June 19, 2020

Shabbat 19


In today’s daf (Shabbat 19a) we are taught a Beraita stating that a person may not board a ship within three days before Shabbat. Though there are a variety of reasons offered for this rule, Rambam (Shabbat 30:13), like Rif, states that this rule was established ‘so that one’s mind will be settled before the Sabbath and one will not suffer excessive discomfort’. What he means by this is that since passengers on a ship often suffer sea-sickness during their first few days of their journey while, and since this unsettled feeling generally dissipates after being at sea for a few days, one should avoid boarding a ship within three days of Shabbat to avoid detracting from one’s enjoyment of Shabbat.

However, Rambam then continues by informing us of a caveat that,‘for the sake of a mitzvah (דבר מצוה), one may set out on a sea journey even on Friday’, meaning – as the Aruch Hashulchan explains (OC 248:3) – that when one is involved in a mitzvah, their Shabbat enjoyment may be overriden by their involvement in performing a mitzvah, and this is based on the halachic principle that those who are involved in a mitzvah are exempt from other mitzvot (Sukkah 25a). The question remains, what do we mean by the term ‘for the sake of a mitzvah’?

In his ‘Yemei Shlomo’, Rabbi Shlomo Kimchi addresses this question, and in his answer he cites the Tur (OC 248) who writes that: ‘for the sake of the mitzvah has been explained by Rabbeinu Tam to mean that whenever a person travels such as for business or to see a friend, it is considered to be for the sake of a mitzvah’.

R’ Kimchi then explains that when we refer to business this means to provide basic sustenance for yourself and your family, and not simply to make a profit. However, it is clear that he and all the other commentaries that he cites agree with Rabbeinu Tam that going to see a friend is considered to be a דבר מצוה, and consequently, it would be permitted to forgo one’s personal shabbat enjoyment for this purpose.

What we learn from here is that while friends are a blessing, the efforts we go to in order to maintain friendships are considered to be a mitzvah, and especially given the challenging times in which we are living this is a mitzvah that we should all invest in – for our sake, and for our friends as well.

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