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Parshah Halacha – Parshat Vayakhel
Shabbat Mevarchim Adar II

Continuing to Take a Course of Medication on Shabbat

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Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.
The Torah portion of Vayakhel begins with the account of Moshe gathering the Jewish people and teaching them about keeping Shabbat.[1] Following that, he commanded them regarding the building of the Mishkan.[2] The commentaries point out that when G-d commanded these mitzvot to Moshe, the order was reversed. G-d first commanded them about the building of the Mishkan (in the Torah portions of Terumah, Tetzaveh and the beginning of Ki Tissa[3]) and only after did He command them to observe Shabbat (in the middle of Ki Tissa[4]). Several explanations are offered to explain the change in order:
·        The Last Command Becomes the First
The Sefer HaChassidim (by Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid[5]) explains[6] that when a father commands a son, he gives the instructions in the reverse order of how he would like them to be carried out, i.e., his last request is what he would like to be fulfilled first. (The reason for this would seem to be that the last command will be fresh in the mind of the son.) Thus, since G-d’s command to observe Shabbat came last, Moshe instructed it to the Jewish people first to ensure that they observed it even before (and with greater priority than) the building of the Mishkan.
·        Out of Love or Out of Necessity?
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk[7] (1820 – 1892) explains[8] using the following example: When a rich man prepares clothing for his son who is about be get married, he prepares all types of clothing, both for daily use and for Shabbat and holidays. In addition, he prepares fancy jewelry as is appropriate for the son of a wealthy man. The father will do this for his son even if they are not on such good terms as it would be inappropriate (and embarrassing) for the rich man to not provide properly for his son. The order in which he prepares these items, however, will depend on his relationship with his son. If he is preparing these items out of love, he will begin with the items that are least essential as they are an expression of his deep love for his son, even providing beautiful pieces of jewelry that the son will use only on rare occasions. Only after that will he prepare the clothing for Shabbat and the week days which are necessary for daily and weekly living. If, on the other hand he is not on good terms with his son and is only preparing these things because he feels obliged to, he will begin by preparing the essential items such as clothing and only after that does he prepare the expensive items which the son doesn’t really need. (Since he is only doing this in order that he shouldn’t be shamed, he begins with what would be most embarrassing if he wouldn’t provide and then the items that would be less embarrassing were he to not provide them.)
As it relates to our parsha: The mitzvah of Shabbat is a basic essential mitzvah which the Jewish people need for their existence as Jews while building the Mishkan and bringing the sacrifices are mitzvot which are not as essential and we can (temporarily) live without them, as we have been doing during this long exile. Thus, when G-d was “happy” with the Jewish People – before the sin of the golden calf – He first commanded them regarding the non-essential mitzvah of building the Mishkan and secondly about the very essential mitzvah of observing the Shabbat. Whereas after we sinned with the golden calf (in the Torah portion of Ki Tissa) and He was not as pleased with us, He reversed the order and the essential mitzvah of Shabbat was given first instead.
  • Was the Shechina Present During the Building of the Mishkan?
The Meshech Chochma (by Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843 – 1926) explains the matter as follows:
Originally, before the Jews sinned with the golden calf, the building of the Mishkan was supposed to override the Shabbat. It was only after they sinned that G-d instructed them not to build the Mishkan on Shabbat. Thus, when they were first commanded to build the Mishkan, the mitzvah of Shabbat was mentioned after that of building the Mishkan to indicate that precedence should be given to the building of the Mishkan over observing Shabbat.[9]
In our Torah portion, however, which takes place after the sin of the golden calf, the order is reversed to indicate that, in practice, observing Shabbat should take precedence over building the Mishkan and all building of the Mishkan should cease on the holy Shabbat day.
The reason for this change had to do with the spiritual level of the Jewish people before and after that sin. Before the sin, the Shechina (Divine presence) was present among the Jewish people even without the physical presence of the Mishkan, as the verse says (concerning that time), “Whereveryou mention My name, I will come to you and bless you.”[10] Whereas after the sin, the Shechinah was only present among the Jewish People when they built the Mishkan and performed the Divine service there.
This explains the difference as far as building the Mishkan on Shabbat. The Talmud says that by observing Shabbat one gives testimony that G-d created the world.[11] The reason that the sacrificial service in the Mishkan overrides the Shabbat is that the Divine presence was palpable in the Mishkan while the Jewish people were worshiping there, and the various sacrifices offered symbolized G-d’s intimate involvement in all of the aspects of the world. Since this service is a testimony of G-d’s ongoing presence in this world, it accomplishes the same thing as observing the Shabbat. For, if G-d’s presence is felt in every aspect of this world, He must certainly be the Creator of the world. While the Mishkan was being built, however, the Shechinah was not yet present. As such it was forbidden to build it on Shabbat.
The above was true after the Jews had sinned with the golden calf. Whereas before that sin, when the Shechina was present among the Jewish people all the time, it would have been palpable even as they built the Mishkan. As such, the building—had they not sinned—would have overridden the laws of Shabbat as did the sacrificial service as explained above.
The rest of this article will discuss the question of continuing to take a course of medication on Shabbat.
Medication on Shabbat
As mentioned in last week’s article, our sages forbade taking medicine on Shabbat as this could lead (in ancient times) to grinding those medications. In practice, according to halacha, there are many cases in which one may take medications or herbs, depending on what ailment the medication or herb is supposed to be healing.
·        Life-Threatening or Serious Illness
One may take a medication which is treating or preventing a life-threatening illness. This is based on the fact that the Shabbat laws are suspended when a life is at stake. In addition, one may take medication for a serious illness even if it isn’t life-threatening. A serious illness in this context is defined as one which causes the person to be bed-ridden or house-bound. (Even if the patient drags himself out of the house, if the illness calls for him to be house-bound, it is considered serious.) The reason for this allowance is that the prohibition of taking medicine is of Rabbinic origin and the rabbis wanted to enable such a patient to recover sooner from this illness.[12]
This would include medication for the following illnesses (may G-d protect us from them all):[13]
·        Heart disease
·        Cancer
·        Asthma
·        Diabetes
·        Many internal infections
·        Any high fever
And many more.
If, however, an illness isn’t considered “serious,” the patient may not take medicine on Shabbat but should wait until after Shabbat.
A Course of Medication
Some say that one may take medication even for minor illnesses if it is part of a course of medication which one began before Shabbat. Others disagree with this ruling while some agree with it but only under specific circumstances.
Views on both sides are presented below:
1)     Those Who Allow It
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger[14] writes[15] that “An oft-repeated pearl (of wisdom) is that if one started to take a certain medication before Shabbat he may continue to do so on Shabbat, but if he hadn’t started yet, he may not begin to do so on Shabbat.” He explains that the basis for this is that the Talmud[16] says that one who applied a medicated bandage to a wound before Shabbat may keep that bandage on his wound on Shabbat. The reason is that since the bandage was placed on the wound before Shabbat, one will not be tempted to grind any more medication or herbs for it on Shabbat. (In fact, in that case one many not even replace the bandage if one removed it or if it fell on the floor. But this is due to another concern – that one may mistakenly smear the salve onto the bandage so that it will fit on the wound smoothly. Smoothing a semi-solid mass is a prohibited act on Shabbat.) Similarly, if one began to take a medicine before Shabbat, he probably prepared it at that time and will have no need (or temptation) to grind it on Shabbat.[17]
2)     Those who Forbid it
Some say[18] that this “pearl of wisdom” is an error and that one may not take a medication for a minor ailment even if one began the course of medication before Shabbat. Although in such cases one usually prepares the medication before Shabbat, this may not always be the case. As such, it was included in the decree of the sages to refrain from taking medicine on Shabbat.
3)     Some Say that it Depends
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes[19] that, in a case of one who is taking a course of medication for a minor illness that must include Shabbat (i.e., it is a course of seven days or more) and the only way for the patient to be healed is to take the medication on Shabbat as well, the law is as follows:
If the person will be so distressed by the fact that he cannot be healed from this illness that he may have a nervous breakdown, then he may take the medication. If there is no fear of that, one may not take the medication.
The Halacha[20]
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules[21] that if stopping to take the medication will cause damage to the patient or if the only way for the patient to be healed is by taking the medication on Shabbat, he may do so. Rabbi Auerbach doesn’t stipulate that this is only permissible if the patient would otherwise have a nervous breakdown. Apparently, he is of the opinion that the decree against taking medication wasn’t meant to include a case where it would cause one to be terminally ill (albeit with a minor ailment).
May G-d send a speedy and complete healing to all those who need it!
[1] Exodus 35:1 – 3
[2] Ibid 35:4 – 20
[3] From ibid chapter 25 to chapter 31
[4] Ibid 31:12-17
[5] Of Regensburg, Germany, 1150 – 1217
[6] Siman 568
[7] He was the founder of the dynasty of Brisk which included his son Rabbi Chaim Brisker and his grandson Reb Velvel Brisker, known as the Brisker Rov.
[8] In his Bait HaLevi on the Torah, beginning of the Torah portion of Ki Tissa
[9] Rabbi Meir Simcha notes that Rashi’s interpretation to Exodus 31:13 does not accord with his interpretation. But that the Talmud’s interpretation (Yoma 85b) to that verse differs to that of Rashi.
[10] Exodus 20:21. See the Seforno on the verse who says, “You will not need and gold or silver artifacts to draw down my providence.”
[11] Shabbat 119b, see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 268:12
[12] Rama 328:37 and Shulchan Aruch Harav 19. It is noteworthy that there are opinions that disagree and maintain that in a case of a serious but non-life-threatening illness, one may not take medication. See Biur Halacha D.H. VeChein Im Nafal on Rama ibid. In practice, however, the halacha follows the lenient view. See Shevet HaLevi 8:82
[13] See Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchato, chapters 32 and 33
[14] Of Brody, Galicia (1785 – 1869). He was a prolific author of more than a dozen important Sefarim.
[15] Sefer HaChaim on O.C. 328, chapter 6. This is cited in the Minchat Shabbat by Rabbi Shmuel HaKohen of Shitava, Russia, 91:9
[16] Eiruvin 102b
[17] Additional support for this view is brought from Shabbat, 140a which says that one may drink a certain potion (chiltit) if one began to drink it on Thursday. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach points out however, that in that case a serious illness would have ensued had one stopped taking that medication. When such is not the case, it may be forbidden.
[18] Responsa of Mahari Algazi (by Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Algazi of 17th and 18th-century Jerusalem), Kuntres Hasfeikot, 6, cited in Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato 34 note 76
[19] O.C. vol. 3:53
[20] Although Rabbi Auerbach and Rabbi Feinstein were contemporaries, the ruling of Rabbi Auerbach came after that of Rabbi Feinstein. As such, it would seem that the rule of following the later authority should apply. In addition, see last week’s article that due to the change in the a medicine is now produced there is room for greater leniency regarding these laws.
[21] Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato, ibid
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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