June 19, 2020

Shabbat 23


While the word ‘Triage’ is most often used to describe the difficult decisions that need to be made when there are insufficient medical resources, it can also be used with respect to other settings when people, homes or organisations don’t have sufficient resources to meet their needs and must therefore consider which to prioritize.

In today’s daf (Shabbat 23b) we are presented with such a quandry where we consider the situation, presented by Rava, of a family so poor that they only have enough money to buy one candle. The problem is that the situation being discussed takes place on Erev Shabbat Chanukah which means that the people involved need to light (at least) two candles – (at least) one for Chanukah, and (at least) one for Shabbat, and the reason why they need two is because the Shabbat candle sits inside the home and brings illumination, while the Chanukah candle was traditionally placed outside the home and its light should not be used for illumination. So should the family use their single candle to fulfil the mitzvah of ‘Hadlakat Ner Shabbat’ (lighting the Shabbat candles), or to fulfil the mitzvah of ‘Hadlakat Ner Chanukah’ (lighting the Chanukah candles)?

Rava answers his own question by ruling: ‘the home (ie. Shabbat) light is prioritized due to its contribution of bringing peace in the home (ie. Shalom Bayit)’. However, Rava himself does not explain what he means by ‘Shalom Bayit’.

Significantly, most commentaries follow Rashi’s understanding of Rava’s ruling and they explain that there is a diminishment of Shalom Bayit when there is no light in the home. Therefore, in this case, the mitzvah of the Shabbat candles takes priority.
However, in addition to citing Rashi’s rationale, Meiri adds a further – or according to some, a complementary – consideration why the Shabbat candles take priority: ‘it is on account of his wife who is responsible for this mitzvah’.

Though some commentaries are unable to explain Meiri’s cryptic remark, both R’ Gestetner (see Lehorot Natan 1:14) and R’ Wozner (see Shevet HaLevi Al HaMoadim) explain that while women are also dutibound in the mitzvah of Chanukah candles, and while men are also dutibound in the mitzvah of Shabbat candles, there is a deep connection between women and the mitzvah of Shabbat candles. Given this, were the mitzvah of Chanukah candles to be prioritized then this may cause anguish to the woman of the home who may feel that her mitzvah of kindling the Shabbat candles has been snatched from her. Thus that the Shalom Bayit that is being protected in the home is rooted in the sense of ownership of the mitzvah of Shabbat candles by the woman of the home.

To my mind, both these considerations teach us much about maintaining harmony in the home. From Rashi’s explanation we learn that a happy home is one where the physical needs of all those present are met. And from Meiri’s explanation we learn that a happy home is where all its members feel that they can do the things that mean the most to them.

Of course, in a perfect world we would tell all those around us what our needs are and shalom bayit would reign in every home. But some people don’t always understand what their physical needs are, and some people aren’t always clear about what is most important to them. Thus Chazal urge us to pursue shalom bayit and to be sensitive and considerate towards those around us – not only when they tell us what they want from us, but also when they don’t.

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