Our last two installments have dealt with the Gemara’s account (Beitza 16a) of Shammai’s practice to designate for Shabbat any high-quality product that he happened to come across during the week. As we saw, Rashi (based on the Mekhilta) explains the command to “remember the day of Shabbat” (Shemot 20:7) to mean that we should “remember” Shabbat during the week by following Shammai’s practice – earmarking for Shabbat exceptionally high-quality products that we find available for purchase. However, the Gemara tells that Hillel acted differently, enjoying the high-quality products he chanced upon and trusting that God would provide another in time for Shabbat. Yesterday, we noted the theory advanced by the Or Zaru’a that Hillel did not actually dispute Shammai’s position, but acted differently due to his unique level of faith and trust in God. The Or Zaru’a draws proof from the story told in Masekhet Shabbat (119a) of a butcher who was rewarded because anytime he saw an especially choice animal, he designated its meat for Shabbat – indicating that Shammai’s practice was accepted.
The Korban Netanel commentary to the Rosh (Beitza 2:4) challenges the Or Zaru’a’s position, and refutes the proof drawn from the story told in Masekhet Shabbat. That man’s situation, the Korban Netanel argued, differed from that of most people, in that he operated a butcher shop, presumably serving his entire community, including the poor. This butcher performed a special mitzva by ensuring that the underprivileged would have access to especially high-quality meat for Shabbat – not by reserving the high-quality animals for his own Shabbat meals. Therefore, the Korban Netanel contended, this story does not prove that every individual should follow Shammai’s practice of reserving for Shabbat every high-quality product he comes across. This should be done only by those like this individual, who provided goods for the needy residents of his community. (We might add that the Korban Netanel’s reading explains why this man was deemed worthy of special reward. If he was simply following Shammai’s practice because this is the view accepted by Halakha, there seemingly should be no reason for him to deserve a unique blessing of wealth. According to the Korban Netanel, however, he was not halakhically required to earmark high-quality animals for Shabbat, but he nevertheless did so out of concern for the needy townspeople who might otherwise have been unable to obtain quality meat for Shabbat.)
The Sefat Emet (in Masekhet Beitza) dismisses the Korban Netanel’s contention, rejecting his refutation of the Or Zaru’a’s proof. According to the Korban Netanel, a distinction exists between one’s own preparations for Shabbat, and one’s efforts to assist the poor prepare for Shabbat. When it comes to one’s personal preparations, the Korban Netanel follows Hillel’s view, that one should enjoy in the present the high-quality products he can obtain, and trust that more will be available in time for Shabbat. But when one seeks to supply goods for the poor, like the butcher in the story told by the Gemara, it is proper to reserve the high-quality goods for distribution to the poor before Shabbat. The Sefat Emet argues that if one should trust that God will provide high-quality products for his own Shabbat enjoyment, then he should likewise trust – and perhaps even more so – in God’s providing high-quality products to distribute to the poor before Shabbat. There appears to be no reason to distinguish between the level of trust in God required by Hillel with regard to one’s own enjoyment of Shabbat, and the level of trust that should be required when looking to assure that the underprivileged would be able to enjoy Shabbat. Therefore, if the butcher reserved high-quality animals for Shabbat to ensure that the poor would have access to quality meat on Shabbat, this must prove that Halakha has accepted Shammai’s position, such that even with regard to one’s own Shabbat enjoyment, he should reserve high-quality products for Shabbat, rather than trust that others would become available.