Wednesday, October 25, 2006

חכמים הזהרו בדבריכם. . . Sages, be careful of your words (Avot 1:11)

I was walking the other day and saw a poster for a fund-raising function of some kiruv organization, where Rav Elyashiv is supposedly quoted as saying that supporting that function is "poshut and borur pikuah nefesh." Am I to understand that it is okay to be mehallel Shabbat for the function, driving materials to the site and such? The poster reminded me of an announcement made by the rav of the shul where I was saying Kaddish for my father a"h, urging us to attend the levaya of a man he described as a met mitzva. I approached the rav and asked him if I should understand that a kohen could attend the levaya. He replied negatively; the man left no family (lo aleinu) but there were plenty of non-kohanim to see to his final needs.
The rav of the shul where I said Kaddish is a well-known talmid hakham in Brooklyn whose name I won't mention, and Rav Elyashiv's reputation as a posek speaks for itself. What am I supposed to make of their coming off sounding like used car salesmen? Halakhic language, like scientific language, must be clear and unambiguous. We will not, for instance, refer to an object as "boiling hot" during working hours unless its temperature is at least 100 degrees Celsius. And if we slip up in something submitted for publication, we can rely on our editors to not be sycophants and hold us to accuracy.
If we are to rely on the words of authority figures in our community, those words must be spoken and, all the more, written with deliberate care. There is no room for guzma (hyperbole).

5 Comments:

Anonymous Ariel Sokolovsky said...

B"H
This wasn't a psak din, but a fundraising poster.Most people understood it the way it was meant to be understood.
That it's in many ways similar to pikuach nefesh.
A person who would undertstand it literally and is a child or a total ahm ha'aretz and Hashem who knowns our thoughts and intentions of our hearts will certainly count this man's actions as if he actually fulfilled the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh not as a violation of Shabbos.
PS. This loshon that making sure Jewish children get kosher education is a matter of pikuach nefesh is not a novelty by Rabbi Eliyashiv . Lubavitcher Rebbe used it many times and so did many others in this and previous generations.

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