January 29, 2021

Pesachim 69

Among the many different responsa volumes on my shelves is ‘Melumdei Milchama’, in which Rabbi Dr. Nahum Rabinovitch addresses questions posed to him by his students (who combine their Yeshiva study with service in the Israel Defence Forces) on matters of Jewish law and army service.

Of course, there are occasions when the protection and saving of life overrides almost every aspect of Jewish law. However, there are numerous situations – such as when soldiers are in training or are on a break from their duties – when they have greater flexibility. Thus, Rabbi Rabinovitch offers halachic guidance to his students about finding the right balance between those laws that are overridden by army duties, and those laws that must still be observed while in the army to one extent or another.

I mention this in relation to today’s daf (Pesachim 69) where we explore the halachic position of Rabbi Akiva (see Mishna Pesachim 6:2) who rules that though there are certain actions that we are commanded to perform on Shabbat such as Brit Milah (circumcision) and the offering of the Korban Pesach, any secondary action relating to these mitzvot that can be performed before Shabbat should be done before Shabbat – meaning that a ‘green light’ to perform some things is not to be understood as being a ‘green light’ to perform all things. And why? Because even when the Shabbat laws can be overridden for the sake of a particular mitzvah, in most of the situations in which we find ourselves (i.e. with the exception of the direct protection and saving of life), we are urged not to forget the fact that it is Shabbat.

Interestingly, in his preface to ‘Melumdei Milchama’, Rabbi Rabinovich makes a very similar point that though there are certain things that soldiers are not required to do or that they are only required to do to a minimal level, it is essential that they do not lose sight of the wider values which they are should be fostering. As he says, ‘if there are things [in Jewish law] about which we must be lenient in order to avoid [the possibility of the soldier putting themselves in] danger or under duress, there are also other matters that they (i.e. the soldier) must be even more particular about, namely the love and concern they show towards others, and the acts of kindness that they perform for others. By doing so, the dictum of “and your camp will be holy” (Devarim 23:15) will be fulfilled’.

Ultimately, while a Brit Milah may be performed on Shabbat, and while the Korban Pesach may be offered on Shabbat, and while a soldier may perform a range of duties on Shabbat, none of these justify forgetting other laws and values which are not, and should not be, forgotten or overridden.

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