June 19, 2020

Shabbat 11


We previously discussed the Mishna (Shabbat 9b) which listed a range of activities that we should not start just prior to the time for Mincha, and this Mishna then concluded by explaining that all such activities must be interrupted for the purpose of reciting the Shema, but need not be interrupted for reciting the Amidah.

In our daf (Shabbat 11a) we continue this discussion where we are taught that ‘scholars who are studying Torah must interrupt their study for the purpose of reciting the Shema, but need not interrupt their study for reciting the Amidah’ – although we are then informed that ‘this ruling only applies to scholars like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for whom Torah study was his life’. However, a further teaching is then cited, informing us that there are instances when activities should not be interrupted either for the recitation of the Shema or for the Amidah. The question posed by the Gemara is what kinds of situation is being described here? It answers by citing a teaching from Rabbi Elazar Bar Tzadok who declared that ‘when we were engaged in deliberating the extention of the year… we wouldn’t stop our deliberations neither for the recitation of the Shema, or for the Amidah’.

Clearly, deliberations concerning radical changes to the national calendar is an important yet very specific example. However, Rambam (Hilchot Kriat Shema 2:5) notes that what is being taught here is an important precedent for all those involved in national emergences. As he writes: “One who is involved in the needs of the people (צרכי רבים) should not interrupt [their work to recite the Shema]. Instead, they should complete what needs to be done and then recite the Shema – presuming there is still some time to do so”. And why is this so? As Rav Nachum Rabinovitch explains with reference to Tosefta Brachot 2:6, this is in order that those who are involved in צרכי רבים do not – even momentarily – take their mind off their essential work.

Of course, it is easy for anyone to claim that they are involved in צרכי רבים, and this is why R’ Hayyim David Halevy (Asseh Lecha Rav Vol. 8 No. 3) makes it clear that this exemption only applies to those who are actively involved in protecting the physical or economic welfare of the wider population. Still, it seems very clear to me that all those involved on the front line battle against the Corona virus fit into this category.

Given all this, when those of us who are able to daven Shema and Amidah do so, we should have extra intention – not only to express the needs of this עת צרה, but also in acknowledgement of all those who are involved in צרכי רבים whose primary priority is to do what needs to be done for the sake of us all.

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