fitting, perhaps this will change” (Betzino Kadisho, Parshas Behaalosecha).
Eiruvin 3: The Pot of Partnership
A certain man went to Rav Meir Yechiel Halevi of Ostrov zt”l and said, “I am about to become a business partner with another chossid and am seeking a bracha from the rebbe.”
The rebbe replied with great advice. “In Eiruvin 3, we find that the pot of partners is neither hot nor cold. Encapsulated in this pithy saying is practical guidance on how one should comport himself with his business partners. Firstly, his pot must not be hot. He should not react in a hotheaded manner to the words or actions of his partner. Nevertheless, his pot should not be cold either. He must be careful not to be unfeeling and uncaring, since their partnership will not last when there is not a good bond between them. Instead, he should think very carefully to ensure that their partnership is balanced and that he reacts appropriately and at the right time to the words and deeds of his partner” (Mishmeres Kehunah, p. 59).
Eiruvin 4: The Convert’s Question
As is well known, a convert must go to the mikvah before he is considered a Jew.
One man who wished to convert was slated to go to the mikvah when he was told that he had a problem. He had changed the oil in his car and his hands were stained. When he got to the mikvah,the bais din pointed out that this might well be problematic. “Oil and the like can block an immersion from taking effect. The Gemara tells us in Eiruvin 4 that if one is particular to remove a substance, even if it is on only a minor portion of his body, this also blocks the immersion from taking effect. It is only if you truly don’t care that this substance is on you that it does not block the immersion if it covers a minority of the body.”
“But I often change the oil of my car – I am a mechanic – and I am not particular about this,” the convert-to-be explained.
The bais din explained that it is still not so simple. “Nevertheless, if the oil can be removed, the custom is to remove it. It is only permitted if the substance cannot be removed or if, post facto, one immersed without removing the substance” (Sefer Haterumah, #79; Semag, Asei’in, #27; Mordechai, Shevuos, #648;Chochmas Adam).
Eiruvin 5: The Neighborhood Eiruv
Once, a grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l had a serious halachic question, as he checked the eiruv before Shabbos and wished to see the exact boundary of the far side of the eiruv, when he noticed that the beam holding up the eiruv was broken.
He was in the park with his wife and young child and realized that they could no longer roll the child’s carriage. He immediately asked his wife to sit on the nearest bench and went to consult with his illustrious grandfather. Rav Moshe answered, “Since your daughter can walk a little herself, you can walk her to your apartment and leave the stroller in the park.”
“But what about the other couples in the park with even younger babies? Must I tell them that the eiruv is down?”
Rav Moshe answered decisively. “You should definitely not tell the couples that the eiruv is no longer valid. Clearly, one cannot leave his baby in the park. Doing so would be dangerous, and other issues of danger can arise if parents are absent from the home for too long, which means that they should not wait until Shabbos ends to leave the park. So you can allow them to return. It may also be better for them to be shogeig and not meizid in this situation.
“In Europe, there was a kind of takanah: After they checked the eiruv on Erev Shabbos, they did not check it on Shabbos itself. We can rely on the chazakah that the eiruv is valid. If it will be known that the eiruv tore on Shabbos, this will cause people pain and some will likely carry anyway.”
The grandson explained that he had not been checking the eiruv. “I was only trying to see how far it extended, not whether it was kosher” (Mesores Moshe, p. 126).
Eiruvin 6: The Greatness of Rav Shimon bar Yochai
On thisdaf, we find that the halacha follows BaisHillel. The Seder Hadoros states that in the future, after Moshiach comes, the halacha will follow Beis Shamai and Rav Shimon bar Yochai. The Bnei Yissoschor quotes a similar concept from the Arizal, and so does the Vilna Gaon.
The Tiferes Shlomo wonders why the halacha doesn’t follow Rav Shimon bar Yochai today. “The reason we do not follow the rulings of Rav Shimon bar Yochai today is precisely because of his towering greatness. In this mundane world, we cannot yet follow much of what he says. In times to come, when the world will be filled with knowledge of Hashem like water covers the sea, we will follow his opinion in everything” (Shulchan Shlomo, I:253, p. 85-86).