Pesachim 53-54 Yom-Kippur candles, good intentions, and the power of looks

In loving memory of my dear father, Moreinu haRav Avraham Benzion ben Azriel Hertz Isaacson zt’l, whose love of Torah, passion for justice, and acts of kindness inspire everything I do.

Towards the bottom of daf 53, the Gemara presents a debate that took place while Ullah was travelling on his donkey, accompanied by Rabbi Aba and רבה בר בר חנה.

First, some background:

The Mishna had discussed a difference in customs regarding whether to light candles for Yom-Kippur or not.

Unlike shabbos eve, where lighting candles was a universally accepted obligation, Yom Kippur eve had no such consensus in this regard, and whereas in some locations there was a practise to do so, in others, the practise was to refrain from this.

Keeping with the general requirement to follow local custom, the Mishna ruled that everyone must follow the custom of his place.

The Gemara pointed out that this was not an issue of being stringent or lenient ,as is the case in many of the customs we have discussed- rather, there was strong reasoning on both sides, both related to the same concern.

Before we attempt to explain this, we should note that various reasons are given for the rabbinical mitzva of lighting candles for shabbos, among them:

  1. עונג שבת  (to allow one to enjoy shabbos- it being rather difficult to do so in the dark- see Rambam Shabbos 5/1)
  2. כבוד שבת  (honoring shabbos- a banquet without light is not  honorable – see Rashi Shabbos 25b ד”ה “חובה”  and Rambam Shabbos 30/5]
  3. שלום בית  (keeping the peace at home- it being rather difficult to do so if people are constantly falling over things or bumping into one another- see Rashi, Shabbos 25b ד”ה “הדלקת נר”

Whereas all these reasons could apply, perhaps with some nuances, to Yom-Tov, Yom Kippur might indeed be different.

Whereas there is no mitzva of עונג    (enjoyment) on Yom Kippur, there might certainly be a mitzva of כבוד  , yet according to Rashi, the כבוד  provided by the candles is achieved by making the meal more distinguished, and there is no meal on Yom-Kippur!

At first glance, it seems that given the holiness of the day, שלום בית  is certainly also  an applicable reason, and having people falling over things on Yom-Kippur is hardly a reason for this.

Yet שלום בית  has multiple implications, and its most highlighted component sometimes seems to revolve around the physical and emotional relationship between man and wife, the former being limited on Yom-Kippur by the prohibition against תשמיש המיטה  (sexual relations) and other physical contact. (See Shabbos 152a where Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta refers to his אבר תשמיש  (sexual organ) as the עושה שלום בבית  (the peacemaker at home!)

It might be that the damage to this  important component of שלום בית  when people are bumping into each other, putting the husband and wife in a bad mood not suitable for such relations, is what makes shabbos candles on shabbos obligatory, and this consideration is lacking on Yom-Kippur.

However, the Gemara’s analysis of this debate does not seem to center on these considerations, but rather on the prohibition of sexual relations on Yom-Kippur. (though see later the view of Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar regarding lighting candles before Yom-Kippur that falls on Shabbos, for reasons of כבוד שבת!)

Rashi explains that on the one hand, if there is a candle lit on Yom-Kippur, people will be more likely to refrain from sexual relations due to the added prohibition of having such relations by the light of a candle (itself quite a statement, given that this seems to be a relatively mild prohibition compared to that of having sexual relations itself on Yom-Kippur, as well as the fact that everyone agrees that a candle is need on shabbos and this seems to present no such concern).

On the other hand, if one can see one’s wife on the night of Yom-Kippur, one is more likely to be attracted to her and tempted to transgress the more severe prohibition of actual sexual relations.

Whereas some explanation is needed for both above claims, the Gemara sees this as an example of how two communities can have opposite customs both with righteous intentions, applying the  passuk “ועמך כולם צדיקים לעולם ירשו ארץ. (“and your nation are all righteous people, they will forever inherit the land!)

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Another dispute is recorded regarding whether one makes the bracha בורא מאורי האש  on a candle during havdala after Yom-Kippur, or whether this bracha is reserved for motzai-shabbos.

Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as ruling that one does not, seeing as fire was created on motzai shabbos, and the bracha on it is thus reserved exclusively for that time.

רבה בר בר חנה is quoted as agreeing and as claiming that Rabbi Yochanan agreed!

Now, we return to the incident we opened up our post  with:

Rabbi Aba asked Ullah if it was true that Rabbi Yochanan had agreed that one only makes the bracha  בורא מאורי האש  on motzai shabbos, and not motzai Yom-Kippur, and Ullah responded initially by giving Rabbah bar Chana a “bad look.”

He then explained that when he quoted Rabbi Yochanan, it was not regarding this law, but rather regarding Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar’s claim regarding Yom Kippur that fell on shabbos.

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar claimed that everyone agrees that one needs to light candles on the eve of such a day, out of honor for shabbos, and Ullah had quoted Rabbi Yochanan as noting that the Chachamim did not agree, and held that it was still subject to the same debate above (note that כבוד שבת  seems according to this view to be more important than כבוד כפור  and to override the concern of being attracted to one’s wife- it also does not seem to be related to the shabbos meal)

רבה בר בר חנה then relented and accepted that Ullah was correct.

We should note that receiving a “bad look” from someone, particular a Torah leader, is not a simple thing, recalling how Rabbi Yochanan when angered by  a student’s heresy, stared at him and turned him into a pile of bones. (see Bava Basra 75a )

Yet in this case, Rav Yosef seems to see this “bad look” in a positive light, praising Ullah for the ability to communicate his disapproval with a look rather than by verbally attacking רבה בר בר חנה, and praising רבה בר בר חנה for his ability to note such disapproval and accept it, applying  a relevant passuk in משלי  to both of them.

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After asking what our custom is regarding the bracha on fire in havdala, the Gemara notes that רבי בנינין בר יפת  quoted Rabbi Yochanan (contrary to what was initially reported) as ruling that this bracha is made both on motzai shabbos and motzai Yom-Kippur, and that this is the way the people have spoken!    (note that this ruling is later qualified with the requirement that the candle used on motzai Yom-Kippur needs to be a נר ששבת  [a candle that was already lit over shabbos for permitted reasons, such as pikuach nefesh, or one that was lit before Yom-Kippur- see Rashi.])

Rashi explains that in the absence of the reason that fire was created on motzai shabbos, we require the other reason to make such a bracha, namely the fact that one is now able to use this fire for things one could not use it before (perhaps like lighting another fire with it.)

As such, we need a candle which was already burning but whose use was limited to us before Yom-Kippur ended due to the prohibition of melacha.

In conclusion, when it comes to lighting candles on erev Yom-Kippur, it seems that the usually authoritative view of Rabbi Yochanan is that it is still dependant on custom , whereas when it comes to making the bracha of בורא מאורי האש  on motzai shabbos, his view is that we do so, but only with a נר ששבת.

We have also learnt two amazing lessons in positivity, the one regarding how we view opposing halachik views as both coming from a place of righteousness, and the other regarding the benefits of using non verbal communication to resolve disputes.

As usual, counter examples to both the above could be found, but we shall focus on this angle for purposes of this post.

Shabbos 114 Shabbos clothes, The definition of a Talmid Chacham and Chillul Hashem

Our daf continues to discuss the Mitzva of having special clothes for Shabbos, based on the famous Pesukim (Yeshayahu 58), read as the Haftarah for Yom Kippur.

These Pessukim teach us that just like Hashem is not just interested in the technical aspects of the sacrifices, but is even more concerned about the concept behind them, the “spirit of the sacrifices” so to speak, so also when it comes to Shabbat, it is not only the technical specifications about whether something is considered a forbidden melacha that are important, but also the special sanctity of the day- the “spirit of shabbos, “ so to speak.

As such, we are required not only to refrain from biblical forbidden melacha on shabbos and their rabbinically related prohibitions, but also to refrain from things that are associated with the vibe of the weekday (עובדין דחול) and to engage in activities that are special for shabbos and that are in keeping with the sanctity of the day.

This is not an extra chumra (stringency), as many mistakenly believe, but a complete מצוה מדי סופרים (Mitzva of the prophets or later sages), that is binding on everyone, and that might also affect biblical law (possibly a גלוי מלתא as to what is included in the biblical requirement of תשבות, but that is for a different analysis!)

In addition to avoiding any business transactions or even business related talk, walking quickly in long steps or running (see previous daf), one of these requirements is that one’s shabbos clothes should not be the same as those worn during the week, and our daf brings a source in the Chumash itself that changing one’s clothes is a sign of respect from the Kohanim who needed to change their clothes between cleaning out the ashes and performing the actual offerings.

The logic given is that one should not use the same vessel he has used to mix a drink for his master to serve one’s master with.
Similarly, part of the mitzva of honoring shabbos referring to in Yeshayahu, must surely include putting on special clothes that befit the sanctity of the shabbos.

Often, I see people, children and teens in particular, who come to shul on shabbos wearing weekday clothes, such as jeans and t-shirts, and although it is clearly preferable that they come dressed that way rather than not come at all,I believe that parents and Rabbis should use common sense where appropriate to encourage those who are likely to listen to wear the appropriate formal and special attire for Shabbos.

I also often see people, once again children and teens in particular, changing out of their shabbos clothes after lunch on shabbos, and going to play sports in shorts, t-shirts, and the like.

This is a more complex issue, which involves the question of which, if any, sports are permitted or forbidden on shabbos, and whether they fit into the requirement to avoid weekday activities and focus on things appropriate for the day.

If, and only if, one is able to permit such activities as part of עונג שבת, subject to any halachik restrictions involved, are we able to deal with whether it is permitted to change into weekday clothes for such activities.

On the one hand, just like running might be permitted for youth because that is their עונג שבת (enjoyment of the day,) rather than a stressful weekday activity, perhaps wearing comfortable clothing suitable for such activities might also be.

On the other hand, it is possible that any activity that cannot be performed comfortably in shabbos clothes (other than resting or sleeping obviously) might be a weekday activity by definition!

In addition to clothes being a way of highlighting the honor of shabbos and the divine services, they are also a way of highlighting one’s honor for davening(prayer) , and the honor of the Torah , as represented by Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars.)

As such, Talmidei Chachamim traditionally wore special clothing, and were expected to be particularly careful not to have any dirt or stains on their clothes.

The later not only fails to show honor to the Torah they represent, but causes a terrible Chillul Hashem, and as a result, the Gemara uses the very harsh expression חייב מיתה (deserving of death) for one who does so.

This is based on the verse משניאי אהבו מוות (those who make people hate me, love death-Misheli 8/36)
As Rashi explains, when a Talmid Chacham appears dirty, it causes people to hate the Torah that he represents, and ultimately Hashem himself!

These words might seem harsh, but they certainly convey the sensitivity that a Torah society should show to cleanliness, and that a person who is looked up to by others, should highlight in himself.
This presumably applies not only to a stain, but also wearing torn or smelly clothing, or giving off bad body odor or breathe.

Although it is logical that all of us should show sensitivity to this essential value, it is clear from our sugya that the more of a Talmid Chacham one is, the more careful one needs to be.
At this point, this begs the question- how do we define a Talmid Chacham, at least as far as this rule is concerned?

Does this apply only to one of the Gedolei haDor (leading Torah sages), to anyone with a good general knowledge of all areas of Torah, or perhaps to someone with a high level of knowledge in one area of Torah, someone who serves as a community Rabbi or Torah teacher, or anyone who studies Torah daily or who is more knowledgeable than average?

On our daf, Rabbi Yochanan presents 3 definitions of a Talmid Chacham:

  1. A Talmid Chacham on the level that one would return lost property to him without him being requirement to produce simanim (identification signs), as long as he says that he recognizes it- Rabbi Yochanan identifies this as someone who is careful to turn over his shirt if he put it on the wrong way.
  2. A Talmid Chacham who is worthy of being appointed as a פרנס (leader) of the community- this is defined as someone who can be asked a halacha in any area of the Torah and is able to answer, even in less commonly studied areas like the “minor tractate” of Kallah.
  3. A Talmid Chacham whose labor the community is required to perform on his behalf (possibly meaning to support)- Anyone who puts asides his own concerns and focusses on the concerns of heaven.

It seems from the above definitions that the term “Talmid Chacham” is not only used to describe a person’s actual knowledge, but also his trustworthiness, reputation, and self-sacrifice for divine matters (see our earlier post on ירידת הדורות for an interesting parallel.)

When it comes to appointing someone as Rabbinic leader, the person is expected not only to have the correct character traits (which should go without saying, after all דרך ארך קדמה לתורה), but also have total knowledge of the entire corpus of Jewish law, to the point that he can answer any questions that come his way.

As the Gemara later says, in order to be a local community Rabbi, such knowledge in one מסכתא (tractate) is actually sufficient (presumably he will then have the skills to look up or refer questions in area outside his expertise) , and to be the Rosh Yeshiva (presumably of the entire country or nation), such knowledge of the entire Torah is required, as per Rabbi Yochanan’s definition.

However, there are other traits that make the title of Talmid Chacham appropriate for someone:

When it comes to trusting his honesty as a Talmid Chacham is supposed to be trusted, the fact that he has the reputation of an honest and generally well-learned figure is sufficient. (the later requirement being my own assumption, as it is unlikely than any honest person would be referred to as a Talmid Chacham without any minimum level of Torah wisdom/knowledge)

When it comes to giving him the support needed to carry on his holy work, his level of learning and reputation is less of a factor, and his motivation and self-sacrifice is what counts the most.
Seeing as the laws we have discussed regarding being clean and presentable are based on preventing Chillul Hashem and thus dependent very much on the person’s reputation, it seems logical that the appropriate definition for the purposes of this law would be anyone with the reputation of being a Torah personality, such that one would trust his honesty in monetary matters.

As such, it is possible that in today’s time, anyone who is a Ben Torah- someone whose life-center is the study and application of Torah regardless of what trade or profession he follows, might well be in the spotlight of the majority who unfortunately do not yet fit into this category.

In a world where the majority of Jews are not yet observant unfortunately, this argument could possibly be applied to ALL “frum” (religiously observant) people.

As such, anyone in this category needs to be particularly concerned about how he presents him/her self, and of course even more so, about how he/she behaves!

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.