We all want to do the right thing, to grow and become better people. To reach this goal, we often read sifrei mussar(books about character building) that instill in us the drive to push ourselves. However, the commentaries tell us that this is not enough. Without being well versed in halacha, even a well-meaning person can easily transgress the Torah. Take, for example, someone who decides to work on hakaras hatov (expression of gratitude). He toils over manybooks discussing the importance of showing gratitude,and eagerly looks for opportunities to put his learning into practice. So, when it comes time to pay back his friend the money he lent to him previously, he decides he will bring his learning into action by buying his friend a gift to express his tremendous heartfelt gratitude. Though he obviously meant well, he actually transgressed the prohibition of paying interest!
Even though, in the case above, the person didn’t intend to commit a transgression, the Gemara still says that such an individual needs atonement (Nazir 23a). This is especially so in our case because he wasn’t fully innocent, as he should have made time to learn the appropriate halachos. Halacha is, after all, the user-guide for life. The Chafetz Chaim says that this is why the midrash says that one who lacks knowledge can’t learn mussar. The simple understanding of this is that the mussar wouldn’t help one who doesn’t have an understanding of halacha (and see the introduction to Shemiras HaLashon and the Chazon Ish’s Emunah U’Bitachon, perek 3).
There isn’t much that a person can possibly do without knowing halacha, as almost every area of one’s life requires knowledge of the appropriate halachos. How can one hold a proper conversation if he isn’t versed in the laws of lashon hara, flattery, and hurtful speech? How can one eat without knowing the intricate and complicated halachos of which blessings to make on mixtures of food? How can one do business without knowing the laws of buying and selling, overcharging, the detailed laws of taking interest, and the laws of paying one’s workers on time? In all these scenarios we see it is impossible to live as a religious Jew without thorough knowledge of halacha. As the Chazon Ish says, with every movement one needs to seek the counsel of the Shulchan Aruch.
More than any other area, however, this idea is true when it comes to Shabbos. Given the holiness of the day, there are even more halachos that accompany Shabbos. Simple tasks, such as tidying up the house, tying one’s shoes, washing dishes, moving objects, dusting or washing clothing, wiping a spill, opening bottles and bags of food, changing diapers, opening a fridge, caring for plants and pets, speaking about or reading about certain topics, food preparation, brushing one’s teeth, brushing one’s hair, using soap, taking medicine, borrowing things, using creams, exercising, taking a shower, playing games, and much more, all have specific halachos when it comes to Shabbos. In light of the above it is no wonder why the Yaaros Devash says that if someone hasn’t learned hilchos Shabbos thoroughly, it is impossible not to transgress Shabbos (see the introduction of the third volume of the Mishnah Berurah).
Unfortunately, though, given the complexity of the halachos of Shabbos, there are people who have either never tried to learn them or have tried and given up. With the help of Hashem this new series is meant to combat this unfortunate reality. The point of this new series is to present the halachos in a clear and easy-to-understand format that will make it much simpler to familiarize oneself with the halachos of Shabbos.
Furthermore, there will be a special emphasis on presenting the halacha along with the reasoning behind it in order to help one become aware of the general rules regarding what is and is not permitted on Shabbos, instead of knowing only specific halachos. This has a few advantages. One is that when one knows the reason behind the halachos it makes it much easier to remember them. Also, when one knows the rules behind the halachos one can apply them to other areas that weren’t mentioned directly, and then ask one’s Rav for the final psak halacha. Finally, learning halachos with their reasons makes the learning itself much more enjoyable and intellectually satisfying.
The halachos are written here with both Ashkenazi and Sefardi readers in mind, by pointing out the places where there is a difference of opinion. For the more advanced reader, footnotes were added elsewhere (see Ohr.edu) to include detailed sources of the origins of the halachos, and discussion of how the halachic conclusion was decided.
Readers are encouraged to send in questions, comments and/or suggestions regarding these articles. I conclude here for now with a tefilla that in the merit of increasing our awareness of hilchos Shabbos we will merit the coming of the Mashiach, speedily in our days.
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