Hair pulling on Shabbat
I have a disorder called Trichotillomania. Many weeks I find myself pulling out my hair on Shabbos but I cannot control the urges. I have guilt over this constant violation of halacha. Your insight and advice would be appreciated.
The Torah requires one to do whatever they can to perform mitzvos and stay away from aveiros. So you should and surely are doing what you can to heal yourself of this disorder in general. In addition to do what you can to avoid Chillul Shabbos even while you are still suffering from this disorder, such as making reminders and signs or asking others to point it out to stop you.
Beyond this you are considered an “ones” doing something totally out of your control. This is not considered an aveirah, it is the yetzer hara which tries to convince people to feel guilt and shame when it is misplaced.
(Responsa Minchat Asher, Vol. 2, #134)
A great Torah scholar who fears Heaven suffers from a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Most of the time he is unable to recite a blessing or to recite the Shema according to Halachah. Sometimes he tries for a long time to say the name of the Lord (Hashem) properly, but without success. This causes him great distress.
In the view of the physicians with expertise in this area, the treatment for this is that he should never repeat what he says or prays, and if he is not successful the first time to enunciate the blessing or the prayer properly, he should not try it any additional times. In this way, the physicians hope to extricate him from his predicament and lessen his distress.
This Torah scholar asks: when it is clear as day to him that he did not pronounce the name of Hashem properly, and that he did not fulfill his obligation in reciting a blessing, is he permitted to eat? And, if you rule that he is permitted to do so, should he forego eating bread so that he should not be obligated to recite Grace after Meals (Birkat Hamazon)? In any case, should he not eat to satiation so that he not have a biblical obligation to recite Birkat Hamazon?
The Halachah for this seems to be that the first obligation of this man is to do all that is necessary in order to find a remedy and be healed of his illness. In order to do that, it is permissible for him to violate Torah mitzvot, for one or two reasons:
- I have already explained elsewhere that a person is allowed to nullify a positive mitzvah so that he not become bedridden and ill, for if he is exempt from spending a lot of money for the mitzvot, the same applies that he is not obligated to become ill, for his money should not be dearer to him than his body. Since, in our case, we refer to the nullification of positive mitzvot and not the violation of a negative mitzvah, it seems to me that he is allowed to nullify a mitzvah in order to be healed from his illness, if there is no other way. Because, just as he is allowed to nullify a mitzvah in order not to become ill, the same law applies in order for him to be healed from his illness.
Although the Sages said (Tractate Berachot 35a) that it is forbidden to enjoy anything in this world without reciting a blessing, in other words it seems a prohibition is involved, I have already explained elsewhere (Minchat Asher, Deuteronomy #15) that the fundamental principle is according to the view of Rashi, that, in truth, this only involves the nullification of a positive mitzvah.
- Even if we say that it is prohibited to violate a prohibition in order to be healed, our case is different in that if he is not healed and his problem is not resolved, he will nullify these mitzvot forever. And for these kinds of things we say: it is better that he desecrate one Shabbat rather than desecrating many Shabbatot.
This fundamental principle I learned from Responsa Chatam Sofer (Orach Chayim #83, s.v. nachzor le’inyaneinu) who wrote about a child that the Halachah treats him like a shoteh (mentally deranged). Is it permissible to admit him to an institution where he will be treated and there is a chance that he may be healed and no longer viewed as a shoteh and he will then be obligated in mitzvot, but in this institution they serve forbidden [non-kosher] foods. Is it permitted to admit him to this institution? Chatam Sofer writes that if doing so gives him a chance of being healed, even if one says that he would be viewed as actively being fed [non-kosher food], which is prohibited in the Torah, nevertheless, it is permissible because could it be that we must leave him to remain a shoteh and therefore exempt from mitzvot?
Chatam Sofer concludes this hypothesis from what we find about a person in the desert who does not know which day is Shabbat, and is forbidden to do any Shabbat-prohibited act except what he needs to survive. But they did not restrict him to walk no more than the techum [i.e. 2000 cubits from the edge of the city, which is permitted to walk on Shabbat in any direction], since he has to do whatever he can to exit the desert and to reach a civilized place in order to fulfill the mitzvot of Shabbat properly, in accordance with Halachah.
It is clear that one must differentiate between a doubt and a certainty. It is possible that only the person walking in the desert involves a possible sin [of Shabbat desecration], as compared to not directly feeding [non-kosher food to the child in the institution]. It is clear that the intent of Chatam Sofer is only to cite a source and a support for that which is clear to him that a person is allowed to violate a prohibition in order to save himself from a situation in which he is forced to violate this prohibition many times over. Therefore, he is permitted to violate the prohibition of techum in order to get out of the desert so that he can observe Shabbat in accordance with Halachah. So, too, it is permitted for the child to be fed forbidden foods in order to heal him so that he can become obligated to perform mitzvot. (See Responsa Minchat Asher, Vol. 2, #47, what is written about the words of Chatam Sofer.)
So, too, I believe in our case that it is permitted for this dear man to nullify blessings and the recitation of Shema in order to be healed [from his OCD] so that he will be able to fulfill these mitzvot in accordance with the Halachah.
The basis of this view is that this case resembles what our Sages said (Tractate Yoma 85b): “Desecrate one Shabbat for him so that he will be able to observe many Shabbatot in the future”. And if we do not permit him to nullify these mitzvot even for now, then forever he will not be healed, and it results in his nullifying these mitzvot all the time, with a broken heart and with mental anguish. For all such cases, this is the proper way and may that path be lit.
I have looked closely at what our Sages said (Tractate Nazir 23b) that “Great is a sin done for the sake of G-d (lishmah)”. They learned this from the fact that the Bible praises Yael, the wife of Chever the Kenite, although they did not rule that as Halachah. In any event, we find in the words of the poskim (Bach, Choshen Mishpat #256) that cited this statement even as Halachah, but clear parameters for this have not been established, for it is simple that it is absolutely prohibited to transgress and sin even if his intent is for the good. Good intentions cannot permit the prohibited or purify the impure.
It seems to me that this general rule was said when it is impossible [any other way]. Because Yael, the wife of Chever the Kenite, gave herself over to a prohibition in order to save the nation of Israel, and it is clear that another way was impossible, for she could not allow every Jew to die. And from her we learn that if it is logical and completely clear that it is impossible to just sit and do nothing, therefore an action is needed. All similar cases, even if there is no clear permissive ruling from the principle of “a positive precept sets aside a negative precept”, in any event, great is a sin done for the sake of G-d. So, too, seems to be our case.
And I was very happy when I saw what the author of Kehillot Yaakov wrote, exactly about our question, in Sefer Karyana De’igarta (Iggeret #373) on this topic:
“I advised him that he should pray from a prayer book (siddur), and what he has already prayed he should not repeat under any circumstances, even if it appears to him that he clearly did not pray properly or he skipped words. It is clear that according to Halachah he is no longer obligated but it is impossible to explain this matter to a person whose nerves are stretched about this topic. Therefore, one needs to tell him decisively and without giving a reason, perhaps one only needs to explain to him that there is no biblical concern here. And it is difficult for me to write at length about this topic but only to advise him that whatever he has already passed he should not repeat a second time.”
The end of the story is that this young man was healed in a short time and at the moment he is serving in a prominent position.
So our words represent the basis of the Halachah and explanations of the matter, as seen above. Hopefully, we will also be able to quickly inform regarding our case, as well, that with the help of Hashem he merited a complete recovery.
Regarding what you asked about him foregoing eating bread to satiation so that he should not be obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon from the Torah:
It seems to me that he need not be concerned about that at all, and for the reason we already explained above. Because that is the nature and essence of that illness, that the person constantly tortures himself with anxiety, that he did not do that which he should have done, and did not fulfill his obligation in any matter. Only when he overcomes his anxieties and can free himself from them will he find a remedy for his disorder. If he was instructed not to eat bread to satiation, he will find one thousand additional questions. For example, perhaps it is preferable to eat within the time limit less than the measure necessary to require reciting any blessing after food; perhaps he should eat his entire meal in a different than normal manner so as not to require a blessing before eating; perhaps he should not sleep a regular sleep (shenat keva) so as to be exempt from the blessings of the Torah; and so on, an endless list of various and different questions on any and all issues, and there would be no end to it.
Therefore, it seems clear that in practice he should act the same as everyone else, and in the normal way of the world, and make only one effort to perform his mitzvot, as explained above.
Indeed, one needs to analyze how he can help the members of his household fulfill their obligation of Kiddush of Shabbat or Festival if he cannot articulate the name of Hashem as required by Halachah. Even if we found for him a permissive ruling for himself, what should the members of his household do if they did not hear the Kiddush in accordance with the Halachah?
In truth, it seems to me that it is proper for his wife to recite the Kiddush in his home, to allow him thereby to fulfill his obligation. If there are grownup sons in the house, they can recite the Kiddush and thereby have all the members of the household fulfill their obligation.
If there are guests in the house, he has to overcome his shame and to ask them to recite the Kiddush and thereby have him and the members of his household fulfill their obligation, because of the difficulty he has. Just as a man is not ashamed of physical disabilities with which he is afflicted, so, too, there is no reason for him to be ashamed of this limitation, because there is no difference between it and other illnesses.