Thursday, October 25, 2007

Distancing from Sin

In analyzing the very first Mishna, the one discussing until what time a person may recite Krias Shema in the evening and still fulfill the Mitzvah of reciting the evening Shema, my wife and I discovered a very common misinterpretation of this Mishna. The Mishna relates a three way machlokes regarding the proper time. Rabbi Meir says until the end of the first third of the night. Chachamim say Midnight (true midnight, not 12AM). And Rabban Gamliel maintains one may recite Krias Shema until dawn.

The Mishna then goes on to relate a curious story about the children of Rabban Gamliel coming home rather late from, the commentaries tell us, a wedding. In other words, they were out partying all night. Personally, I've got nothing against this. Party on, dudes!! :) However, it was well after Midnight. They informed their father they had not yet recited the evening Shema. Rabban Gamliel responded that as the morning had not yet dawned, they were still obligated to recite the evening Shema. He then says an oft-repeated statement, a curious one. He tells them that not only are they obligated to recite the evening Shema, but any time the Chachamim use the phrase "Ad Chatzos" - until Midnight, the actual Mitzvah is until dawn, citing as an example the mitzvah of Hektair Chalavim V'Eivarim - putting certain parts of a sacrifice upon the altar to be burned - these needed to be done really by dawn, but Chachamim put the limit of Midnight on the Mitzvah. Why? asks Rabban Gamliel. And here's that famous phrase: "Kedei L'Harchik Es Ha'Adam Min Ha'Aveira" - to distance a person from sin.

Very curious. We all know it IS a Mitzvas Aseh Min HaTorah, a positive commandment, to recite Shema twice daily: in the evening and in the morning - "B'shochbecha U'vekumecha." And there are time limits to this Mitzvah (a discussion for some future post). However, if one misses Zman Krias Shema, one has not committed an Aveira. One has simply missed the opportunity to DO a Mitzvah.

Unfortunately, the common, simplistic misreading of the phrase"Kedei L'Harchik Es Ha'Adam Min Ha'Aveira" is that Chachamim placed the Midnight time limit on saying Krias Shema and missing that time constitutes an Aveira or is at least akin to one.

To quote from the Mabartenura and Kehati: "Kedei L'Harchik Es Ha'Adam Min Ha'Aveira" - So that a person will hurry to do the Mitzvah and not delay until last minute, in case he forgets and does not perform [the Mitzvah], or he might do it after the alloted time, for example eating Kodoshim [if the hektair Chalavim V'Eivarim has not taken place], in which case the person eating the Kodoshim becomes chayav Kares - extinction. The Braisa teaches us Chachamim gave reason for reciting the Shema BY Midnight: They did not want a person coming home, thinking he would FIRST eat, drink, take a nap, and THEN recite the evening Shema because he might sleep ALL NIGHT. Rather, first a person goes to shul, davens, learns a bit, THEN goes home to do the rest (eat, drink, and be merry). (Kehati). The Mabartenura says it a bit more simply: "Kedei L'Harchik Es Ha'Adam Min Ha'Aveira" - So that he should not come to eat them after dawn (Kodoshim) and end up being chayav Kares, so too with Krias Shema a person should not say "I have enough time" and then that time will pass [without a person reciting the Shema].

It seems both the Mabartenura and Pinchas Kehati think it is an Aveira to miss Zman Krias Shema. But it's not. It's a Mitzvas Aseh to say it, but one has not transgressed a lav, a negative commandment, by not saying it.

In this case, WHAT does the statement "Kedei L'Harchik Es Ha'Adam Min Ha'Aveira" mean in this context? It means keeping a person safe from an Aveira. Rabban Gamliel was giving his kids a bit of Mussar here. They were out partying WAY late at night, something we all know has the potential to lead to "other" things. Certainly, the commentaries tell us they were at a wedding, and certainly, they may have been at one. We have, however, no proof one way or another, and Rabban Gamliel's little Mussar Shmooze to them seems to indicate they were places they had no place being. But let's say they were at a wedding. Great! He was also giving the rest of us a bit of a Mussar Shmooze. Chachamim put certain time limits in place because those time limits, by abiding by them, are what distance a person from an Aveira. Not saying Krias Shema b'zmana is not an Aveira. Doing other, questionable acts while missing Zman Krias Shema may be an Aveira. Chachamim here gave a living guideline - a guideline, essentially, for clean living. And that guideline is the Harchakas Adam Min Ha'Aveira, making sure, by NOT missing Zman Krias Shema, by actually fulfilling one's obligations IN THE TIME ALLOTED, that a person is indeed distancing himself from sin.

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