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25 Adar I 5763 - February 27, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Thirty-Nine Ovos Melochoh

by Rav Yerachmiel Kram

"Six days shall [creative] work be done but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of rest to Hashem" (Shemos 35:2).

The Melochos of Shabbos are Derived from Those Activities that Took Place in the Mishkon.

The place allotted to the prohibition of work which was central in the building of the Mishkon must evoke our surprise. It seems to us like something established incongruously. Chazal gave us their opinion on it: "He preceded the warnings of Shabbos to the commandments for the work of the Mishkon to tell us that they do not supersede the Shabbos" (Rashi ibid.). This is only part of another homily derived therefrom.

From its position here, Chazal learn that the very activities required for the building of the Mishkon were forbidden on Shabbos. In reality, there is no limit to the number of creative activities that a person can engage in. What, then, are the boundaries to those activities prohibited on Shabbos by the Torah? Who shall determine what is forbidden and what -- permitted?

From the teachings of Chazal we learn that it was those particular creative acts necessary for the building of the Mishkon which were forbidden to engage in on Shabbos. If sowing, plowing and harvesting were considered necessary in the process of erecting the Mishkon, then these were banned on Shabbos and considered melochos. On the other hand, activities that were not necessary for the building of the Mishkon were not forbidden on Shabbos.

Moshe Rabbenu descended from Har Sinai right after Yom Kippur. He gathered the people together and commanded them concerning the building of the Mishkon which commenced several days afterwards, on the 15th of Tishrei. In the process, Moshe Rabbenu also warned the Jews regarding their heeding the Shabbos. Since the very activities involving the building of the Mishkon were the selfsame activities that were forbidden on Shabbos, it was necessary to warn the people and to explicitly say that Shabbos superseded them, for even the building of the Mishkon does not allow for the violation of the Shabbos.

Does Writing Disturb the Shabbos Rest More than Lugging Heavy Benches Around?

We now know the source for the definition of [creative] work forbidden on Shabbos: the labor that accompanied the building of the Mishkon. But why were these labors, specifically, forbidden on Shabbos?

It is clear that the fact of there being those specific labors involved in erecting the Mishkon is only an indication and guideline by which we are able to establish what the Torah sought to prohibit. But apparently, behind these selfsame labors stands some basic concept that characterizes them and constitutes the reason why they, in particular, were forbidden rather than other acts of creativity. What, then, is unique about these tasks? Why were precisely these forbidden?

The common masses repeatedly present the faulty presumption that these acts were forbidden because of the actual physical toil involved in their execution, which stands in contradiction to the principle of rest on Shabbos. These, they maintain, are arduous labors [like plowing etc.] that involve hard physical output, or labors that require intense concentration and thought, whereas the Torah is interested in Shabbos being a day of surcease from toil.

But this argument is not convincing. For according to the actual law (before the Sages established the principle of muktze), it was permissible for a person to heave huge boulders and transport them from place to place without this being considered melochoh. Furthermore, even after those boulders were prohibited to move out of that principle, a person could still theoretically move heavy benches and tables all Shabbos long, from one end of the house to the other! The writing of small letters with meaning [like two letter words] is punishable by stoning. Can we say, then, that the act of writing disturbs the Shabbos rest more than the physically arduous activity of lugging heavy benches from place-to-place?

Let us then address the question so often directed at Shabbos observers. Let us choose the example of kindling. In ancient times, the questioners remind us, this act did involve logical creative labor, for creating fire was a difficult and unpleasant task. After abortive attempts at striking stone and flint, people finally would succeed in creating a spark that ignited a fire. Abstaining from this work could definitely be considered imposing rest on Shabbos.

But this is not true in modern times, they insist. A simple flick of a switch can light up a whole house and another flick, plunge it into darkness. This `work' has apparently lost its significance as toil, and it would seem that abstaining from turning lights on and off would not make a difference either way in a definition of actual work. Has the inner nature of this prohibition lost its meaning in the modern context?

"And He Rested on the Seventh Day, Therefore did Hashem Bless the Day of Shabbos and Sanctify It"

In Parshas Yisro we read of the reason behind Shabbos: "And the seventh day is Shabbos unto Hashem your G-d. You shall not do any labor: you and your son and your daughter, your slave, maidservant and your animal, and the stranger within your gates, for in six days did Hashem make the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in it, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore did Hashem bless the day of Shabbos and sanctify it" (Shemos 20:10-11).

The Torah gives a reason here for Shabbos rest as being a memorial for Hashem's resting and desisting from work on the seventh day. But this `work' begs definition.

When a person rests on Shabbos, his abstention from work is resting. He rests from the toil of the past six days. But is this selfsame rest comparable to the rest stated with regard to the Creator? Did Hashem exert himself to the point that He required that rest on the seventh day? What, then, is the meaning of the phrase, "He rested on the seventh day" that is stated in the Ten Commandments? And what, too, is the meaning of the phrase, "And on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" (Shemos 31:17)?

This question leads us to another: How is that rest expressed for those who do not toil during the week, be it for reasons of debility or of affluence? Do these people also require rest? And if so, how is the Shabbos rest practically expressed by these people?

And on the other hand, take a person who is physically fit and whose exertion makes no dent upon him in the sense of fatigue. How is Shabbos rest expressed in actuality by him?

Man is Not Descended from the Monkey and the World did Not Always Exist

Let us attempt to plumb the roots of Shabbos.

Before a Jew approaches the observance of Shabbos and the other commandments, he must first believe with all his heart and soul that there is a Creator Who directs the world, a Conductor Who is the Prime Cause of everything that was, is and will be under the sun.

This is how the Rambam opens his Yad Hachazokoh: "The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom/sciences is to know that He exists, He was first, He created everything that exists in heaven and on earth and what is between them, and there is nothing existing that is outside of the truth of His being. And if it were to be conceived that He does not exist, nothing else could possibly be" (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, Chap. I:1-2).

This is the basis of all foundations of Jewry, in the words of the Rambam. To be cognizant that there is an Original Creator Who preceded everything else and always existed, and to consequently believe that everything else is not primeval but had a beginning and is constantly being renewed. This means that the world in which we live was created by Hashem and that all mankind is a product of Odom and Chavoh, who were the handiwork of the Creator.

Throughout the generations there arose atheists who presented various heretical theories with a common underlying principle. They claimed that the world operates of its own accord and momentum and was not created by a Creator nor is guided constantly by His Providence.

In ancient times, when Greek science and philosophy reigned universally, it was believed that the world had always existed and no Creating hand intervened in its making. They were unable to explain how this planet Earth, upon which we live, could have suddenly come into being, together with the solar system and its orbiting planets. But this did not stop them from claiming that the world was always there. This was the rampant belief of ancient times.

The heretical content of modern apostasy has not changed much. If the ancients had difficulty in explaining the beginning of the world without acknowledging a Creator, today the same apostasy has formulated a Big Bang hypothesis in which the world simply came into being all by itself by the explosion of all the matter that existed in supercompacted form. Modern day heretics explain away the creation of man as a mutation of the monkey, as the eventual, evolved product of life springing forth from a primeval soup-of- the-sea.

They haven't progressed very far or succeeded in explaining anything with any degree of logical satisfaction. For how did that monkey evolve? Besides the foolishness in the very idea -- not only as the Alter of Kelm argued, "Darwin claims that man evolved from the monkey only because he never saw R' Yisroel Salanter. I, who have seen him, know that man could never have come from a monkey," -- but also because even a fool like Darwin and a sinner like Titus could never have evolved from a monkey!

Heresy Regarding the Constant Renewal of the World and the Creator -- the Most Grievous Heresy

But what can we do if this misconception embraces a population of millions? It pleases them to think thus, `them' including Jewish apostates as well as gentile ones lehavdil. These theories of the descent [!] of man from ape and the origin of the universe ignore the basis of the Divine genesis from sefer Bereishis, thus denying any purpose to this world and any personal obligation or responsibility vis-a-vis reward and punishment. Consequently, there is no reason to fear the day of death and the Thereafter.

Judaism is not alarmed by them, just as it was not perturbed by the pagan gods of Canaan and Moav. Ever since the advent of our nation, from the very inception of history, its banner bearers did not toe the world line. When the entire world believed that supernal powers were embodied in stone and wood, our ancestors and tribes knew that the Creator possessed no physical body, and could not be grasped by any corporal being. They, the select few, stood solitary against the entire world. The Kamosh god of the Moavites was different from the Dagon god of the Philistines, but both nations equally believed in foreign celestial powers while Judaism professed allegiance to a Being Who is beyond any comparison.

Later, paganism changed its face and people no longer believed in idols of wood and stone. But they continued to believe in powers residing in the heavens and respectively conducting the affairs of the world, while evincing the very mortal traits of love and hate, envy and competitiveness.

Jews continued to maintain their faith in a Creator Who is One and Unique, noncorporal, non-sentient, not prone to sentiments as we mortals know them. And ever since, the world has embraced new beliefs and eschewed them, generation after generation, while the Jews have remained a small group proudly adhering to its original beliefs which were subsequently formulated into thirteen principles of faith.

This is how Judaism has remained to this day, in this modern age, which worships a new form of idolatry, the likes of which the world has hardly known to date. Atheists always existed, disciples of Epicurus the Greek who eschewed faith out and out, but the absolute G-d-denying atheists were usually in the minority. In general, people did believe in assorted powers-that-be, even if they poured their fiery faith into idol worship and strange rituals. Modern day idolatry has surpassed them all, however. No longer Baal Peor or Greek mythological gods.

No longer the religion of the Ishmaelites or the religion of so-called mercy and compassion. Latter day religion is much simpler in credo: anarchy. No law, no justice, do what you will with nothing to be accounted for. No one created the world (G-d forbid). Adam Horishon never existed. There never was any being that surveyed everything that went on here on earth. Absolute heresy for anything that is not perceivable by one's five senses.

The Purpose of Shabbos -- "And You shall Know Today and Draw it to Your Heart"

We must struggle against this philosophy and shout: The very opposite is true. There is a Judge! There is Justice! The world was created; it did not always exist. There is a Ruler Who created it and continues to guide it ever since the six days of Creation. We must hammer this belief firmly and unwaveringly into our hearts.

It is not easy, for there are many who pull us to the right or to the left. This may be an `innocent' political commentator who, reading from a prepared text, will analyze what happened, according to his understanding and interpretation of world events. We sometimes tend to forget that there is a Landlord Who maintains and arranges things, diverts seasons and manipulates events according to His Divine plan.

One of the giants of mussar once said that the distance between the brain -- that is, one's cognizant knowledge -- and the heart -- namely, the internalization of faith to the point where it is crystal clear -- is equal to the distance between heaven and earth. But the Torah demands: "You shall know today and you shall draw it close to your heart." We must inject the intellectual knowledge deep into our hearts and live our faith in the flesh.

Shabbos was given to us as a tool for this very purpose. With the help of Shabbos we are able to strengthen in our hearts the acknowledgement of a Creator Who made this world in six days, yet Who continues to rule it ever since.

How do we accomplish this via the Shabbos?

The Shabbos Testifies to the Renewal of the World

When we toil for our livelihood during the six days of the week and desist from work as soon as the seventh day is ushered in, for its entire duration, we are emulating the conduct of Hashem Who created the world. This is what the Chofetz Chaim says in his introduction to the laws of Shabbos in Mishneh Berurah:

"It is written in the Torah, `Remember the Shabbos day to keep it holy; six days shall you toil . . . for in six days did Hashem make the heavens and the earth.' The Torah teaches us here that Shabbos is the root of faith, to know that the world renews itself. And since He created everything, He is the Master of everything and we are His servants, obligated to do His will and to serve Him with body and soul and all our means, for all is His.

"The Torah exhorted us regarding the Shabbos twelve times. Chazal say: Whoever preserves the Shabbos is considered to be keeping the entire Torah, and whoever desecrates the Shabbos is considered to be denying the entire Torah. And this is based upon the above reason which is a basic principle of our faith."

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