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Must Women Eat Three Meals On Shabbos?

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The Gemara in Shabbos 117b derives from a pasuk in this week’s parshah regarding the falling of the mun that we are obligated to eat three seudos on Shabbos. The Gemara there also brings from another pasuk in this week’s parshah that at each seudah we are obligated to break bread on two loaves. This is known as lechem mishneh.

Generally women are exempt from mitzvos assei she’hazman grama (time-sensitive mitzvos). Although the obligation to eat both three seudos and lechem mishneh are mitzvos assei she’hazman grama, nonetheless the Ran on that Gemara (44 dafei haRiff) quotes Rabbeinu Tam, who says that women are obligated in both of these mitzvos because of the rule of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis – they too were involved in the miracle.

The Ran there says that it is not necessary to obligate women as a result of the rule of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis because the Gemara in Berachos 20b derives from a hekish that regarding all obligations of Shabbos women are obligated just like men.

The Kapos Temarim, in Sukkah 38a, defends Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion and explains that it is necessary to draw from the rule of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis that women are obligated in eating three seudos with lechem mishneh. He explains that the hekish that the Gemara in Berachos makes only regards obligating women in Kiddush, not on all other obligations on Shabbos.

There is a machlokes Rishonim regarding the halacha that women are obligated in mitzvos that af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis. Several Rishonim opine that it applies to women regardless of the level of their involvement in the miracle. The mere fact that they were saved is sufficient to obligate them in a mitzvah that is associated with that miracle.

The Rashbam, in Pesachim 108b, says that the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis only applies when the women played an active role in bringing about the salvation. Regarding the obligation to drink four cups of wine, where we apply the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis, the Rashbam explains that the Gemara in Sotah 11b says that the salvation came about in the merit of the righteous women. Concerning the obligation to hear Megillas Esther, the salvation came about through Esther – who was a woman. Similarly, regarding Chanukah, Yehudis played an active role in the salvation.

Based on this, opinion how can we understand why women are obligated to eat three seudos and lechem mishneh on Shabbos if women did not play a significant role in the miracle of the mun?

Perhaps we can suggest that the Rashbam would opine in accordance with the Ran, namely that it is unnecessary to derive from the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis in order to obligate women to eat three seudos with lechem mishneh. Since women did not play an active role in the miracle of the mun, the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis cannot obligate them in the mitzvah associated with that miracle. They are, however, obligated as a result of the hekish – as the Ran stated.

In this week’s parshah, the Chasam Sofer suggests an alternate explanation relating to the opinion of the Rashbam. He says that the Rashbam does not require that women need have played a vital role in the miracle in order to apply the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis. The Chasam Sofer explains that the Rashbam only said that in order to answer a different question. He was bothered by the word “af,” which connotes that they were not an essential part of the miracle. The Chasam Sofer makes clear that Hashem created the world contingent on the fact that klal Yisrael would accept the Torah.

Additionally, the physical world must bend and adjust to meet the needs of the Torah-observant Jew. The greater the individual, the more the physical world must adhere to his needs. This is not a miracle, for it is built-in to the making of the world. It is a greater miracle when Hashem must make the physical world change its natural course for an individual who is not on that level. Thus the Rashbam suggested that regarding the miracle of yetzias Mitzrayim, which the women deserved more, it was not as much of a miracle for them as much as it was natural law. They are therefore obligated in the mitzvah as a result of the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis. The reason that the Gemara uses the word “af” is because for the women it was not as great a miracle.

It results from this explanation of the Rashbam that women would also be obligated in mitzvos that are associated with miracles in which they did not play primary roles. Accordingly, we can explain that the Rashbam can learn like Rabbeinu Tam: women are obligated in the mitzvah to eat three meals on Shabbos with lechem mishneh as a result of the halacha of af ha’im hayu b’osah haneis.

About the Author: For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.


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