by Rav Yerachmiel Kram
The Thirty-Nine Ovos Melochoh
"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
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people and to explicitly say that Shabbos superseded them,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
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
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
"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
Man is Not Descended from the Monkey and the World did Not
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
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
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
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
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