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The Music of Halacha: A Lasting Impact: Part One

Parents often wonder how lasting an impact their loving care for their young children will have. They wonder whether their children will remember the special trips, the hugs, the time spent playing together, and the enormous effort to provide a loving environment.  I thought about this question whenever I changed a diaper on Shabbat:

After fabrics are made, separate pieces of cloth are sewn together to make a garment. The same is true of a large curtain. Since a loom can weave a fabric only as wide as the loom, a very wide curtain will inevitably need to be formed by sewing together the seams of several bolts of cloth. This is the Melacha of Tofair – Sewing.

Sewing was required for the Yeriot, the cloth-coverings, of the Mishkan. The bottom most covering was composed of ten separately woven panels of wool fabric. The panels were sen together in two sets of five, and then connected at the center by a series of loops and hooks.

Some commentaries, however, dispute this explanation. According to the Yerushalmi, the Mishkan coverings were required to be made of one continuous fabric without any seams. Therefore, the curtains could not be fashioned from multiple panels of cloth sewn together. According to this view, sewing was required for repairing the Mishkan coverings.

Tofair implies stitching or combining two separate pieces into one.This can also include gluing and pinning. Which is how we come to diapers:

But first, according to many authorities, gluing or taping objects is only prohibited if they are intended to remain connected for more than 24 hours. A temporary connection may be permissible.

A good example of temporary gluing is a disposable diaper. Taping the adhesive tabs when fastening the diaper is permitted because they are meant to be detached in a few hours.

Back to my story: Halacha demanded that I consider how long I intended the gluing to last. That triggered my thoughts about the lasting impact of the care I devoted to my children. What is considered a lasting impact?

We already mentioned the opinion of defining a lasting impact as 24 hours. However, it’s not so clear. I intend to carefully examine two opinions about what qualifies as lasting and applying those ideas to determing the lasting effect we have on our children, and on the lasting effect of a Shabbat: “A Taste of the World To Come,” implies an eternal impact. Should I measure a Shabbat’s success by its eternal effect?

We will focus on Rashi, the Rambam, and the Rosh.

I. Rashi

The Mishnah (Shabbat 102b) teaches: “This is the general principle: Whoever does work on the Shabbat and his work endures, is culpable.” Many Rishinom, such as Rashi, the Meiri, and the Ran, define “and his work endures,” as ‘it is not necessary to add to it, or, which on occasion may be complete in itself.’ These Rishinom rule that even if the person does not consider his work as complete, and he intends to add to this action, he is liable because most people would consider this as complete. They define ‘endure’ as ‘finished.’

II. The Rambam

The Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 9:13) takes a different approach: “A person who dyes a thread that is four handbreaths long or fabric from which a thread of this length can be spun is liable. A person is not liable unless the dye will make a permanent change in the thread’s color. When the application of color will not have a permanent effect – e.g., one who applies red clay to iron…, is not liable, for it can be immediately removed without dyeing it at all. Whenever a person performs a labor that does not have a permanent effect ON THE SHABBAT, he is not liable.”

– The Maggid Mishnah (Hilchot Shabbat 11:15) explains that the Rambam argues with Rashi. He does not define enduring as ‘something to which it is not necessary to add,’ but as something which can last. This is similar to another Mishnah (104b) that rules: “If one writes (One of the 39 Categories of Forbidden Work) with a fluid, with fruit juice, with road dust, or with writer’s powder, or with anything that cannot endure, he is not culpable.”

– The Mishnah Berurah (303; Sha’ar HaTzion #68) wonders whether the Rambam rules that the work must last 24 hours, or last through Shabbat.

– The Avnei Nezer (O”C #188) understands the Rambam as ruling that this concept of ‘work that endures’ is specific to Shabbat. He posits that the Rambam holds that this ‘endures’ differs from a similar action, sewing, in the context of another law: if one was Tofair (sewed) a temporary stitch joining wool and linen. This idea of ‘work that endures’ is specific to Shabbat, and therefore the Rambam defines ‘endure’ as lasting through this Shabbat.


We began by wondering how we can define the enduring quality of our efforts, whether in raising children or in our religious lives.

Rashi defined ‘work that endures’ as something that will be considered by most as complete, even if I consider the work incomplete. Rashi does not qualify endurance by my intention. He insists that Halacha considers an action as complete if most people would be satisfied with the work. I may not be satisfied with how I spent a Shabbat, but it will be considered a “lasting” Shabbat as long as it met the basic requirements of most.

Rashi would dismiss the frustrations of people who are convinced that their Shabbat observance does not qualify as “A Taste of the World to Come,” because they are dissatisfied with what they achieved on a specific Shabbat. Rashi insists that as long as it meets the basic standards of Shabbat, it is considered enduring. The person can strive for more, they should, but they should not question the lasting effect of their Shabbat.

Rashi does not want people to constantly question the enduring effects of what they do for their children. As long as a person is fulfilling his basic obligations, Rashi considers the work as enduring. He doesn’t measure the endurance by how long the positive action lasts, but by how complete an effort.

We are constantly warned against the permanent negative effects of poor parenting, illness, divorce, emotional abuse etc. However, there are fewer statements regarding long-term effects of positive parenting. Even the positive statements are generally relative: “Warm, supportive parenting, in contrast to harsh parenting, is likely to foster Emotional Control, and hence broader emotion-related self-regulation, in multiple ways.” (Hoffman, M. L. (2000). Empathy and moral development: Implications for caring and justice Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.) Rashi insists that a parent appreciate that each complete effort is enduring, even changing a diaper. Each complete prayer endures, as does each Mitzvah, and each Shabbat.

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