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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 25: Three Degrees of Separation: Part 4

The most complex laws of Shabbat are the laws of sorting and selecting. The Torah considers the act of choosing to be Malechet Machashevet – Creative and Thoughtful Action – not something to be done unconsciously and without awareness. We have determined that the Shabbat laws of separating apply to many areas of Halacha such as Havdala and Hafrasha: Separating between the Holy and mundane, and separating something to make it holy. Havdala demands awareness. Its negative expression is the separation between intent and action. Hafrasha too has a negative expression such as one who separates himself from the community.

There is a third degree of separation in Halacha: Bereirah – Clarification. If a person cannot make a determination either because he is waiting for more information, or because he is not sure of what he wants. For example, if a man writes a divorce document – Get – for his wife that will only be effective retroactively if he dies. He does not want his wife to be a widow in order to save her the agony of Yibum – the Levirate Laws – so he wants her to be a divorcee if he dies. The decision will be determined by something external to his will. He is dependent on outside information, in this case, his death or survival.

There is another form of Bereirah that is dependent on his making a decision: A man orders a scribe to write a Get for one of his wives, one yet to be determined. The decision is waiting for him to make up his mind.

The first form of Bereirah is considered a sign of a weak mind; he is waiting for something external to determine his will. He is a “Toleh b’da’at acheirim” – dependent on the minds of others. It is as if he has no will of his own.

The latter Bereirah reflects his inability to make a decision.

We can easily recognize both forms of Bereirah as we watch other people hesitate before making a decision. They do not know their own will, and are either waiting for someone else to help them decide, or to figure out what they want.

The Shabbat laws of Borer demand that we know what we want. The prohibited action is what was considered a higher form of action in Service of God. Only the highest forms of action are prohibited on Shabbat. The positive form of choosing, meaning what we should be doing in our regular service of God is thoughtful, clear and aware. The Shabbat laws demand that we ask ourselves: Do we know what we want?

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