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Sunday, 14 June 2015

Just don't make a habit of it

Daf Yomi Nedarim 20
Recently, I was asked the following shayla (halachic query): Firstly, Rabbi, I’ve just booked a vacation with a timeshare company.  You know the drill, you agree to take a tour of the property in exchange for the free vacation.  We have absolutely no intention of buying, no matter what they say.  Are we guilty of geneivas daas (deception, a form of theft)?   Secondly, Rabbi, I just want to get your opinion on how hard the sell is.  They won’t trick us into buying, will they?

The answer to the first part of the question is straightforward, I told the inquirer.  It’s not geneivas daas, because nobody ever intends to purchase a timeshare.  The salespeople are fully aware of that and are still willing to take that chance because they know that statistically it will be worth their time and effort – somebody will buy that day.   The answer to the second question, however, was more complicated.

You should never make a habit of taking vows of abstinence because you will eventually come to break your word.   And you should not make a habit of visiting an unlearned home because they will eventually come to serve you untithed foods.   And you should not make a habit of visiting the home of an unlearned cohen because he will eventually come to accidentally serve you priestly tithes.  And you should not converse too much with the woman, because you will eventually come to infidelity.

In all these cases, the Gemara does not say that one may never engage in the activities.  Rather, one should not make a habit of the activities, because of where they eventually lead.   If you feel the need to take a vow of abstinence, Ethics of the Fathers encourages you to do so, because it will protect you from misbehaviour.  But don’t make a habit of it, because eventually you won’t be able to keep to all the vows you’ve made and you will inevitably break your word.

Likewise, the Gemara doesn’t say: don’t ever accept a Shabbos lunch invitation from someone less learned or pious than yourself.  Of course you should.  When you do, you will see that they will be honoured and put out their finest Chinette, knowing that you have stricter standards than they.  But if you start to make a habit of it, after a while you will both let down your guard and they may begin serving you food that is not quite to your standard of kashrut.

Similarly, when it comes to chatting with members of the opposite sex, the Gemara does not say that you must not do so.   It certainly doesn’t say that when you chat with them, you mustn’t look them straight in the eye!   You must treat every human being with the utmost respect and give every person the time of day, regardless of their gender.  But don’t make a habit of conversing with ‘the’ woman – in other words, if it’s the same person that you’re chatting with regularly, that may lead down the wrong path, G-d forbid.

Many activities are okay – nay, proper – when you do them on occasion.  But some things you must not make a habit of.  Regarding the timeshare, I informed the questioner that it’s a little like gambling:  nobody becomes an addict the first time they play.  Not even the second or third time.  But once you start going on a regular basis, you can ‘bet your bottom dollar’ you’ll be hooked in no time.  Gambling is not halachically problematic, but someone who makes a habit of it is disqualified from serving as a witness.  Timeshare presentations do not pose any halachic issues whatsoever, but go enough times and eventually you’ll let your guard down, I told him. 

You shouldn’t get into the habit of engaging in activities that could lead down the wrong path in life.  But that doesn’t mean you should ‘swear’ off them completely.  May you grant every situation in life due consideration, act with measure and never get so caught up in your behaviour that you’ve lost control and gone too far!  

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