Shabbat #8: I just don’t care
Shabbat 8: “I just don’t care.”
Some people have the ability to make important decisions, that will not win them new friends, and yet they are so determined that they simply do
not care how others will react. Most people I have met, can make such decisions, though they do care how it will affect others. Their concerns may not necessarily prevent them from forging ahead, but they still care.
Abraham cared enough about the effect of his circumcision that he consulted with Mamrei. Jacob cared enough about Laban’s reaction to his leaving that he consulted Rachel and Leah. Jacob was concerned when he saw that many of Laban’s family looked askance at him. The State of Israel cares about the world’s reaction to how they choose to defend themselves, despite the fact these reactions are rooted in hatred. There are times they will proceed despite the world’s concerns, but often as not, they do not do all they can to defend themselves simply to avoid further inevitable condemnation.
We usually have respect for people who care about others; while we admire leaders who ignore all the risks and move “full steam ahead!” History is filled with remarkable people who had the capacity to ignore even those who violently disagreed with their decisions.
The laws of Shabbat teach us about such concern for consequences. We have been discussing unintended consequences, both inevitable and probable. There is another subcategory of P’sik Reisha (Inevitable Consequences) that has less to do with awareness than with caring. “P’sik Reisha d’lo nicha lei”, are inevitable consequences that are not specifically desired or needed. We have explained previously that it is prohibited to wash your hands over grass because you will also water the grass, which is one of the 39 Major Categories of Creative Work in the Tabernacle. This is related to Zorei’a (planting – causing something to grow). However, as far as Biblical law is concerned, as opposed to Rabbinic law, one may wash his hands over a stranger’s lawn. He has not interest in this person’s lawn and has no desire to water the grass for any personal gain from its growth.
An action is not considered a prohibited P’sik Reisha if a person specifically does not want the inevitable consequence to occur or even if the person has no desire for, or personal benefit from, the action. (Sefer Ha’Aruch. Tosafot, Shabbat 103 sv “He does it on the ground of his friend”. See Too Biur Halacha 302:18, sv. “That is Not” and Merkevet HaMishna)
Halacha adds a dimension to our creative work: Desire. It is only considered Thoughtful Action if the inevitable consequences are desirable. I am not liable for a P’sik Reisha that will result in something I do not care about. It is not a Thoughtful Action, Melechet Machashevet, if my specific desire is absent!
The laws of Shabbat do not differentiate between the person who proceeds despite his concern for other people’s reactions and someone who simply does not care. In either case, there is no specific desire for those consequences and they are not considered the result of a Thoughtful Action. The decision maker is not biblically liable for the undesired consequences.
It is important to realize that when an action is not liable as a Thoughtful Action it also lacks Melechet Machashevet as a quality. We have been studying the definition of the Creative Work necessary to build a House for God. We have determined that the criteria that define Thoughtful Action, not only determine that the action is prohibited on Shabbat, they also define the quality of our service of God. When the Sages determined that an action is not Biblically prohibited on the Shabbat because it is not a Thoughtful Action, they also taught us that the action lacks the necessary qualities to build the Tabernacle. It is the high quality of the action that defines it a truly creative work, work that is prohibited on the Shabbat. We aspire to such value in all our service.
In one of the most poignant stories in the Talmud we read how Rabbi Zechariah of Avkulus, one of the leaders of Israel, was faced with just such a situation at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Zechariah refused to allow exceptions to be made for certain laws because he was concerned with possible, not even probable consequences, yet he ignored inevitable consequences that he definitely did not desire in any shape or form. Rabbi Yochanan considered Rabbi Zechariah’s willingness to forfeit the Melechet Machashevet of his decision, and ignoring of abhorrent inevitable consequences as responsible for the destruction of the Temple and the exile that followed! The Rabbi’s decision suffered precisely because it lacked the quality of Thoughtful Action. The choice to ignore unwanted consequences is also to surrender the Thoughtfulness of actions or decisions.
When thoughtful and caring parents divorce they know that their children will suffer consequences. They consider and prepare how to best prevent those costs, but ultimately they are choose to divorce in spite of either party not desiring the inevitable consequences. That element of the decision is considered to lack the quality of Thoughtful Action. The result will be that they will relinquish an element of control, which will lead them to be especially susceptible in this area, the one they chose to ignore.
The Shabbat laws warn us of the danger of ignoring things that we do not want to happen, or that we do not care if they do happen. The laws of such decisions not only sever our connection to the consequence, but dilute the quality of the action by defining it as less than thoughtful. The Shabbat laws do not want us to simply ignore things that we do not want to happen, just as any responsible teacher or parent will urge students and children to not disregard things that they do not desire or care for.
Can we apply this concept to the laws of speech? A mother is furious with her husband and wants to immediately vent all her anger even in front of her children.
She does not want her children to be frightened, or to lose respect for their father or her, so because she does not want these consequences to occur, she chooses to ignore this very strong likelihood. She does not want her husband to be embarrassed so she ignores that likely result of her tirade. She does not consider the strong probability that her husband will have great difficulty listening to her under these circumstances precisely because this not what she wants. Her action obviously lacks Thoughtfulness, is mortally wounded, and she will not accomplish anything with her diatribe.
Another example: A person wants to sing his prayers aloud in the synagogue to increase and express his passion.
It is quite likely that his loud singing with distract others from their prayers – a likelihood that he certainly does not want to happen, but he chooses to ignore that which he does not want to happen. We can figure out the consequences using our common sense, without the guidance of the Shabbat laws. However, the Halacha teaches us that such prayer lacks an element of thoughtfulness and the prayer itself is weakened, even if he quiets down after being shushed. The prayer suffered from its start when he disconnected just some of the Thoughtfulness.
We may not be liable for inevitable consequences that are not desired or needed, but this release from Biblical liability comes at the expense of the action being diluted of its thoughtfulness and as a result, its quality and power.