Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Care of Potted Plants in Shmitta, and the Mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem

Potted plants with a roof above them a floor below, and the pot has a hole, even if situated on the ground floor, may be treated as in a regular year * How should tenants in Chutz la’Aretz who live on upper floors in high-rise buildings behave when there is no Shabbat elevator * The difference between the three severe transgressions in the Torah


Q: Are there any restrictions in the Shmitta year regarding the care of potted plants in one’s house or on the balcony?

A: The laws of Shmitta do not apply to a flowerpot situated inside the house or on a balcony that has a roof, since it is detached from the ground by the floor tiles through which no root can pass, and in addition, there is a roof above it. Thus, one may sow and plant in it, and one may trim its’ vegetation (Peninei Halakha: Shivi’it 2:13).

Even if the pot has a hole in it, and is on the first floor, since it is on a surface through which no root can pass, it is considered detached from the ground. Indeed, some poskim tend to be machmir (stringent) concerning a pot with a hole in it on a first floor (Minchat Shlomo Vol. 1, 41:2), and some are also machmir on higher floors as well (see, Shevet Halevi 6: 167). However, the primary halakha is that all types of tiles and concrete used in houses are considered a separation, because no root passes through them (this is also what Chazon Ish Zeraim 22: 1 and Brit Olam Kutzar 15 have written; Peninei Halakha: Shivi’it 2:14).

Potted Plants on an Open Balcony

A flowerpot in a garden or on an exposed balcony, since it is in the open air, all the laws of Shmitta apply to it. Included in the prohibitions that apply to a flowerpot on an exposed balcony are not to plant seedlings in it, not to prune it, and not to do something that improves its growth. However, an action designed to keep it alive is permissible. Even when the flowerpot does not have a hole, all these prohibitions pertain to it (Peninei Halakha: Shvi’it 2:14).

Question Concerning Elevators on Shabbat

I received a question from a Rabbi with a congregation in New York:

“Rabbi Melamed, I hope this letter finds you in good health, and yasher koach on your illuminating halachic answers! I would like to ask a question on a matter in which there are several, less-than-ideal, situations.

“As well-known, in our city of New York there are many tall buildings and a resident could live on a 20th, or even the 50th floor. Some of these people bought apartments in these buildings before they became Shomrei Shabbat, or before they realized there might be a problem, and obviously, there is no Shabbat elevator.

“In these buildings there is usually a non-Jewish employee (doorman) who can press the button to order the elevator, and go up with the residents (this, obviously, is not a halachically ideal situation), however, when leaving their apartment, there is no non-Jew to press the button for them, and many of them do it themselves when going to synagogue.

“My question is: Is there any advice to minimize the prohibition for those who in any case would press the button? I also ask especially about their children, whose parents cherish Torah and mitzvoth, but do not know there is a prohibition involved, and ask their children to order the elevator. Consequently, when teaching the children laws of Shabbat, it is difficult to tell them this is simply forbidden. Of course this is highly less-than-ideal, and the question is whether there is any advice regarding minimizing the prohibition, and also, so as not to instruct people getting stronger in Torah and mitzvot an impossible instruction which they would certainly not keep – that they must remain in their apartment all Shabbat, and every Shabbat.”


The solution is to invent a way in which the elevator is operated by gramma (something that was indirectly caused by something else but which outcome is not guaranteed), in other words, under two conditions: 1) a change of operation, 2) delay the operation for at least a quarter of a minute. This requires a technician to invent such a mechanism. Possibly, such a mechanism already exists, and I am not aware of it.

In a sha’at dachak (time of distress), when known that a Jew is not willing to walk up or down the stairs, he should be instructed to reduce the prohibition by using a shinuy (an unconventional method of performing an act), thereby reducing the prohibition from a Torah prohibition, to a d’Rabanan (rabbinical) prohibition. And according to the poskim who are of the opinion that electricity is only a d’Rabanan prohibition, it turns the prohibition into ‘shvut di-shvut’ (shvut can be thought of as half a Torah prohibition, and a shvut di-shvut as a quarter of a Torah prohibition, since it is prohibited only by combining two rabbinic safeguards). Although shvut di-shvut generally is permitted for a great need or for the purpose of a mitzvah, nevertheless, this provision is only for those known to be unable to walk up and down by foot, because the heter (halachic permit) of shvut di-shvut is a one-time heter, and Shabbat should not be based on such heters (see, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 9:9; 17:2).

Rabbi Charlap on Baseless Hatred and Israel’s Redemption

In the wake of the anniversary of the death of the close and trusted disciple of Rabbi Kook, Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz HaRav, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap ztz”l (7 Kislev 1951), I will mention an important idea he wrote:

“The sin of Sinat Chinam (baseless hate) is founded mainly on the accursed hatred, contagious in the human brain, to hate the service of Hashem of a fellow Jew, and to love only his own path, without penetrating into the inner essence of every method and approach. However, the essence of Israel’s redemption depends primarily on accepting all methods and avenues, to refine and purify them by means of interpersonal refinement, and thus bring them to tikun (rectification). Most of all, this service is placed on the shoulders of those righteous who feel deeply empowered for such service”(Mei Merom 19, Razi Li, p. 41).

The Mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem

With the grace of God, I am currently engaged in writing an additional volume in the series of “Peninei Halakha” on faith and polytheism, including the laws of avodah zara (idolatry) and the mitzvah to surrender one’s life so as not to commit the sin of idolatry. As is my custom, I will share with my readers the fruits of my study.

It is a mitzvah for every Jew to sanctify the great and awesome Name of God, and to refrain from desecrating Him, and when necessary, even to surrender one’s life for Kiddushat Hashem, as the Torah says:

“Be careful regarding My commandments and keep them; I am God. Do not desecrate My holy name. I must be sanctified among the Israelites. I am God and I am making you holy and bringing you out to Egypt to be your God. I am God” (Leviticus 22:31-33).
Our Sages said (Sifra, ibid):

“It was on condition that I brought you out of the land of Egypt; on condition that you give yourselves over to sanctify my name.”

Thus, even though the commandments of the Torah were given so that we might live by them, and consequently, pikuach nefesh (saving a life) overrides the mitzvot as written:

“Keep My decrees and laws, since it is only by keeping them that a person can truly live by them” (Leviticus 18:5), and our Sages in the Talmud said – “’live by them’ – and not that one should die by them” (Yoma 85b).

However, concerning Kiddush Hashem and the prevention of its desecration – in its most severe degree, yehareg ve’al ya’avor (“let him be killed rather than transgress”).

Usually, Kiddush Hashem takes place in routine life, by walking in the ways of God, in moral conduct, in derech eretz that preceded the Torah, in carefulness not to transgress, and observance of mitzvot with devotion and joy. Conversely, when a person behaves immorally and transgresses the words of the Torah, he is desecrating Shem Hashem (the name of God). Occasionally, however, in difficult and dreadful times, when committing a transgression involves a terrible Chilul Hashem (desecration of the name of God), the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem requires one to give up his life.

Three Levels of the Obligation to Surrender One’s Life

1) When a Jew is forced to commit one of the three severe sins – avodah zara (worship of other gods), gilui arayot (forbidden sexual relations), or shficut damim (spilling blood) under threat that if he does not transgress, he will be killed – one must sacrifice his life and not transgress.

2) In other sins in the Torah, if the coercion is to nullify one’s faith in public – one must sacrifice his life and not transgress. If the coercion is for the personal benefit of the coercer, or to nullify one’s faith, but not in public, i.e., not in front of ten Jews – he should violate the mitzvah rather than be killed.

3) In times of shmad (harsh decrees), i.e., when decrees are issued against Jews in order to nullify their faith – even when not in public, a person must sacrifice his life rather than transgress any of the other mitzvot of the Torah.

The Three Severe Sins

It is a mitzvah for a Jew forced to worship other gods under the threat of death, to sanctify God’s Name and be killed, and not transgress, as the Torah says:

“Do not desecrate My holy name. I must be sanctified among the Israelites. I am God and I am making you holy” (Leviticus 22:32), and “Love God your Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Regarding this, our Sages said (Mishnah Berachot 9: 5):

“With all your might” – that one must allow himself to be killed rather than worship an idol” (Sanhedrin 74a).

Our Sages said that also in gilui arayot and shficut damim, the law is the same as in avodah zara. In other words, if a person is required to kill his friend under the threat of being put to death – one must sacrifice his life and not transgress, for it is inconceivable that a person would save himself by murdering his friend. Is his blood is redder than his friend’s blood?! The heter to violate the commandments of the Torah because of pikuach nefesh itself, is learned from the verse “and live by them,” and is intended to add life, and not for a person to murder his friend in order to save himself.

The law of shficut damim is the same as that of gilui arayot, as the Torah says:

“This [rape] is no different from the case where a man rises up against his neighbor and murders him” (Deuteronomy 22:26).

Consequently, even if a man is forced to rape a woman who is forbidden to him because of gilui arayot, or if a man is forced to sodomize his friend, and if he does not fulfill their decree, they will kill him – one must sacrifice his life and not transgress (Sanhedrin 74a; Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 5: 2; S.A.,Y.D. 157:1).

The Difference between the Three Sins

Although concerning the three severe sins a person must sacrifice his life and not transgress and if he transgresses desecrates Hashem, and a person who does not transgress and is killed, sanctifies Hashem, nevertheless, there is a certain difference in the severity between them. In avodah zara, the seriousness of the sin is in the betrayal of the belief in the Oneness of God, and in the vision of Tikun Olam (rectification of the world), while in shficut damim and gilui arayot, the primary severity of the sin is in its’ fatal blow to others. And this is not subject to the consent of one’s friend, for even if the murdered person agrees to be murdered, or the other party agrees to gilui arayot, it is forbidden to murder or sin in forbidden sexual relations, for despite one’s consent, someone who murders or sins in gilui arayot, in effect, deals a fatal blow to the image of God within him. However, if a person is forced to lie with an animal, even though the severity of the prohibition is similar to that of gilui arayot, since there is no harm to another human being, one must transgress, and not be killed.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

כתבות נוספות באתר:

The Laws of the Nine Days

Building houses is permitted during the Nine Days, but renovations intended for decoration or luxury are prohibited * The prohibition of drinking

The Controversy over Rabbi Feinstein

In the 1960’s, many rabbis of Haredi Judaism ignited controversy against Rabbi Feinstein over his artificial insemination heter, and even defamed him

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