June 19, 2020

Shabbat 22


As part of its ongoing discussion about the laws of Chanukah lights, today’s daf (Shabbat 22a) cites a fascinating teaching of Rav Yehuda that one should not use the glow of the Chanukah lights to count money.

Upon hearing this teaching, Shmuel challenged Rav Yehuda by noting that while it is mitzvah to kindle Chanukah lights, the glow of the Chanukah lights do not possess inherent sanctity. Consequently, what is so wrong with using the Chanukah lights for a mundane purpose?

We are then told that a further sage, Rav Yosef, challenged Shmuel’s reasoning on the basis of a Beraita discussing a detail of the Torah law of covering the blood of a slaughtered animal (Vayikra 17:13) which states that just as slaughtering is done with one’s hand that is holding a utensil, so too the covering of the blood with earth should be done either with one’s hand or with a utensil – to exclude the possibility of someone kicking earth over the blood with their feet. On the basis of this rule, Rav Yosef acknowledged that while the spilt blood of an animal may not have inherent sanctity, we are still taught that the manner that it is covered should be done in a respectful way.

Given this, Rav Yosef introduces us to a halachic principle which, as numerous commentaries note, may even have the weight of Torah law, forbidding us to treat the mitzvot disrespectfully. Having done so he then explains that this too is the basis for Rav Yehuda’s rule about the Chanukah lights, and the Gemara then proceeds to offer some additional examples where this principle about disrespecting mitzvot applies.

It is important to note that someone who, as part of their fulfilment of ‘covering the blood’ uses their feet to kick the earth, or someone who uses the glow of the Chanukah lights for mundane purposes, may well have an appreciation of the importance of the mitzvah that they are performing. Moreover, by virtue of the fact that such a person has the requisite knowledge to explain how neither the blood on the ground nor the Chanukah lights have inherent holiness clearly points to the fact that they are learned in the intricate details of the law. Yet, as the Gemara teaches us, mitzvah observance demands more than our understanding of the importance of mitzvot or our understanding of their specific details. Instead, it demands that we show how precious the mitzvot are to us and we don’t act in a way that show disrespect to the mitzvot.

Today, it has never been easier to find information about the details and importance of mitzvot. Still, there are some aspects of Judaism that are best taught from observing the actions of others, and whether a parent or teacher acts with disrespect when performing a mitzvah, or performs mitzvot with a sense of preciousness, is one of the most powerful ways to impact children or students.

Given the current lockdown, many children are spending more time than usual with their parents at home. Personally I am a strong proponent that a home isn’t – and shouldn’t become – a school. Still, it is important to remember that the way we behave – towards others and towards mitzvot – has a significant impact on those observing us, and that while many of us may be under pressure given the current situation, let us not forget that we are always teaching those who are watching us.

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