The Music of Halacha-Bishul-A Matter of Time

Jan 13th, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Music of Halacha
We began our discussion of the laws of cooking on Shabbat in, “Cooking With the Miraculous.”

When we speak of the miraculous we are speaking of that which is otherworldly. When we speak of the otherworldly we not only speak of that which we cannot understand or explain, we are also speaking of that which is not directly in front of us but something for which we must wait. We wait for our reward in the World to Come. We wait for the Redemption. There is quite a bit of waiting in our spiritual lives. I am currently experiencing a powerful lesson in the role of waving in a more immediate sense:

Those of you who read The Foundation Stone Newsletter, know from “As A Parent,” and, “Debate Performance,” that I write these words as my mother is currently in the world of Waiting. She lies between this world and the next, between life and death. In it is not only she who is in this world of Waiting; her entire family, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the countless people she has helped and guided for so many years, are also stuck in this world of Waiting. We are waiting to see what happens next. I am not handling the world of Waiting very well. I’m having trouble writing, thinking, and planning. This heterotelic transivity of Waiting, although seemingly disconnected from the Shabbat laws as described in, “Consciousness, Intention and Purpose,” “What’s Your Purpose?” and, “Purpose Driven Action,” added its viscidity when we considered, “Probable Consequences.” Although the laws of Shabbat are very purpose oriented, perhaps it is even fair to say Tangible Purpose, “Cooking with the Miraculous,” has introduced us to the world of Purpose For Which We Must Wait.

The Biblical prohibition of Bishul, is defined as “causing a change in the properties of a food or substance by use of heat (Rambam, Laws of Shabbat 9:6).” These laws do not only apply to cooking a raw food until it becomes edible, they also apply to any action that brings about a change in non-foods as well. Heating wax until it melts, or causing metal to become red-hot, are included in this category (Rambam). Heating a soft or pliable substance to cause it to harden is also considered Bishul. This is why we may not place bread near the covered stove with the intention of toasting it (Shevitat Shabbat, Bishul #92; Sho’eil U’Meishiv II:20).

The aspect of Bishul that most concerns our discussion is that unlike most of the other categories of prohibited creative work, it is a slow process that takes time to complete. We are culpable for violating this law only upon completion of process the cooking (Shabbat 3b). Because Bishul takes time to complete, it follows that if one places a pot of raw food on the flame, he can still avoid the transgression by removing the pot before it finishes cooking. He is required to do so (Rambam 9:5).

We now have one of the 39 major categories of prohibited work that addresses our issue of Waiting: there is a period of time between the prohibited action and the fulfillment of its purpose which will retroactively make us liable for an earlier action. As far as the Biblical law is concerned, the moment I place a raw food on the stove to cook, I am in a state of Waiting. The action is only triggered when the purpose is achieved.

Let’s consider this idea in the context of the Primal Shabbat. God created the world. Each Utterance of Creation resulted in the immediate appearance of its expression. However, we do not speak of the Creation only in terms of its immediate expression, but , primarily in terms of its purpose, its Ultimate Purpose, which was initially achieved with the creation of Adam, the purpose of the rest of the creation (The Way of God, 1:2:4–5). This would mean that although all the creations had physically appeared, they were all in a state of Waiting until Adam appeared. “These are the products of the heaven and the earth when they were created in the day that God, the Lord, made earth and heaven; all the trees of the field were not yet on the earth and all the herb of the field had not yet sprouted, for God, the Lord, had not sent rain upon the earth and [because–Rashi] there was no man to work the soil (Genesis 2: 4–5).”

However, the world was still not considered complete even with the Creation/Formation of Adam: “And the Lord completed His work which He had done, on the Seventh day (2:2).” The world was not complete until the Creation of Shabbat. This is why we speak of Shabbat as a “Taste of the World to Come,” for just as the world was not complete until the primal Shabbat, the world is not complete, meaning, its Ultimate Purpose has not been achieved until the World to Come. All of creation is in a state of Waiting!

I find it interesting that the Sages compare the formation of Adam’s body as “baking,” when they speak of Adam as the Challah of creation. The laws of Bishul take us back to the beginning of creation, to the first appearance of Adam, and to the Primal Shabbat. The laws of Bishul remind us that we constantly exist in this World of Waiting: a world in which we wait for the fulfillment of purpose.

We must therefore study the precise point at which Bishul is “finished,” as addressed in the laws of “Ma’achal ben D’rusai, Mevushal kol Tzarcho, and Mitztamek.

Author Info:
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