Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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22 Adar II 5760 - March 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







"Indirect" Chilul Shabbos

By Rabbis Yisroel Friedman and A. Chefetz

There has been an attempt to market to the general community a motorized scooter for use on Shabbos which was produced some time ago under the supervision of Machon Tsomet, a halachic research institute based in Alon Shvut under the direction of Rabbi Rosen. This scooter is marketed as being usable on Shabbos by many people because its operation incorporates the well-known gromo principle (i.e. indirect activation of the prohibited actions). This approach has been used in the past in halachic contexts, but this was a definite attempt to broaden its application to go well beyond the previous uses.

The initiative was brought before HaRav Eliashiv, whose verdict was that the use of such a machine is unequivocally forbidden on Shabbos, according to Torah law. HaRav Eliashiv ruled that any device that is made to begin with in a way that functions on the basis of gromo, is considered as doing regular, direct activity. The details of HaRav Eliashiv's response (which are the authoritative source and should be consulted; the summary review that appears here should not be relied upon for practical rulings) appeared in the work Shevus Yitzchok, which was published more than a year and a half ago.

We present here a digest of halachic opinion from gedolei Yisroel on this and other similar shailos, together with a review of some of the strong ideological reservations about this and kindred attempts to enhance the pleasure of Shabbos by such methods.

Opening Up a Closed Question

"In my opinion," writes HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt'l (in his in letter of approbation to HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l's sefer, Me'orei Eish, which considers the halachic nature of electrical circuits and their use on Shabbos), "it is not worth opening a literary debate on this topic, thereby raising doubts. However, since the question has already been aired, he has done well in clarifying the subject from every angle."

The present topic too -- the development of devices for Shabbos use that work on the basis of gromo -- ought not to have become the subject of a new debate, and certainly, the possibility of using them ought not even be entertained by bnei Torah. However, since the fence of non acceptability has already been breached by a manufacturer, who began an advertising campaign in several Jewish publications for a special "Shabbos scooter" said to have been produced under the auspices of Machon Tsomet, the discussion has already been opened and it is therefore in order to review various aspects of this sensitive topic. The scooter idea was publicized at the same time as Machon Tsomet's "innovation" for enabling Bank Mizrachi to have their Caspomat machines operate on Shabbos (for nonreligious, but Jewish, customers).

Hitherto, consideration of using gromo devices has been confined to treatment of the very sick in hospitals and elsewhere, and even there it was not universally adopted. In a conversation with HaRav Nissim Karelitz of Bnei Brak, in which the general question of gromo devices was discussed, one of Yated's writer's was told that, "in accordance with the opinion of HaRav Shmuel Wosner, it was decided not to employ any gromo devices in the care and treatment of life and death cases in Bnei Brak's Ma'ayenei Yeshuoh Hospital. Wherever treatment is necessary for pikuach nefesh, ordinary equipment is to be used."

Nobody has yet had the nerve to propose employing such mechanisms outside the context of sick people, purely to make Shabbos more pleasurable, and to place such a suggestion before the poskim for their deliberation!

One of the reasons put forward by the Chazon Ish zt'l in explaining why opening an umbrella is forbidden on Shabbos, was easily understood by all as applying with even greater force to mechanical devices operated through gromo.

The Chazon Ish writes, "Furthermore, this is something whose use is of a public nature; it is also a weekday sort of activity (uvdo dechol) and it makes a breach in the observance of Shabbos. Chazal forbade the arranging of a canopy [over a bed] because the public is not learned [enough to understand where to draw the line between this kind of quasi-tent and a more normative kind]. This matter is given over to the chachomim, for them to erect protective fences where there is a danger of a breakdown. It is of an even more serious nature than the prohibitions which bind individuals, for this is a protective measure for the nation as a whole, for all generations."

How It Works

The light scooter, or kalno'it as it is known in Eretz Yisroel, is a familiar sight in many places all over the world these days the whole week. It gives elderly or disabled individuals freedom and ease of transportation, of which advancing years or illness have deprived them. It is comfortable to ride in and simple to operate.

Two Israeli manufacturers recently produced a model that they claim can be used on all seven days of the week, even by shomrei Shabbos, since it includes an adjustment for switching to operation on the basis of either gromo or a time switch.

One of the methods employing gromo is based on a principle known as "removal of the impediment." For example, an electric current flows in the machine before Shabbos but it does not activate the mechanism because light pulses prevent it from doing so. Someone who wants to use it, presses a switch that lowers a shield which blocks the light pulses, enabling the current to activate the machine. In this way, the person does not technically cause the mechanism to operate, but only removes an impediment to its operation. (There is a second way that gromo can be used in the activation of electric devices. This way is dealt with in a letter from Machon Tsomet to HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l.)

The basic objection to the proposal to be lenient in the case of the scooter is that since the entire machine was designed and constructed in this way, the actions are not considered gromo but directly ascribed to the agent. The basis for leniency with gromo is the notion that the person is not really doing the chillul Shabbos part, but only another action that later results in the chillul Shabbos action. However, when the entire mechanism has been conceived and designed as a unit whose goal is to perform some action that is chillul Shabbos, turning it on is operating the entire unit whatever that involves.

In the analysis of the poskim, it is comparable to shooting an arrow or a gun, in which case no one doubts that the shooter is guilty of murder if he kills someone, even though the killing happens after the shooting and at a distance.

Additional Considerations

If the machine is never activated through gromo on weekdays and is only employed on Shabbosos because it allows the scooter to be run, there are no grounds for regarding it as an abnormal or irregular way of running a mechanism. Both the Chazon Ish and Reb Chaim Ozer employed this argument in the debate over milking cows on Shabbos. They stated emphatically that even were a special device to be designed to milk on Shabbos in a different way from weekdays, it would not solve anything, for since it would enable the melochoh to be done in a way that generally suited people to do it on Shabbos, it could not be considered as out of the ordinary or irregular.

This type of debate then, is hardly new. Reb Chaim Ozer writes regarding, "Those who want to permit milking if done with a shinui (irregularity), or by means of a shunt which the engineers will design," that "there is no foundation whatsoever for its ceasing to be [considered] a Torah melochoh and [being considered instead as] being done in an abnormal way. Kevod Toraso is correct [in stating that] if they design it in a way that is convenient for general use, that it is nothing but regular melochoh, and it is fitting to protest and antagonize them over this, for there is no way whatsoever to permit it."

A Sheilo to R' Moshe

Years ago, the people at Tsomet put this question to HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l. In a brief letter, they outlined the method by which telephones and beepers for doctors could be made to operate through gromo. "There is a way to silence the beeper and to activate the telephone . . . by having the doctor move a switch or pressing a button that does not activate any electricity. Only afterwards, according to a preset time switch that goes on every minute or half minute, will the beeper go off or the telephone work. Since gromo is only forbidden miderabonon, and this would be an important way of lessening the severity of things that use electricity, and it is certainly also an abnormal way of doing things, the doctors want to know whether it is correct, important and recommended to use such equipment."

R' Moshe replied, through his grandson Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, "The opinion of my teacher and grandfather . . . is known, [namely,] that he does not agree to the "causative" or "indirect" approaches. He is therefore unable to enter into a discussion of this particular device . . . and in order to fulfill the petitioners request that I affix my signature as additional proof that this is how I rule, I am signing the response . . . [signature]"

Did they ask Reb Moshe with the intention of listening to him? Possibly. Yet nevertheless, the facts are that despite Reb Moshe's ruling to prohibit it, gromo was permitted!

A Conditional Permit

It is worthwhile noting that even some of the heads of the technical institutes that give their sanction to the use of gromo devices, are well aware that there ought to be limitations on the use of such equipment and they laid down conditions limiting the permission they gave. When we spoke in passing to one of the originators of the gromo devices, he explained that they are really only for use in emergency situations and that someone who takes such a device home must not make ordinary use of it.

We told him, "In that case, every gromo device should come with a booklet that explains clearly what is considered an emergency and what is not; when the thing may be used and when it must not." (And what is an "emergency situation" anyway? Pikuach nefesh [danger to life] or not?) "Did you actually print and distribute such booklets, which list all the conditions?" we enquired. "Moreover, can one possibly hand over to the general public a device whose use is only permitted under certain circumstances?"

This is the implication of one of the points made by HaRav Shach in his letter concerning the use of gromo equipment: "And even were it to be permitted in regard to all the details of hilchos Shabbos, it is without any doubt impossible to retain control over the conditions under which the heter is given."

The latest communication issued by Machon Tsomet states that travel in the scooter is only for cripples or handicapped persons. "This arrangement allows travel on Shabbos and Jewish Festivals in accordance with halocho, for handicapped persons alone, in view of their special circumstances."

Here the question must be asked: Whose idea are these limitations? If something is forbidden, cripples are also not allowed to do melochoh on Shabbos. And if it is permissible, it is allowed for everyone. Do they mean to say that handicapped persons are allowed to "slightly transgress" a "relatively lenient" prohibition, while fit people are not? That sounds like a bad joke.

It is not Hard to be a Frum Jew

When a Jew tries to find a halachic permit for something he wants to do; when he seeks a "solution" so that halocho will not "chain" him, he demonstrates that he himself is suffering from some kind of spiritual affliction. If he directs his efforts towards finding grounds for large scale leniencies, he stands to poison others as well.

It is of course true that our lives are shaped by the Torah's commandments, both positive and negative, as well as by a host of laws and decrees instituted by our chachomim. Yet despite this, the Torah is not a burden which we feel the need to release ourselves from. Fulfilling mitzvos according to every detail and requirement of halocho is no encumbrance, nor is the avoidance of what the Torah prohibits an unbearable strain.

The reason why there is such a multitude of mitzvos is to provide us with multiple merits. It is a source of deep pride and joy when a Jewish boy shoulders the full weight of the Torah's yoke, as he becomes a bar mitzvah. He rejoices in every mitzvo that he now lovingly fulfills under his new obligations. This is how things should be.

Yet it is also in human nature to throw off a yoke, to refuse being dictated to and to strive for personal freedom. This is precisely why there is Torah, for without it man follows his instincts in a way that is essentially no different from an animal.

"Man has a tendency to throw off his yoke and be free. If he finds himself in a situation where the Torah exempts him, he is happy; when it obligates him he feels sadness . . . When Hakodosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom Ovinu neither to touch Yitzchok nor to harm him, He exempted him from actually carrying out the act that he had been tested with. What remained to be seen was how Avrohom Ovinu would react to the exemption -- whether he would be much happier than he would have been had the obligation remained in force, or whether his sole wish was to fulfill Hashem's will, whatever that would be. When Hashem said to him, `And don't do a thing to him,' Avrohom was upset at being deprived of the opportunity to carry out Hashem's command in practice, so much so that Hashem produced the ram for him to sacrifice. The Seforno z'l, explains that Hashem gave him the ram, so that through sacrificing it, Avrohom Ovinu could fulfill his wish to sacrifice his son, so that he would be `a speaker of truth in his heart,' [preserving the integrity of his original intention]. This is true perfection -- to desire obligation more than exemption." (Chochmas Hamatzpun, parshas Vayeiro, pg.182).

Every observant Jew should aspire to a life of performing mitzvos and refraining from the transgression of aveiros. This is for his own benefit. It is what he was given his life for. This is the path along which he can correct and improve himself. An active attempt made to release oneself from part of this heavy, yet pleasant, load portrays a lack of integrity with regard to the purpose of life. All the Yiddishkeit of such a person rests upon very shaky foundations.

Giving the Game Away

Of course, there are situations in life where one is unquestionably exempt and there may even be times when one's hand is forced from a direction over which one has no control. But the response that these occasions call for is neither one of joy, nor even relief but of sadness or regret over lost opportunity. Such a reaction shows that a person is remaining true to healthy spiritual underpinnings. However, to home in on such situations of exemption and to try and institutionalize them, using them as justification for seeking new leniencies; to try to capitalize on them by increasing the size of the pool of those who might just be in the correct category; by exploiting leniencies through attempts to broaden their sanction and spread their acceptability -- all this merely serves to reveal an insufficient grasp of the basic elements of the Torah's way of life.

The Alter of Novardok made the following well- known comment: "In every single thing a person does, there is a component of truth and a component of motivation. The crucial question is, which came first? Was the quest for truth first, or was the personal motive the prime instigation, with the grain of truth superadded later as a means of justification? For the righteous man, it starts with truth. An evildoer however, has his own motives, and only later does he erect his own version of the truth, upon their foundation."

When an acknowledged exemption -- illness or weakness -- becomes the starting point for the marketing of a device that raises very serious halachic issues, there are ample grounds for maintaining that it is the undesirable human tendency to throw off a weighty yoke and gain more personal freedom that lies at the heart of the initiative. The very act of seeking leniencies -- even within the bounds of halocho -- betrays the wish to lighten the load, to feel freer, to make Yiddishkeit less of a burden.

This is a subtle issue and it is not always easy to discern what is really at play, especially with regard to someone else.

Making Shabbos Pleasurable

The scooter is touted by advertisements as "oneg Shabbos for you and your family." The driver will be able to continue attending the beis haknesses that he has been going to during his more youthful decades, while his family will be freed from the task of walking him slowly or wheeling him there. "Oneg Shabbos? Sure, it's a mitzvo! Zeidah can still go to his minyan. We'll also have a more pleasant time. It'll be a real boost to our enjoyment of Shabbos, and that's worth a lot, right?"

Wrong! Not under such circumstances! Not when it's being used to justify the wholesale introduction of untenable leniencies!

If there's an eruv, it's better that Moishie and Yankie should sweat a little and take Zeidah in the wheelchair. If there isn't an eruv, better for Zeidah to daven in the shtiebel next door, or even at home . . . It's far better do it the hard(er) way rather than run any risk of being mechalel Shabbos, chas vesholom!

And if oneg Shabbos can be invoked to assist in sweeping serious shailos concerning Torah prohibitions aside, if this principle were to be carried further, surely there are also many more ways to utilize this principle. Isn't attending a daf yomi shiur also oneg Shabbos? And what about using a gromo telephone to listen to a shiur? What about a gromo operated writing device for recording chiddushei Torah? Or a gromo operated tape deck for listening to Jewish music? There are endless ways that everybody's Shabbos could be made more pleasurable using gromo.

And when considering the line of thought that sees the institutionalization of leniencies as something acceptable and perhaps even desirable, one can't help being reminded of one of the most notorious heteirim of all in modern times -- permitting driving to shul on Shabbos in order to facilitate the preservation of a tenuous connection with Yiddishkeit. By now it is clear to all how much that approach managed to save, compared to how much it destroyed and is still destroying.

Heteirim of gromo cannot serve as the basis for a marketable product. Their place is only in dealing with bedi'eved -- de facto -- situations and even then, [obviously with sound halachic guidance] privately, without fanfare. They can't be shrink-wrapped and then put on display, for public consumption. We must not be blinded by the sales pitch, even if it conveys a reassuring message of concern for how the aged and infirm spend their Shabbos.

An Issue that Has Surfaced in the Past

Almost fifteen years ago, in a letter dated Yom Shlishi, the thirty-eighth day of the omer, 5745, the Steipler zt'l, and ylct'a HaRav Shach addressed the issue of gromo devices in general, and in particular, the item that was being suggested at that time: a water heater activated by gromo.

"We hereby publicly declare with regard to new inventions for boiling and for heating water on Shabbos kodesh that make use of various heteirim, -- and regarding as well, other such initiatives in any matters pertaining to Shabbos kodesh -- that quite besides the highly questionable nature of the actual heteirim, [i.e.] even were the use of these devices to be permissible as far as the details of hilchos Shabbos are concerned, it is beyond any doubt impossible to retain control over [the users' compliance with] the conditions [for allowing the devices to be used].

"Apart from this, the very use of these heteirim is strictly forbidden, for all such things lead to the destruction and the uprooting of Shabbos observance, chas vesholom, turning it into a weekday R'l, by [making possible the performance of] ordinary activities that are akin to melochos, and the distance between them and actual melochos is minute. Woe to us that we have reached such a stage.

" . . . What all such devices have in common is the destruction and the uprooting of the holiness of Shabbos -- and who can foresee the ultimate results of such a process? It is with regard to such things that we have been commanded to make a protection for the mitzvos. Through guarding our holy Torah, we will merit Shabbos kodesh being a day of repose and holiness for us -- a complete repose, of the kind Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants," (Michtovim Uma'amorim, VI).

HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, writes regarding those who claim "that their ideals are those of Torah faithful Jewry and that their path is the one that has been handed down to us by earlier generations, and that they merely want to introduce a little modernization and some insignificant changes, in order to make the Torah path more appealing to the masses, . . . [that] . . . it is this selfsame idea that lies at the heart of Reform. This is the starting point of the tremendous abandonment of the path of Torah and fear of Heaven that has taken place in recent generations. They alter customs and falsify fundamentals, changing botei knesses, the miniature sanctuaries . . . therein lies terrible destruction", (Mishnas Rebbi Aharon, cheilek III, pg.216).

Whatever is powering such initiatives -- whether the high- sounding wish to make Judaism appear more attractive to modern day Jews, or the more down-to- earth prospect of marketing a new product and helping a few people at the same time -- gedolei Yisroel warn us that any "upgrading" of leniencies which are only meant for special circumstances and turning them into the order of the day, marks the beginning of the end of Torah observance R'l.

In Closing

All that remains is to address a final plea to the elderly and infirm population, to whom the marketers of the scooter are directing their publicity.

You have kept Shabbos throughout your lives. Even if you attach some worth to this halachic ruling of the Tsomet Institute, clearly the issue is contested by other authorities; the debate concerns the death penalty and the desecration of Shabbos. You have observed Shabbos all your lives. Why become drawn into even possible Shabbos desecration now, in your final years, when Shabbos is the source of all blessing?

And to those who might still be wondering why, after all, Yated Ne'eman feels the need to address the issue, when none of its readers would probably even contemplate making use of such a scooter on Shabbos, we offer the following story:

One of the maggidim of not so long ago once protested against chillul Shabbos while speaking in Vilna's Great Synagogue. When the residents of Vilna left the beis haknesses, they asked each other, "Who is mechalel Shabbos in Vilna anyway? It's true that there is some chilul Shabbos in the areas around the city, but there is no chilul Shabbos whatsoever in the Vilna community itself!"

Upon hearing them, HaRav Elya Dushnitzer zt'l, responded, "When a fire breaks out, the first thing the firemen do is to thoroughly soak all the areas where the fire has not yet reached, to prevent it from spreading." Right here, among ourselves, in the Torah communities, where the fire has not yet reached -- it is here that we have to protest. Shabbos! Shabbos! Shabbos!

The Poskim Rule

HaRav Eliashiv's verdict, after being shown the details of the proposal: "Use of a gromo device that works by removing an impediment is not considered as gromo but as an ordinary direct action, with regard to damages [thereby caused] and is certainly regarded as intentional melochoh [with regard to Shabbos]. It is not like closing a door to stop the wind [thus causing a fire to go out], because in that case, there is no connection between the wind and the fire, so that stopping the wind is not considered to be an act of extinguishing the fire. In this and all similar cases however, the device is planned to work this way to begin with, so that by activating it, the desired result is obtained."

HaRav Eliashiv added that, "Even when a telephone has to be used for pikuach nefesh, it is preferable to use an ordinary [i.e. not a gromo] telephone, so as not to be misled into thinking that there are grounds for being lenient and using a gromo telephone when there is no danger to life."

Similarly, a light vehicle for the use of the elderly or crippled, which has been fitted with a gromo mechanism for Shabbos use, is forbidden according to halocho.

The opinion of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l, as reported by his son ylct'a, HaRav Shmuel Auerbach (quoted in Shevus Yitzchok), was to tend to forbid activities done using instruments (such as scooters, telephones etc. [A.C.]) that work through the removal of a block, even when there is a time delay before the activity is carried out, since these devices are planned to work in this way, they cannot be compared to something done indirectly. (Shevus Yitzchok discusses HaRav Shlomo Zalman's opinion at length and cites further testimony about his opinion.)

When asked about a paging device and a telephone that worked through gromo, HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l, replied (through his grandson, as quoted in the article), "It is known that my grandfather is not in agreement with the entire approach of indirect activation and therefore, I cannot enter into a discussion of the principles involved in this particular instrument." Reb Moshe himself added in his own handwriting, "As additional proof that this is my ruling, I am signing the reply." This opinion of Reb Moshe's appears clearly in two places in Igros Moshe.

HaRav Eliashiv further said that even if it would be possible to find a way to operate an electric scooter without any halachic prohibition being violated, it would still not be permissible to use it because it would be a great breach [in Shabbos observance], as the Chazon Ish wrote about opening an umbrella on Shabbos. (See also Igros Moshe, cheilek I, siman 124, regarding such breaches.)

Detailed Halachic Discussion

The halachic basis for permitting this action is said to be the similarity to the case of closing a door to prevent wind from fanning a fire that will otherwise go out. The Mishna Berurah explains that it is quite alright to close the door, even though the fire would continue to burn were the door left open, because "he is not doing anything [that actually extinguishes the fire], just stopping the wind. If the fire goes out, let it go out."

This is considered even less of an intervention than geram kibui, indirect extinguishing, i.e. doing something that actively causes a fire to go out, albeit indirectly, such as placing vessels of water in the path of approaching flames so that the heat bursts the vessels and allows the water to extinguish the fire. Here, in closing the door, one is only stopping the wind that would keep the fire going; the fire goes out by itself (See also Kashrus and Shabbos in the Modern Kitchen). It is argued that to position a barrier that r<%- 2>emoves an obstruction in the flow of an electric current is no worse than closing a door and stopping wind from fanning a fire.

The Refutation

There are however, clear grounds for distinguishing between the kind of gromo with the electric current and what the Mishnah Berurah permits with wind. (The following arguments are taken from Shevus Yitzchok, but again, practical action and rulings should be based on the original.)

First, in the permissible case, the wind and the fire are two separate entities that merely happen to be connected by the circumstances, namely, the fire's being in a place where the wind reaches it and fans it. Stopping the wind is therefore in no way considered as having done something to the fire itself.

This is significantly different from, and cannot be likened to a device that is specifically designed in the first place and then built to function in this cause-and-effect way. In such a device, there is a clear relationship between all the elements: the pulses and the blocking shield and the activation of the flow of current.

In fact, in his explanation of the Ramban's opinion that any craftsman's [or specially designed] implement may not be used even where no active human intervention is required, the Chazon Ish writes (in siman 36), that the fact that the melochoh is being done because of the person, is enough to forbid it. The reasoning is similar to what happens when a person guides an animal in plowing on Shabbos: although the man's only function is to prevent the animal from veering to the sides the entire melochoh is nevertheless attributed to him.

Here too, where a gromo mechanism activates a machine, the function of the device as a whole is attributed to the operator. This would also hold true in other areas of halocho where an action needs to be attributed to a person, such as liability for damages which a person caused by operating such a device, or the forbidding of agricultural work during the Shmitta year by means of such equipment.

Moreover, we actually find that on Shabbos, there are even actions that are not considered direct enough to obligate someone to pay for damages but which are still sufficiently attributable to him to render them forbidden on Shabbos, because on Shabbos the Torah forbids anything that results in the achievement of what is considered a melochoh.

The Time Gap

There is a secondary argument that is used to regard the operation of the scooter as gromo, namely, that there is a time gap between the pressing of the switch and the motor's starting to run. The proposal is that it should therefore be likened to placing jars filled with water in the path of a fire, which is considered gromo because the water does not put the fire out straight away.

However, this comparison is also inaccurate, because none of the three reasons given by the poskim as to why that is gromo apply in the present case. First, Yeshuos Yaakov and the Avnei Nezer argue that placing jars of water in the way of a fire is not considered an act of extinguishing a fire -- not even indirectly - - because the person's purpose is merely to prevent the fire from spreading and not to put it out. He would be happier if the fire died out before reaching the jars that is, even not as a result of his actions. Second, the Achiezer maintains that here too, in addition to the time gap, extinguishing the fire is incidental, as above with the wind. Third, the Zera Emes writes that only after some time has elapsed from when the jars were put down does the fire go out and the going out is then the result of a different circumstance (meaning, apparently, that the person put the jars down but then has no influence over the actual bursting of the jars).

In the case of the scooter, the machine's (and operator's) purpose is to do melochoh, rendering the first reason inapplicable. Again, since the device is built to begin with to function in this way, there is nothing circumstantial about the chain of events that leads to the motor's activation and it will not help that some time elapses after pressing the switch before it does so. This rules out both the second and third reasons as well.


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