Learning Ethic Through and Behavior from the Talmud

    Seoptember 2010 High Holydays            
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Ethical Thought and Ethical Behavior

By Larry Fine

Sometimes we are privileged to see in our the words of our great sages many deep and beautiful thoughts that can aid us in living our lives properly in accordance to the desires of the Torah. One such instance is found in the Talmud Tractate Betza, page 17b, gives us an insight in what to be careful about when living together with our neighbors.

In this case the Talmud is speaking about making an erev tavshilin. An erev tavshilin is a legal device that the rabbis have taught us to overcome a halachic (Jewish legal) problem. In order to permit cooking on Yom Tov which falls on Friday for the Shabbat (which follows immediately afterwards), the Rabbis instituted the concept of an erev tavshilin. This means that we are to begin preparations prior to Yom Tov for the Shabbat and then by virtue of some of this preparation (a loaf of bread and an egg or piece of meat) we are permitted to continue cooking on the last day of Yom Tov to conclude the preparations for the Shabbat.

Now the Talmud speaks about what to do if someone did not make this erev tavshilin. What is he permitted to do? There are two possibilities.

First since he is allowed to cook for Yom Tov with out an erev tavshilin, he can do "ha'arama". This means to pretend, by cooking a lot of food for the last day of Yom Tov (which falls on Friday), and then leaving over the food for the Shabbat. He really knows that the Rabbis have forbidden cooking for the Shabbat without an erev tavshilin. He however knows that it is completely permitted to cook on the Yom Tov for the Yom Tov itself. When we, his neighbors, see what he is doing, we merely think that he is making a lot of food for the honor of Yom Tov. It does not appear that he is doing anything wrong.

The second option is that there are some people who know that the Rabbis instituted the erev tavshilin, but they are not really happy with this concept. These people would not think of cooking on the Shabbat, that is an explicit violation of the Torah. They know that erev tavshilin is really a decree from the Rabbis for something that really is permitted from the Torah. So they just would go ahead and cook anyway with out making an erev tavshilin.

It seems that if some one cooked without the erev tavshilin, like the second case, it is permissible to eat from his food, but in the first case, the case of pretending to make more for Yom Tov, it is forbidden. The Talmud is trying to understand why if some one cooked without the necessary erev tavshilin he is permitted to eat his food, yet is some one cooked by ha'arama, just pretending, his cooking is completely forbidden.

Comes along the sage Rav Ashi and explains: The rationale is that one who cooks "mazid", wantonly, openly and willfully with out an erev tavshilin, is a "rasha", an evil person. He has no respect for the Rabbis who instituted the concept on erev tavshilin. Since he openly disregards the Rabbis and has no fear from them, no one will learn from him since he is a terrible rasha, just a totally and openly evil person. He publicly does not consider the institution of the erev tavshilin as a viable entity. He scorns it and the decree of the Rabbis! No G-d fearing person will learn from him.

The person however who cooks for Shabbat via "ha'arama" (pretending to cook for Yom Tov but really having the intentions to cook for the Shabbat), however, is worse. Why? He did everything in a manner that appears on the surface to be permitted! There is fear that people will learn from him how to behave since he appears to be so innocent! They will see him cooking a large amount of food for Yom Tov, which is permitted. They will see that he leaves it over for the Shabbat, which is permitted. They will see him enjoying it on Shabbat, which is permitted. They will learn from him how it is possible to circumvent the institution of the erev tavshilin and even other rules from the rabbis; even perhaps edicts from the Torah. The rabbis decreed that he is more dangerous than the Rasha!

From this episode in the Talmud, we can learn quite a heavy dose of ethical thinking. We can learn from whom to be careful for ourselves and for our children. Don't fear the influence of the openly evil people, the rashiyim, around us. True, they do not live there life according to the proper Torah values that we all strive for rather they openly flaunt their disdain for the Torah and Mitzvot. Since they are apparent and open, we can still deal with them and be careful to guard ourselves not to let their mannerisms and thoughts come into our lives.

However, there are more dangerous people than those irreligious people! There are those so-called highly religious appearing people in out midst. Our neighbors that may appear religious. Not just appear religious, but actually are considered religious. They may send their children to the accepted Jewish schools, etc; eat strictly kosher and outwardly appear to be saintly. But in a some small matter they can not get along with the Torah and the requirements of Jewish law.

Perhaps they harbor hatred in their bosom. Perhaps they can not accept a certain type of Jew because he is affiliated with a certain group. Or perhaps they lacks even the minimal respect that is expected to be given to his fellow neighbors. Perhaps they espouse concepts such as how it is permitted to cheat in business, with his neighbors, etc.

This kind of person is more dangerous to our spiritual growth. Why? Simple! Since he appears to be so proper, it is from him that we will learn! When we hear him speak, we think: "he is doing what he does in accordance to the Torah". But we are wrong! Even though he is not a genuine rasha (evil being), he is worse. Why? Because he is NOT a rasha, (and certainly not a tzadik, a righteous individual) we are influenced by him.

Let us be aware of this type of evil influence and avoid it. Anyone who speaks lightly about another Jew; or anyone who justifies cheating and lying. Let us be aware of his perverse influence and stay away. This is the message that is given to us from the Talmud. This is what Rav Ashi meant!


from the September 2010 High Holyday Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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