For the week ending 17 November 2012 / 2 Kislev 5773

Shabbat 44 - 50

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Moving a lamp on Shabbat and other aspects of muktzah
  • Annulment of vows on Shabbat
  • Moving a base for muktzah
  • Placing a vessel to catch the sparks of a lamp
  • Keeping a pot hot through external insulation
  • "Wings of a dove" and other insulators
  • The source for the Number 49 in Shabbat labors
  • Moving the woolen insulators
  • The sanctity of body cleanliness

Elisha of the Wings

"Elisha of the Wings" was the grand title of a Jew who was held up by our Talmudic Sages as the model for maintaining ideal control of body functions while wearing tefillin.

How did he gain such an unusual title?

The Romans once decreed that any Jew caught wearing tefillin on his head would have his head smashed. Elisha defied this decree and went out into the street with his tefillin on. A Roman officer ran after him but by the time he caught up with him Elisha had removed the tefillin from his head and held them in his closed hand. When asked what he held in his hand, Elisha replied, "Wings of a dove." When he opened his hand to reveal its contents, there were indeed wings of a dove in place of the tefillin.

Tosefot points out that the fact that such a miracle took place for Elisha was an indication for the Sages that he must have been extremely careful in regard to cleanliness of his body while wearing tefillin.

Two questions still remain. What about the tefillin on the arm of Elisha? Furthermore, why was he not prepared to sacrifice his life in order to do the mitzvah?

In regard to the first question Maharsha (Shabbat 130a) explains that the Roman decree was only concerning the tefillin worn on the head which is visible to all and not concerning the tefillin worn on the arm in concealed fashion.

As regards sacrifice of life, even though martyrdom is required in connection with all Torah prohibitions when there is an enemy decree compelling Jews to sin, this is true only when they force a Jew to actively sin. When they decree to refrain from actively fulfilling a mitzvah like tefillin, there is no point in martyrdom because the enemy can achieve his purpose by incapacitating the victim of his oppression through imprisonment or other means. Aware of this principle, Elisha decided to avoid a confrontation which would have endangered his life, and Heaven helped him to survive through a miracle.

  • Shabbat 49a

What the Sages Say

"When King David wrote (Tehillim 68:14) about wings of a dove coated with silver, he was comparing the Jewish People to a dove. Just as a doves wings protect it (against the cold and those who threaten it by striking with its wings Rashi) so too do the mitzvot of Israel protect it."

  • Shabbat 49a

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