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Shabbat #7: Probable Consequences

We cannot possibly foresee all the consequences of our actions. The Shabbat laws teach us that we must always consider consequences and are responsible for inevitable outcomes. If only it were an easy matter to see even the inevitable results of our actions. Life and people are too complicated to anticipate what our actions will set into motion. The Shabbat laws, specifically the laws of “P’sik Reisha”, or, “Inevitable Consequences”, can guide us in defining the parameters of our responsibility to consider the consequences of our actions.


The Shabbat laws recognize that most consequences are not inevitable. The Talmud lists a number of categories of unintended consequences. The first category we will deal with is “Karov”, or, probable consequences. For example, we are not allowed to extinguish a flame on Shabbat. One may not open a window on a windy day opposite a lighted candle and allow in gusts of wind that will probably blow out the flame. We are responsible for probable consequences.


In fact, Halacha nurtures a sense and appreciation of probable consequences: Although we have a biblical obligation to rebuke someone, except under specific conditions, we cannot offer rebuke without considering the probable consequences. We are dealing with another human being, so there is probably no way to predict inevitable results. We must consider the result of the rebuke on its recipient and whether it is probable that he will not accept even the most magnificently presented rebuke.


The sages were very careful as they applied Halacha to always consider probable consequences. We cannot place a pot directly on a hot flame, even before Shabbat to remain on the flame when the Shabbat begins without a clear reminder that we cannot adjust the flame. In Talmudic times they would cover the coals or actually shovel them out of a small stove because of the probability that in a moment of distraction someone will do the most natural thing and adjust the flame. The sages were concerned with probable consequences.


In fact, there are times when the sages stop us from fulfilling a biblical commandment because of probable consequences. We do not blow the Shofar on Shabbat because a person overly concerned with a crack on his shofar may unthinkingly carry it through a public place to a rabbi to rule over the shofar’s status. It is interesting to note that the sages consider someone acting without thinking as probable.


We may not do anything that will cause someone else to sin. A parent may not slap a teenager because it is probable that the child will fight back.


We are responsible for our actions and their consequences, inevitable and probable.

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