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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 28: Speech! Speech!

“If you restrain your foot because it is Shabbat; refrain from accomplishing your own needs on My holy day; if you proclaim Shabbat a delight, and the holy day of God as honored, and you honor it by not engaging in your own


affairs, from seeking your own needs or dabair davar – discussing the forbidden.” (Isaiah 58:13) “One’s speech on Shabbat should not be the same as his speech during the week.” (Shabbat 113)

Our manner of speech and conversation should conform to the restful nature of Shabbat. This is usually understood as a restriction against expressing an intention to perform a Melacha after Shabbat. (Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim 307) It is permissible to discuss activities as long as they do not include the intention to perform a Melacha after Shabbat, and as long as the conversation is considered enjoyable to its participants. The Ramah insists that the key is the subjective pleasure of the conversation! We may even discuss what something cost and how it was purchased as long as we do not discuss plans to buy something after Shabbat. (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 307)

There are some interesting implications of these rules: The Zohar (Volume 2 47a-b) explains that on Shabbat, when so many actions are prohibited, speech becomes more powerful. “During the week our actions are necessary to create spiritual influence. Only speech is necessary on Shabbat.” The Zohar wants us to appreciate the power of speech on Shabbat so that we understand that we actually can create spiritual influences with our words. We begin the process with Kiddush. We use words to sanctify the day. We have the ability to create special moments. According to the Zohar, when Isaiah taught “dabair Davar” he was encouraging us to use special care in our Shabbat speech because it is so much more powerful. The restrictions on speech are intended to remind us of the additional power granted to speech on Shabbat. The restrictions are not intended to protect the peaceful nature of Shabbat, but to protect the awesome power of Shabbat speech!

The Ramah’s insistence on paying attention to the subjective pleasure of a conversation demands a different awareness than that required by the Zohar. The Ramah reminds us to be aware and consider whether a topic of conversation is pleasurable to all participants. We would not be allowed to discuss the price of my (fantasy) new Lamborghini in front of someone who cannot afford to put food on his table. Shabbat speech requires heightened awareness, not only of Shabbat, but also of the feelings of the other participants in a conversation.

What appears at first glance as restriction is actually a lesson in awareness and sensitivity.

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