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Question: Where I live, I see Chabad shluchim offering Jewish passerby to put on tefillin, is this of any value if they are otherwise non-observant, additionally is doing so in a street – a public thoroughfare proper kavod for the tefillin?

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Synopsis: We previously cited the Mechaber who explains the mitzvah of tefillin is being worn the entire day, but due to the constraints of the human condition whereby one might not be able to always be in the state of cleanliness of one’s person – guf naki –in our time we only wear them as we pray (the Shacharit prayer). We enumerated the blessings and reward as relates to this mitzvah as Poshe’a b’gufo – one who sins with his body. We also noted the importance to the performance of this mitzvah of purchasing tefillin from a G-d-fearing scribe who writes beautiful tefillin that are to last for many years. We then noted Esav’s marriage to the daughter of his uncle Yishmael as a single momentary opportunity to repent his many sins, including his marriage to the evil Canaanite wives. Unfortunately, he and his new wife Mochalas did not take advantage of that opportunity and continued in their evil ways. Nevertheless, our Sages derive from this that a chatan and kallah fast on the day of their wedding, as they are forgiven all their prior sins. We also noted that such is repentance in the eyes of Hashem if even for but a solitary moment, as the prophet Yonah is commanded (and he does so reluctantly) to save the gentile city of Nineveh from destruction. Surprisingly, they heed his call and repent their evil ways. We further cited the incident of R’ Idi, who would spend six months in travel – three months each way – just to spend one day in the academy. We also cited as regards the matter of punishment that one day in a year is considered as an entire year. We followed that with the story of Keti’ah b. Shalom who was able to secure his eternal reward with one single action, regarding which Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nasi proclaimed: “One may acquire eternity in one moment, while another may acquire it only after many years.

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Answer: We find another connection to our theme relating to the meraglim – the twelve spies, each representing their respective tribe, sent by Moshe to spy out the land of Canaan. This connection is explained according to Hagaon Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, (Kol Ram Vol.I to Parashat Shelach, expositions on the Parashiyot by Rav Moshe Feinstein, as recorded and edited by his late talmid, Rabbi Avraham Fishelis). He derives this concept from the biblical story of the meraglim.

Each of the meraglim was a leader in his own right, and their role was to prepare the people for the Divinely instructed conquest of Canaan. Unfortunately, ten of them brought back a negative report. The other two, Caleb, representing the tribe of Judah, and Joshua, representing the tribe of Ephraim, were positive about the people’s ability to conquer the land. Speaking of Caleb’s role, the Torah states (Bamidbar 14:24), “Avdi Calev ruach acheret bo – My servant Caleb had another spirit in him.” G-d praises Caleb for a special, positive spirit. What did Caleb do that was so special? Rashi maintains that when the spies returned, the first report to be heard was Caleb’s. The Torah states (Bamidbar 13:30), “Caleb stilled the people before Moshe, saying, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for surely we are able to overcome it [them].” For this, G-d praises him for calming his brethren, for giving them hope, for eliminating their fears about war and defeat; thus, Caleb was rewarded by G-d.

Important to note, says Rav Feinstein, is the fact that Caleb’s influence was only transitory – for a very brief period. Indeed, the ten spies gave their negative report as soon as Caleb concluded his uplifting remarks. They bemoaned their own weakness and dramatically enhanced the power and might of the enemy. In other words, what we are witnessing is a debate, a dialogue between Caleb and the ten spies. Caleb was successful in calming the people and forestalling their fears for only a short time. Their resolve to go to war to acquire the Land of Israel lasted only until the other spies had the opportunity to overturn the people’s feelings. And yet, Caleb bears praise for calming the people, teaching us that the resolve to do good is rewarded even if such resolve lasts but only for a short time.

This concept may be supported by a Talmudic text dealing with life, death, and the violation of the Sabbath.

The Talmud rules (Yoma 85a, referring to the Mishna on 83a) that if massive debris fell on a person on the Sabbath, and rescuing that individual involved a major task having to violate many biblical prohibitions of the Sabbath, one is nevertheless mandated to violate the Sabbath in order to save the person in jeopardy. The Talmud points out that this is not just an option but rather is an obligation. Further, it is a mitzvah to do so even in the instance of doubt (such as in the case of an earthquake or similar catastrophe of epic proportion) whether the person underneath the debris is alive or dead, an Israelite or a heathen. If one finds that the person covered by the debris is alive, one is to continue to remove the debris on the Sabbath. However, if after all intensive effort the person is found to be dead, the work should immediately cease until after the Sabbath has concluded.

Regarding the phrase, “If one finds him alive, one should remove the debris,” the Talmud asks: “Is this not self-evident?” Why does the Talmud have to underscore this concept? The Talmud responds that the statement is necessary in the event the person has been deemed to have only a short while to live – chayyei sha’ah. The Gemara teaches us that it is necessary to violate the Sabbath to save a person though he/she may never live to observe another Sabbath. Further, it is even obligatory to save a person who may only live for a few hours.

Rav Feinstein concludes the following from this Talmudic citation: We see that the extension of physical life, even for a very brief period of time, is so important that the Sabbath is violated for that purpose. We do not dismiss the case by assuming that two or three additional hours of life are meaningless. Just the opposite, we judge them to be even more important than the observance of the Sabbath. If so, reasons Rav Feinstein, how much more important and valuable is spiritual life, the life of the soul? If the extension of physical life even for a brief moment is meritorious, a period of pious behavior, even a temporary one, is rewarded by G-d.

To be continued


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.