Dear B’nai Shalom members, families, and friends:
Robin and I hope everyone is staying well, healthy and safe. For those who are NOT feeling well or doing as well as they need to be, we wish you a refuah sh’layma – a quick and complete recovery.
Throughout the COVID period of illness, lockdown, vaccines, and recoveries, I have had the privilege of conducting a weekly shiur via Zoom with shul members (previously, a twice-weekly shiur). During that time, questions have been posed that have to do with the general subject of: “How to handle halachic (Jewish law) mistakes?” Depending on the nature of the actual mistake, we have, during the weekly shiur, focused on how to handle and rectify those misdeeds. I share with you some of the general approaches that we have discussed in addressing those transgressions. The following may contain more of the questions and the concerns that arise BECAUSE of the questions than simple answers
There are almost ALWAYS leniencies and strictness’s in laying out all of the possibilities for kosher interpretation of rules, and how each grouping of opinion and particular rabbinic decisions handle the different rules and issues. What happens if we do something that we knew was wrong from the very start and did it anyway for whatever reason? What if we say something harsh, sarcastic, mean-spirited, or hurtful? What if we eat during a fast when it isn’t a health issue and we are just being impulsive or self-indulgent giving into an inclination or temptation? If we hurt someone with something we have said, do we immediately apologize to those people that we hurt? Do we apologize to people we are with when gossiping to, or with them? And then what do we do? Is there a formula for praying about it for forgiveness in that moment? Or would giving extra charity help in this situation in seeking specific forgiveness? And what if the mistake we make is an honest mistake, but still a clear violation? Is it handled differently from an intentional transgression? And would we then handle it in a different way? What happens if we accidentally turn a light on during Shabbat? Do we turn it off? Do we leave it on? Do we say something? Do we try to minimize bringing attention to it? If so, is there the danger that we might (even inadvertently) seem like we are asking others to believe that what we have done is okay when we know it isn’t? Is there a way to minimize the level of wrongdoing of our actions and if so, how so? If one forgot to put the TV remote away, and it is left on our dining room table, do we move it once it is Shabbat? If we forgot to turn off our cell phone before Shabbat, do we keep it on, leaving it on all throughout Shabbat? Would it be better, or okay to move the TV remote? What about the cell phone? Is it best to ignore it? What if it affects, interferes with Shabbat activities? What if we have to change our Shabbat routines because of these muktzeh (forbidden) items? What does one do if one realizes on the way to Shul that he/she has something in one’s pocket that is muktzeh (forbidden to hold)? In such a situation, what does one do to keep the violation to a minimum? What is one to do if one forgot to take the light out of the refrigerator or failed to turn off the coffee maker? What if failing to turn off the coffee maker creates a situation of potential danger? What if is only an annoyance? What if turning off the coffee maker is unnecessary?
What does one do about the safety exceptions (to the strict observance of Shabbat) that need to be made in order to do only what one HAS to do? How does one ensure that one doesn’t make the violation worse?
What if one leaves two burners lit on one’s stove on Shabbat with a blech (large metal sheet, used for Shabbat food warming) on the stove, then one of the burners goes out? Do you turn it off when you realize the leaking gas could cause a fire? Is there something you need to say, or something you need to do as you turn it off? In such a case, is there a guideline for taking a safety leniency?
How can we, as concerned, serious Jews, work to be a good example to others by the way we conduct ourselves?
Are there ways in which we must conduct ourselves in order to NOT enable other Jews to do things that are not appropriate?
Are there rules concerning bringing food over to a host home and family ON Shabbat? Are there rules about eating or accepting in one’s home food that was cooked or baked ON Shabbat?
Are there rules concerning inviting friends or families over to one’s home if one knows they are going to drive over on Shabbat? Is it our business how they arrive? If they can walk, is it our concern if they choose NOT to walk over? Do we need to insist that they don’t drive?
If I invite someone over who is not within walking distance, even if I invite them to spend the night, if I know they aren’t going to sleep over in my home, or if they are coming to my house straight from work and will be driving, am I then complicit in another Jew breaking Shabbat? Is there blame or culpability on ME if a Jew – who might NEVER keep Shabbat – is breaking Shabbat to come to my home because I invited them?
If we accidentally buy an unheckshered item (food item without an accepted kosher sign) or we are given as a gift an unkosher bottle of wine, do we throw it out, or can we give it to another Jew, if we know that they don’t keep kosher at all?
Do we have an obligation to tell someone else or direct someone as to how kosher s/he should be?
If I hear someone disrespecting his/her parents, do I have an obligation to say something? If someone is spreading nasty gossip, do I have an obligation to say something? Are we expected to model a specific behavior in ALL situations or should we try not to get involved in something not really our business?
How should I respond if someone asserts as the reason for a rule something I know not to be true or who trivializes something that is core to Jewish beliefs?
How do we handle a situation if we feel someone is baiting me intentionally? And what if the person is uninformed? When should we be tactful and gentle? When should we be more forceful?
What really is our collective role in modeling proper, Jewish behavior? When should we simply be minding our own business?
With all of the questions and situations that I have posed, we have had interesting (and hopefully, informative…) conversations during the weekly shiurim.
I thank the shul participants for posing these thought-provoking questions.
I invite all shul members, friends, and families to participate, whenever possible, in the weekly shiurim for which I am most grateful to the shul in making the shiurim possible. These shiurim meet at 7:30 pm on Wednesday evenings on the Shul Zoom.
With Torah blessings to all,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin