There is a legal principle that you learn in law school called: de minimis. It’s a shorthand of de minimis non curat lex. Translated, it means, “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” Essentially, the concept is that there are certain things so minor as to not be worth the time of the law/court.
Can we say the same thing about God?
The thought came up this morning when I was having a conversation about the train schedule home, and someone relayed a horror story about a friend of his having been stuck on a train when shabbat was about to start, who got off somewhere in Queens, and walked home.
I wondered aloud, not to be cheeky but with genuine curiosity, if there would be anything wrong (aside from marat ayin) in staying on the train, having already paid the fare, until it reached your destination, and walking home from there? Nobody in my group had the requisite halachic training or authority to make a psak on the matter, so it was basically academic.
The main comparison was to an elevator. There are those that have a problem with a Ma’alit Shabbat, because even though the elevator will run on its own, and there is no need to interact with it in any way, the added weight of the new passenger will cause the elevator to “work harder.” Therefore, there is some cause and effect, and the rider would be mechalel shabbat. (Note, I don’t particularly like this theory, and I follow those that hold from a Ma’alit Shabbat, but for the purposes of this writing, let’s assume that’s correct.) The question was, then, could the same be said about the train? Aside from the fact that the rider was already aboard the train when shabbat entered, and it would therefore be working no harder than it was before shabbat (due to his presense), even if that were still a problem (as his presence would be enough, regardless of when he boarded), would it really be a problem? In a train of that size and weight, would the extra weight from that one person really cause the train to work harder? We decided, probably not.
But then I got to thinking (and writing). Almost certainly, if there was a difference, it would be imperceptible to humans. There could be no way of actually knowing or measuring the net effect of that one person’s presence on the train. But such limitations do not apply to God. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and his judgement is perfect. God knows exactly, to the smallest unit of energy, exactly what the train expended with you on it, and what it would have expended with you off it (everything else being equal). And if there is even the slightest deviation from one to the other, God would know it. And if, as we assumed for the purposes of this argument, such was the deciding factor between chillul shabbat and not, then in God’s perfect judgment, the person who stays on the train would be mechalel shabbat.
Is that really the case? “Lex” not withstanding, does God concern himself with trifles? Does God, would God, really hold such a thing against a person?