Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - In All Places
A Simple Jew asks:
Upon hearing his question, I immediately thought about this story regarding the Shapira brothers sitting in a prison cell next unable to daven since they were sitting next to pail full of human waste.
"Why can't Hashem go into our bathroom?", my three year-old asked me as I tucked him into bed.
He was obviously thinking about why I stopped him from saying brochos and singing other tefillos while sitting in the bathtub earlier that night. At that time, I explained to him that we don't say brochos or say Hashem's name in the bathroom because there is a toilet in this room and it is not a clean place. Obviously he misconstrued my explanation to mean that Hashem was prevented from entering a bathroom.
While Halacha instructs us not to even think about Hashem or His Torah in a bathroom, if "Hashem is truly everywhere" as Uncle Moishy sings, is He still present but heavily concealed in a bathroom, brothel, or a place of idolatry?
Dixie Yid answers:
I brought your question to my Rebbe and, as a starting point, he immediately pointed me to a teshuva (responsa) in Lev Avraham #23, by R. Avraham Weinfeld. He adressed the question of whether the six constant mitzvos are really constant or not. (The six constant mitzvos are 1) To believe in Hashem. 2) To not believe in anything else other than Hashem 3) To believe in Hashem's Oneness 4) To fear Hashem 5) To love Hashem and 6) Not to pursue the passions of your heart and stray after your eyes) Do we have to think about these six things all of the time literally? Or is it that any time we think of them, that it is a mitzvah. And are they really constant? Isn't it asur, prohibited, to think about Torah in the bathroom? If we are not allowed to think about Hashem's existance, or love or fear of Hashem in the bathroom, then in what sense are they really "constant," "temidios?"
He said that for many reasons, he holds that it is not merely permissible to think about Hashem (or any one of the 6 constant mitzvos) in the bathroom or some other unclean place, but that "we have no right to exempt ourselves from them, even in a place where it is forbidden to think words of Torah!"
First, he proved that the six constant mitzvos are not constant obligations. A person is only capable of thinking one thought at a time. If one had to think about these six things all of the time, then it would be impossible to think about more than one of them at a time, much less about any other mitzva, like limud haTorah, which requires great concentration. Rather, he says, these six constant mitzvos apply at every single second, and there is not even one moment in which they do not apply. Anytime a person thinks about them, he does a mitzvah, but he does not have an active obligation to think about all six at every moment, which would be impossible.
He told the story brought by Rav Isaac of Acco (1250-1340), the author of the "Divrei Chaim" in the sefer "Otzar Chaim." He told over that his Rav was sitting in a Din Torah, a Rabbinic court case, with two other Rabbonim, which the sides had chosen. While they were intently analyzing the Torah's law, with a Choshen Mishpat open on the table, one of the two other Rabbonim at the table, all of a sudden, became very excited and called out, "Master of the world! The One, Only and Unified!" And the Divrei Chaim's Rebbe rebuked the Rav. When one is toiling in Torah, he must spend all of his attention on the deep analysis in the Shulchan Aruch and Ketzos Hachosehen. Rav Weinfeld gathered from this story that one must certainly not be obligated to actively think about Hashem's existance at every moment.
However, as Rav Chaim Volozhiner wrote in Nefesh Hachaim (Shaar 4 perek 7), that before one begins learning, he should focus his mind by thinking for a short period of time about his creator. And that every in the middle of learning, a small interuption is permitted so that a person can prevent all Yiras Hashem from being forgotten, due to his concentration in learning Torah. I posted an article recently by Rabbi Boruch Leff on this topic, as it relates to implementing the teachings of the sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, while learning.
Not only that, he says that according to many opinions, even the isur, prohibition, of learning Torah in the bathroom is rabbinic, not biblical. He brings down the machlokes, dispute, in the Yerushalmi (Brachos 3:4): "מהו להרהר בבית הכסא חזקיה אמר מותר ר' יסא אמר אסור א"ר זעירא כל סבר קשי דהוה לי תמן סבירתיה א"ר אלעזר בר שמעון כל ההוא סברא קשיא דטבול יום תמן סבירתיה." "May one think [words of Torah] in a bathroom? Chizkia says it is permissible. Rav Asa says it is forbidden. Rav Zeira says that any svara (logical explanation) that I can't understand, there [in the bathroom] I understand it. And so too, Rebbe Elazar b'Reb Shimon said that any svara regarding T'vul Yom that he couldn't understand, there [in the bathroom] he understood it." Rav Weinfeld clarifies that it goes without saying that these Amoraim kept the prohibition of not learning Torah in the bathroom on purpose, regardless of whether the prohibition is rabbinic or biblical, but that these chiddushim (novella) in Torah came to them accidently. Since they were so immersed in Torah, it was literally impossible to stop "thinking in learning" for them, and so they were exempt for that reason.
Nonetheless, we can see from this teshuva, that not only is Hashem equally present even in unclean places, but one can and should think about His existance, unity and love even in those places. Although we don't think about Torah or say divrei Torah in the bathroom because it is forbidden as a show of respect and kavod, thinking about Hashem's existance and presence is not only permitted, it is a mitzvah, in fulfillment of one of the six constant mitzvos.
Note: There are diverging opinions on this issue and individuals should consult their own competent rabinic authority before relying on this psak.