Ask the Rabbi - 153
Could you provide some background on the very perplexing warning that a pregnant woman who walks on a fingernail clipping is in danger of miscarriage?
Wilfred Schuster from Toronto wrote:
What is the origin of the habit of burning one's nail clippings or disposing of them with care? Is there a source for this in the Tanach or in the Talmud?
The ruling that one should carefully dispose of fingernail
clippings is found in the Talmud and is cited in the Shulchan
Aruch. The reason the Talmud gives for this 'very perplexing ruling'
is that a pregnant woman who steps on a fingernail clipping is
in danger of a miscarriage. What is the idea behind this?
According to Kabbalah, Adam was created with
a hard shiny membrane covering his whole body. When he ate from
the forbidden tree Adam lost this covering, but it remained on
the tips of his fingers and toes.
This concept is a metaphor for a very deep idea:
Every person is intrinsically immortal due to his spiritual soul.
However, by attaching himself to the physical world through improper
actions (Adam's sin) a person becomes vulnerable to death and
material destruction (loss of protective covering).
The concept of a fingernail harming a pregnant woman
is based on the following idea: The nail, which is dead matter,
represents death and the mortality of the human being. The pregnant
woman represents creation, life and immortality. In mystical thinking,
objects contain 'sparks' of the ideas which they symbolize. Opposite
'sparks' brought together can cause harm on the spiritual and
physical level. Hence, the fingernail, death, is kept away
from the pregnant woman, life.
- Moed Kattan 18a, Nidah 17a
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 260.
- Ibid., Be'er Heteiv
Last week we asked:
Explain how the following situation could occur:
You take a certain item and before deriving benefit from it you
say the required blessing. One minute later you take the exact
same item and derive the exact same type of benefit from it. However,
this time the blessing beforehand is a different blessing. (The
item contains no grain. The item undergoes no change whatsoever.)
Answer: Smelling fragrant spices after Shabbat.
There are different categories of fragrant spices.
Each category requires a different blessing. For example, for
spices that grow on trees the blessing is "Blessed are You
Hashem ...Who creates fragrant trees." For spices
derived from herbs which do not grow on trees, the blessing is
"Blessed are You Hashem ...Who creates fragrant herbs."
However, at the 'havdalah' ceremony after
Shabbat a different blessing is said. At 'havdalah' the
blessing is always "Blessed are you Hashem ...Who creates
various types of fragrances." In essence, this
blessing is for a mixture of spices, or for spices of unknown
nature. But at havdala, this is the standard blessing regardless
of the type of spice. This avoids confusion, since often it's
difficult to identify a given spice, its origins and proper blessing.
(This is according to the Ashkenazic custom. Sephardic Jews say
the precise blesssing.)
So, let's say you use a myrtle branch for the havdalah
ceremony (intending to smell it only once). You say: "Blessed
are You ...Who creates various spices." Then, immediately
after havdalah you decide to smell the exact same myrtle
branch. This time, the blessing is "Blessed are You ...Who
creates fragrant trees."
Ideally, you should use for havdalah a spice
whose proper blessing is "various spices" The
Mishna Berurah suggests cloves.
- Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 217
- Ibid., Mishna Berurah 5, Sha'ar Hatzion 6
- Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 297:4
- Mishna Berurah 297:1
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