A Hasty Stride

In a number of places, the Talmud warns us against walking with a “broad stride” (p’si’a gasa). For example, in Berakhot 43a we learn that a broad stride, or an excessively erect posture (koma zekufa) are inappropriate for a Torah scholar. It also adds that such a stride “deprives him of one in 500 of the light of his eyes”.But this can be rectified by making kiddush on Shabbat eve.

On Taanit 10 we learn that Yaakov warned his sons that they shouldn’t enter Egypt with a broad stride for the same reason. And on Shabbat 113, the gemara states that a broad stride is one of the things forbidden on Shabbat by the mandate to differentiate our Shabbat going from that on weekdays; the gemara then comments that even on weekdays such a gait is forbidden.

Rav Kook explains this directive based on a fundamental ethical conundrum, which is also a common theme in his thought: the appropriate relationship between ends and means. We often phrase the issue as a dichotomy: Do the ends justify the means? Rav Kook presents the contrast more subtly, as a continuum. People make varying distinctions between ends and means; the higher a person’s spiritual level, the less he will distinguish between the two. “When a person is imperfect in his intellect and his personal qualities, and his spirit has insufficient appreciation of Hashem, his spirit will conceive a great distance between means and ends.”

By this approach, Rav Kook explains all the nuances in the various passages regarding p’si’a gasa. The ultimate goal of an individual is to attain equanimity and peace in his soul; thus, it is appropriate that all of the means he employs in his development should also be undertaken in a measured and tranquil demeanor. Thus, haste is inherently a negative character trait.

Yet the gemara in Berakhot refers specifically to a Talmid Chakham. Rav Kook already pointed out that a simple person has a lower conception of the relationship between ends and means than an elevated person; he views them as quite separate. Rav Kook adds that a simple person also has different goals than the scholar; usually he is not even focused on spiritual perfection, but rather on various material pursuits. Given that a common person has ends which are in themselves less than ideal, it is not really so terrible if he pursues them with means that are incompatible. “Reckless pursuit of spiritual harmony” is a contradictory, not so reckless pursuit of money or enjoyment.

Just as the ultimate end of an individual is to attain inner peace, so the ultimate goal of the world is a state of perfect harmony. Shabbat is meant to be a harbinger of this ultimate perfection, “a taste of the world to come”. Thus, someone who has a tendency to excessive haste can find rectification by bringing in the Shabbat day appropriately, for this is another way of distancing ourselves from haste and focusing on the ultimate goal. So making Kiddush on Shabbat eve is a rectification for this character trait.

We can add that the harmony between means and ends is also a central message of Shabbat. The idea is that we attain the final redemption partially by experiencing it. We have explained in the past that constantly advancing the material progress of the world is not enough to bring the redemption; we need to demonstrate that we believe that this process has an end. This is done by occasionally resting; a person who knows that he will certainly attain his destination will feel at ease to rest at times; he knows that this will not prevent him from reaching his goal. This is one way in which Shabbat is a sign; it demonstrates our faith that the work of perfecting the world is finite and achievable. So it is appropriate that on Shabbat a broad stride is forbidden altogether, even for someone who is not a Torah scholar.

Rabbi Meir’s book Meaning in Mitzvot is now available as an e-book through Amazon, ibooks, Google Play and B&N.