Friday, December 24, 2010

Parashas Shmos – Trading Call With Another Jew On Shabbos

Parashas Shmos – Trading call with Another Jew on Shabbos

 וירא אלקים את בני ישראל וידע אלקים (שמות ב:כה)
“And G-d saw the children of Israel and He knew.”

The Beis Halevi asks what is the meaning of the concluding phrase of this pasuk “and
G-d knew”.  What did He know?
To answer, he refers to a Midrash Yalkut.  “The angel of Egypt protests to Hashem, why do the Jews who worship Avodah Zara merit redemption.  They are no different than the Mitzrim?  הללו עובדי עבודה זרה והללו עובדי עבודה זרה
Hashem answers that the Jews only worshiped because they were oppressed and disorientated.  How can I equate אונס--the unwillful actions of Israel to רצון--the willful transgressions of Egypt?  The Jews have no time to think and are too weary to contemplate their actions.  However “I know”, Hashem says, “that if they had not been subjected to such punishing circumstances they would never be idolatrous.”

The Beis HaLevi elaborates that a claim of involuntary transgression (אונס) is only valid if the circumstances are such that had the coercive condition not been present he would not have done the action.  However, if not withstanding the אונס one would still sin, then no reprieve is granted for even an involuntary transgression. 

Similarly, a couple in chutz la’aretz who are married for ten years without children are not forced to divorce since we may attribute the failure to merit progeny to the sin of not living in Israel (yishuv eretz yisroel), rather than to the unsuitability of the union.  The Hafla’ah explains that one might question this ruling based on the accepted opinion of Rav Chaim Cohen (cited by Tosofos Ketubos 110b) that one is not obligated to settle in Israel at his time given its difficult and taxing living conditions, creating a situation of אונס.  Nonetheless, the claim of involuntary residence in exile is rejected since it is possible that even without the challenges of Aliyah, he might have still chosen to remain living in galus and thereby deserves some degree of culpability.  Therefore, the ruling stands and they need not divorce.

The Beis HaLevi concludes that any Jew who regularly and willfully violates a particular mitzvah, such as shmiras shabbos, even when he involuntarily transgresses (such as to save a sick person) is liable and not accorded the leniency of אונס.  Therefore, the Torah relates “וידע אלקים” – G-d knew us.  What did he know?  He looked at Bnei Yisroel’s oppression and knew that the circumstances alone were responsible for their idolatry.

This concept of the Beis Halevi forms the basis for a very important and well known debate between Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach--zichronam livracha.  The question was raised whether it is appropriate for a frum, shomer shabbos doctor to switch a Saturday call with an irreligious Jewish doctor.  Rav Feinstein (Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:79) contends that it is preferable to have the non-frum doctor work on shabbos since he would have been mechalel shabbos at home anyway.  At least, at the hospital the majority of one’s actions would be required for pikuach nefesh.  However, Rav Auerbach argues, based on the aforementioned Beis Halevi that if the doctor was going to violate the shabbos at home anyway, then even if at the hospital he will be forced to be mechalel shabbos for the infirmed he does not get the credit of אונס and his actions are still classified as chillul shabbos.  Instead Rav Auerbach concludes, in this particular case, it is preferable for a frum Jew to keep the call so that while performing melachos in the hospital his actions are intended le’shem mitzvah (cited in Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa, chapter 32, note 125).

I would like to append the following comments from my father Dr. Steven Oppenheimer that lend additional insight into Rav Moshe’s position:

Rav Hershel Schachter, however, is quoted as questioning whether this Beit HaLevi would apply to the non-observant Jewish doctor. Rav Schachter observes that the Beit HaLevi's concern would only apply if the person would have done this specific act anyway. The example given is when a non-observant person was going to drive to a specific place on Shabbat and then he is forced, at gunpoint, to drive to the same place. According to the Beit HaLevi, he is considered a deliberate sinner. This is because he intended to drive to the same place even before he was threatened. On the other hand, argues Rav Schachter, the non-observant Jewish doctor is driving to a particular emergency for the purpose of saving a life, pikuach nefesh. Therefore, even if the doctor may have driven elsewhere on Shabbat, the halachic infractions that he now commits are for the purpose of pikuach nefesh.

This explanation of Rav Schachter (See Gray Matter, Vol. 2, Saving Lives on Shabbat, page 6, footnote 7) lends support to Rav Moshe's position and helps answer Rav Auerbach's proof from the Beit HaLvi.

It seems, in this country, that many people rely on Rav Moshe's position that it is permissible to switch call with a non-observant Jewish doctor in order for the observant Jewish doctor to avoid issues of Shabbat observance.

Paranthetically, it is interesting to note that Rav Neuwirth quotes Rav Auerbach that it is preferable to call an observant Jewish doctor on Shabbat rather than a non-observant Jewish doctor since summoning a non-observant Jewish doctor would be a violation of lifnei iver (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata, chap. 32, note 125).

However, in Minchat Shlomo 2:34:41, Rav Auerbach opines that just as one may violate Shabbat, if necessary, to call a non-observant Jewish doctor in order to save a life, so too, he may violate lifnei iver.