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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 18: Right Now!


When people understand that they are making choices, and that those choices are self-defining, they will rethink their actions and words. Unless…

Unless they do not know what are their options, what they want, and what is their most immediate concern:

There are two people, each peeling an orange on Shabbat. One is desecrating Shabbat, while the other is enhancing Shabbat. The one who plans to immediately eat the orange as part of his “Oneg Shabbat” –Shabbat Delight – is fulfilling a Mitzvah. However, the other, who is peeling the orange to eat after taking a Shabbat walk, may actually be violating Shabbat.

There is a difference between Borer for immediate use and sorting for later. The Shabbat laws want us to learn to differentiate between immediate and longer-term concerns. We don’t need to apply the above to the immediate pleasures of this world and the long-term benefits of the World To Come. It isn’t necessary to discuss the Emotional IQ of delayed gratification. In fact, we must first discuss clarity of the immediate before we can address the longer-term issues and questions.

Many of the people with whom I meet seem to have difficulty prioritizing their responsibilities, especially when mixed up with desires. I often ask people if they know for what they want to pray, what is their most immediate concern, and the answer is usually a negative. People have difficulty pinpointing their most immediate concerns.

I recently observed a teenager arguing with his mother about his allowance. He was so aggressive that his mother could not bend an inch. It was clear that it was more important for him to argue than to receive a higher allowance. I actually asked him which was more important, the arguing or the money, and he was honest enough to answer that it was the former. He laughed at his own answer and fully understood that he chose to argue rather than negotiate a higher allowance. He admitted that had he understood what he was doing that he would have spoken with respect even if it had helped him win the debate.

The Shabbat laws, especially the laws of Borer – Sorting – insist that we are clear about what we want at this particular moment.

Many people sit in synagogue with a Siddur – Prayer book, a Chumash – Bible, and a book to study, presumably during breaks in the service. These people are constantly flipping back and forth from prayer to the book, or from the Torah reading to the book and vice versa. They are not applying the principles of Borer. There is no sense of focus or choice. They seem to simultaneously be in at least two places.


Borer demands that we know what we want at this moment of time. It, as all of Torah and Service of God, demands clarity and choice.

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