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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 20: Dos and Don’ts

In the course of our study of the laws of Sorting we have determined that the Shabbat laws teach us that 1. Choice is a creative act. 2. We are constantly choosing. 3. We must know what we want at this moment. 4. There is a powerful connection between the words we choose to speak and the food we eat.

The Shabbat laws do not only teach us through prohibition, they also inform us by what is permitted and how things may be done.

Sorting is understood as being a natural part of life and is consequently permitted on Shabbat if the following three conditions are all satisfied:

1) What one wishes to use is being separated from what one does not wish to use, as distinct from the reverse.

2) The separation takes place by hand and not by means of an instrument designed for that purpose.

3) What is being separated is intended for immediate use and not for use at some time in the future.

We examined #3 in Shabbat 18. I would like to use this essay to focus on #1: “We may separate what we desire from what we do not, rather than separating the bad, or undesirable, from the good.”

If we find ourselves spending more time teaching our children what they cannot do, rather than teaching them how to appreciate what they have, we are being destructive.

Parents often present a long list of Don’ts: Don’t watch TV. Don’t use the internet. Don’t interact with certain people. Don’t dress that way. Don’t speak like that. Isn’t that focusing on separating the bad from the good, the undesirable from the desirable? This Shabbat law teaches us to use the opposite approach: Choose what is desirable.

That simple statement requires us to know and teach what is desirable, and why it is desired!

Rather than demand that our children do not watch television we can focus on the desirability of Kedusha – Sanctity in and of the Home. Rather than enforce the prohibitions of Lishon Harah – the Vocabulary of Evil – such as speaking negatively about others, or using Nivul Peh – Obscenities – we can teach the value of positive speech – the Vocabulary of Good.

I do not intend to make it sound simple. I know that it is challenging. However, the laws of Borer – Sorting – teach us that the most basic and natural step in learning how to choose is to know what I want and why. Choices should not begin with an emphasis on what is wrong but on what is right. Choices should be based on what we desire from life, not on what we want to avoid.

Choice is a creative act, not an act of hiding or rejection. No wonder the laws of choosing begin with a focus on knowing what we desire and why.

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