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Question: The Talmud (Shabbat 12a) notes, “Rabbi Hanina said: One should examine one’s clothes on the eve of Shabbat before nightfall [to ensure that one is not carrying anything] for one may forget and go out [carrying]. Rav Yosef said this is an important law for Shabbat.”

What is the purpose of Rav Yosef’s rather mundane comment?

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Answer: My father, HaRav Hagaon R. Meir Cohen, z”l, menahel of the Agudat HaRabonim, once gave the following explanation. He said Rav Yosef is not merely extolling the law cited by Rabbi Hanina. He is declaring that the requirement to check one’s clothing is a great way to ensure that one keeps Shabbat properly.

The story is told (Asufot Rabbainu Chaim HaLevi, p.41) of someone who informed HaGaon HaRav Chaim HaLevi of Brisk that he became aware after Shabbat began that he had inadvertently carried something on Shabbat. He asked Rav Chaim to provide him with a punishment so that he could atone for his sin.

Rav Chaim responded that since he was unaware that he was carrying, he did not violate Shabbat and did not need atonement. However, since he only realized he was carrying after Shabbat began, he must not have checked his clothing before Shabbat. Thus, although he needs no atonement for the sin of carrying, he does need atonement for the sin of ignoring Rabbi Hanina’s ruling.

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Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of eight sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and select Judaica stores.