For the week ending 30 August 2014 / 4 Elul 5774

Mo'ed Katan 16 - 22

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Enforcement of justice through cherem excommunication
  • Penalties for showing disrespect to Torah scholar
  • Public and discreet performance of mitzvot
  • The greatness of King David and King Saul
  • The Torah scholar deserving of excommunication
  • The impact of the cherem
  • The kohen and the mourner in regard to cutting hair on Chol Hamoed
  • Cutting nails and shaving mustache
  • What may be washed and what may be written
  • Predestination of marriage partner and weddings on Chol Hamoed
  • Preparing religious articles for private or public use
  • The seven-day and thirty-day mourning periods in relation to Yom Tov in between
  • When death takes place during the Yom Tov period or right before it
  • How long the mourning if death is known only after thirty days
  • For which relative is mourning required
  • The laws of rending garment as expression of mourning
  • Activities forbidden to the mourner
  • Learning and teaching Torah as a mourner
  • Tefillin for the mourner
  • Greeting by the mourner and to the mourner
  • Differences between mourning for a parent and other relatives

The Power of the Spoken Word

  • Mo’ed Katan 16-22
A word is much more than "just a word", our Sages teach us.

In our gemara we find that when the Sage Shmuel paid a condolence visit to his brother Pinchas who had lost a child, he asked him why he allowed his fingernails to grow although it was permitted to cut them. The rebuttal of Pinchas that "If such a tragedy as mine had befallen you, would you also show such disregard for mourning?" is described by the gemara as an example of "an error proceeding forth from the ruler" (Kohelet 10:5). The result of this apparent slip of the tongue was that Shmuel himself soon became a mourner because "there is a covenant for the lips" — a spoken word has the power to effect fulfillment. As proof of this power Rabbi Yochanan cites the statement made by the Patriarch Avraham, on his way to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice, to the two young men accompanying them. "Stay here," he told them and I and the lad will return to you" (Bereishet 22:5), and did indeed result in their both returning.

Tosefot raises the question as to why Rabbi Yochanan cited an example of the spoken word achieving a good result as proof that such power existed in regard to achieving a negative result such as in the case of Shmuel. Would it not have been more appropriate to cite the proof brought in another gemara (Berachot 19a) that "one should never open his mouth to Satan" — not say something of a harmful nature to himself such as declaring that whatever he has suffered is still insufficient to atone for his sins?

Maharsha explains the difference between these two sorts of power of the spoken word. In the case of the gemara in Mesechta Berachot, the person speaking includes himself in the tragedy of which he speaks, thus giving the prosecuting angel — Satan — the opportunity to accuse him of self-incrimination and thus weakening the ability of the Divine Attribute of Mercy to intervene on his behalf. In the case of Shmuel, as in the case of Avraham, the statement is being made about someone else, for good or otherwise, and is considered as being an unconscious prophecy whose utterance effects its fulfillment.

What the Sages Say

"No one is suspected by the public of wrongdoing unless he committed either the entire deed or part of it, or contemplated doing it, or rejoiced when another did it — unless he has enemies who can be assumed to have spread a false rumor about him."

  • Rabbi Reuven ben Atzrobuli - Mo’ed Katan 18b

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