By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
People sometimes find themselves trapped in a conversation about a topic that they find rather boring. Sports fans love to discuss their favorite sport, the latest trade rumors, the injury reports, and their surefire predictions. Still, you can find people even today who haven’t watched the Super Bowl. They are not interested in hearing about the record-setting return, the blackout, or the unbelievable comeback that sputtered. On Shabbos, they may have a way to extricate themselves from the conversation.
The Gemara in Shabbos explains that various halachos are learned from a pasuk in Yeshayah (58:13). From the words “Mimtzo cheftzecha,” we derive that one should not occupy himself on Shabbos with conducting his business affairs. This includes pursuits that would have otherwise been permitted. For example, one should not examine his house that is under construction to see how the work is progressing. All he is doing is taking a stroll through his house and seemingly not violating Shabbos, yet the verse of “Mimtzo cheftzecha” precludes even that activity.
From the words “V’dabeir davar,” the Gemara derives that one’s speech on Shabbos should not be the same as his speech during the week. Rashi explains that one should not discuss his business affairs on Shabbos. Rabbeinu Tam questions that explanation, since discussing one’s business affairs should have already been precluded from the words of “Mimtzo cheftzecha.” Tosefos offer an entirely different explanation. One should speak less on Shabbos than he does during the week. This does not include any mitzvah-related speech, but rather mundane topics like politics and sports. The Bach defends Rashi and explains that there is a difference between business-related actions such as taking a walk through a factory and business-related speech. Both are forbidden but the source is from two different verses.
The opinion of Tosefos is codified in Shluchan Aruch (307:1): “And even idle chatter [which is permissible to discuss] one should limit.” The Rema adds a leniency and writes, “People who enjoy discussing the news can discuss it on Shabbos as they do during the week. However, people who don’t enjoy it should not discuss it for someone else’s sake.” The Mishnah Berurah adds another leniency. Even one who does not enjoy discussing a certain topic, but enjoys when other people derive enjoyment from his discussion, may possibly discuss those topics.
If someone’s mother begins to discuss the Super Bowl at the Shabbos table, may he say, “Ma, I derive no pleasure from Super Bowl talk. Can we instead discuss the latest fashion trends?” Is that a lack of kibud eim? To prove their point that one should not engage in idle chatter on Shabbos, Tosefos quote a Midrash that the mother of a famous tanna wanted to discuss something mundane on Shabbos. The tanna politely told his mother that he only discusses holy things on Shabbos.
One may think, What chutzpah! What a lack of kavod! How dare anyone say that to his mother! A little perspective is in order. Who was the tanna in the story? According to the Sefer Agudah, it was none other than Rebbe Tarfon. The Gemara in Kiddushin says that when Rebbe Tarfon’s mother wanted to go into bed, he would bend down so that she could climb on his back. The same process was utilized when she descended from her bed. The Yerushalmi records that one time Rebbe Tarfon’s mother was taking a Shabbos stroll when her sandal tore, whereupon Rebbe Tarfon put his hands under her feet. She walked all the way home with every step of her feet on Rebbe Tarfon’s hands! Someone like Rebbe Tarfon who accords his mother such love and respect may very well tell his mother that he’d prefer not to discuss mundane topics on Shabbos. I’m not sure if there is anyone nowadays who can make a similar request without offending his own mother.
This is similar to a thought I heard from my rosh yeshiva, zt’l. The Gemara says that talmud Torah k’neged kulam, the mitzvah of learning Torah is equal to all other mitzvos. The sin of bittul Torah is likewise severe. It is written in many places that if you are learning and someone comes to interrupt you with idle chatter, you should politely but firmly explain that you are in middle of learning and can’t talk now. Yet my rosh yeshiva, zt’l, was of the opinion that nowadays people are much more easily offended than they were in previous generations. Further, the person interrupting your learning might be in a depressed mood and your gentle shrug-off can in fact be particularly hurtful. The rosh yeshiva therefore cautioned against shooing the individual away.
The Gemara in Shabbos quotes Rav Yehudah, who was in turn quoting Rav, that hosting guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence. This lesson is derived from Avraham Avinu, who stopped conversing with Hashem so he could greet the three travelers that he spotted. The Baal Shem Tov was quoted as asking: What does the Gemara mean that hosting guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence? When someone is engaged in a mitzvah, isn’t he greeting the Divine Presence?
The Naharos Eisan explained the Baal Shem Tov’s answer as follows: There are times it cannot be considered that you are greeting the Divine Presence even while you are performing the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. One such time is when you are engaged in idle chatter on Shabbos. The Minchas Shabbos says that one can engage in idle chatter with a guest if this is what the guest wants. Still, at that time it is not considered that you are greeting the Divine Presence. Therefore it was necessary for Rav to teach us that in that situation the fulfillment of the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim is greater than greeting the Divine Presence.
The Rema writes that the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim applies to guests who don’t have a home in the city, even if they are wealthy. I heard from Rabbi Binyomin Luban, shlita, that the mitzvah is also fulfilled by inviting a lonely individual or a yeshiva bachur who would otherwise have to eat in the yeshiva dining room.
Earlier we quoted the opinion of the Rema that one may discuss non-Torah topics on Shabbos if he enjoys it. But the Mishnah Berurah (307:4) sounds a note of caution: “Nevertheless, one should not engage too much in mundane discussion because even bona fide oneg Shabbos such as eating or drinking has its limits, because for those who don’t learn Torah during the week, Shabbos was primarily given for Torah learning. Even talmidei chachamim who toil all week in Torah learning should not engage too much in oneg Shabbos.”
This article should really be longer, but that might give you too much oneg Shabbos! v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.