Latest update: May 17th, 2013
Question: May someone who desecrates the Sabbath lead the services if he has yahrzeit? If yes, may he replace someone else who has yahrzeit?
Answer: Exodus 31:16-17 is the source for our Sabbath observance. The verse explains that Shabbat serves as a sign between G-d and the Jewish people of our uniqueness before G-d. The Gemara (Shabbos 10b) describes Shabbat as a precious present from G-d to the Jewish people. In addition, in parshat Bereishit we see that Shabbat bears testimony to the creation since G-d abstained from creating the world on that day.
We discussed the self-sacrifice that many Jews throughout the generations have exhibited in regard to Sabbath observance. While today there are many laws to protect Sabbath observers, this was not the case generations ago. Therefore, It became de rigueur for Jews to refer to themselves with the appellation “shomer Shabbat” as opposed to, for example, “shomer Torah u’mitzvot.” Although the observance of Shabbat is just one aspect of Judaism, it is one that clearly identifies the Jew and is an unmistakable indicator of his or her level of commitment.
The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot) discusses Shabbat both in his positive commandments section (sanctify the Sabbath) and in his negative commandments section (don’t do any labor on Shabbat). Rabbi Dovid Ribiat in “The 39 Melachos” presents the 39 forbidden labors in an easy-to-understand yet comprehensive manner with modern-day, up-to-date applications.
Studying these laws and committing to their observance is not only a sign of one’s Sabbath observance, but serves as a key identifier of one’s entire Torah observance.
Last week, we examined the qualifications of a shliach tzibbur. The Gemara (Ta’anit 16a-b) states that he must be someone conversant with the prayers. R’ Yehuda clarifies that he must be someone whose livelihood comes from laboring in the fields, whose house is empty, whose youth is unblemished, who is ever humble and acceptable to the people, who is skilled at chanting, and who possesses a pleasant voice and a thorough knowledge of Torah, Nevi’im, Kesuvim, Midrash, Halacha, Agadah and the berachot. A scholar would have a deeper understanding of the prayers, which are based on Torah verses.
R’ Chisda explains that “whose house is empty” means empty of sin. The Rema and Aruch HaShulchan agree that “sin” means intentional sins. Abaye adds that there can be no rumors of evil behavior, past or present.
The Aruch HaShulchan says that a pleasant voice is a gift from G-d, and that the shliach tzibbur must pronounce each letter and vowel correctly.
The Mishnah Berurah explains that a shliach tzibbur must be a tzaddik ben tzaddik. However, even if one is not from a distinguished family, one may serve as a shliach tzibbur as long as he is not a tzaddik ben rasha.
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My uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, noted that he would include a mechallel Shabbat in a minyan, but he was uncomfortable with such a person leading the services. To shed some light on his view, he referred me to the She’elot U’teshuvot HaBach (the classic work of the Bach, the author of Bayit Chadash, Rabbi Yoel Sirkis), where we find the following discussion in his very first responsum:
“If an individual stole or seized bread from his fellow man, may he say the benediction of Hamotzi prior to eating it or the Birkat Hamazon after consuming it?” After a lengthy discussion of the issues, the Bach rules that such an individual may not make a blessing before eating the bread because “he did not acquire it with any shinui [i.e., a change in the bread’s essence] but he may make a blessing after consuming it, as there is no greater shinui than its being consumed. However, he must pay for what he expropriated.” (The source that one acquires an object through shinui is the Mechaber, Choshen Mishpat 353:1, based on Bava Kama 65b, Perek Merubah.)
He cites the Gemara (Bava Kamma 94a), which quotes R’ Eliezer b. Yaakov: “If one misappropriated a se’ah of wheat, kneaded it, baked it, and set aside a portion of it as challah, how would he be able to recite a blessing on it? This surely is not considered a blessing but rather a blasphemy, as the verse (Psalms 10:3) states, ‘…u’votze’a be’rach ne’atz Hashem – …and the thief praises himself that he has blasphemed the L-rd.’ ”
The Bach seems to imply that even someone who has made a substantial change in a stolen item, causing him to acquire it, blasphemes Hashem by making a blessing. We may be able to apply this concept to a Sabbath desecrator who leads the services.
The rule regarding blessings over a stolen item is found in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 25:12), where the Mechaber states that one may not recite the blessings on tefillin if they were stolen. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 25:35-36) quotes the very same verse (Psalms 10:3) that we quoted above and states that wearing stolen tefillin is a “mitzvah haba’ah be’averah” (a precept discharged through the violation of a prohibition). In such a circumstance, there is no mitzvah at all, as the verse implies.
This same teaching applies to the mitzvah of lulav. The first mishnah in Perek Lulav Hagazul (Sukkah 29b) states that one may not use a stolen lulav for the mitzvah; it is disqualified. Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “Gazul”) explains that Leviticus 24:3 states, “U’lekachtem lachem… – You shall take for yourselves…” This verse teaches us that a person must own the lulav he uses for the mitzvah.
The Gemara (29b-30a) specifies that this is the halacha for the first day of Sukkot because the verse continues, “…bayom harishon – …on the first day [of Sukkot].” However, on the second day of Sukkot (and all the remaining days as well) – when the obligation to shake a lulav is only rabbinic – the only reason one may not use a stolen lulav is because of the reason we mentioned earlier: it is a mitzvah haba’ah be’averah.
(Shmuel disagrees, arguing it is not a mitzvah haba’ah be’averah on the remaining days of Sukkot; one can use a stolen mitzvah just as one can use a borrowed one.)
Thus if the shliach tzibbur desecrates the Sabbath, he is not blessing Hashem by leading the services but blaspheming Him. We might classify such a tefillah as a mitzvah haba’ah be’averah.
(To be continued)
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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