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07 May The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 22: 3 Degrees of Separation I


We continue our study of the laws of Selection on Shabbat. We have focused on the application of these laws to choices and decisions. We can now expand the application of these ideas to behavioral patterns as well. There are also different categories of separation in many categories of Halacha, Kabbalah and Spiritual Sanctity, such as Havdala, Hafrasha, and Bereirah.

First Degree of Separation:

The prohibition of selection is transgressed only if one intends to make a forbidden selection. If a person removes a rotten fruit from among good fruit with a view to improving the general quality of what remains this prohibition is not transgressed if it only the person takes fruit from a bowl and then discovers it is rotten. The separation is allowed because it is after the selection that the person does not want it.

Halacha considers the former act – intending to make a forbidden selection – to be a Thoughtful & Creative Action, while the latter, lacking the intent to select, lacks thoughtfulness and is not considered a creative act.

I have a very dear friend who loves books, especially those with practical and common sense advice for life. He recently gave such a book to me as a gift and it is absolutely wonderful. It is funny, entertaining and full of practical wisdom. My friend loves this book and knew that I would, too. But I’m in shock. Literally each and every idea in this book could help my friend improve his life, but as much as he loves all these ideas and repeats them to friend and foe, he does not apply any of the ideas to his life. He loves what he reads, believes what he reads, but he doesn’t apply what he reads. He is pure intention and no action.

He reminds me of an experience I had while traveling in another country. I spent a Shabbat morning in a small synagogue and immediately after the morning service everyone sat down to study the laws of speech with great concentration. I was thrilled to join with such people. Imagine an entire congregation studying the laws of speech together every Shabbat. I was flying, and when a small Kiddush was brought out, I was ready to toast God for having such beautiful children. It didn’t last. The minute the books were closed and the Kiddush began; everyone began to schmooze and quickly forgot what they had learned just a few moments earlier.

What happened? All intention and no action. There was a separation between what they had studied and their behavior. They did not intend to separate intention from action, but they did.

The book reader and the members of that congregation lack the Halachic quality of thoughtfulness, or purposefulness, in their reading and learning. The spiritual damage caused by the separation between intent and action is actually limited by the absence of, what the Halachot of Shabbat would call Thoughtful Action. Although the damage is limited, the absence of Thoughtful Action weakens the power of their learning.

This type of separation between intent and action parallels the spiritual act of separation – as in Havdalah between Shabbat and the week. We recite the Havdalah in the Saturday evening in the blessing of Da’at – Awareness – because true separation between the holy and the empty demands heightened awareness.

To Be Continued…

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