“Moses then assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord” (Exodus 35:1).
Observing the Sabbath and remembering it are among the great pillars of the Jewish nation, to the extent that in Hulin 5a it is written that one who publicly violates the Sabbath is as an idolatrous apostate and as one who denies the entire Torah. Rashi there wrote, “They are strict on the Sabbath as on idolatry, for one who worships idols denies the holy one, blessed be He, and one who violates the Sabbath denies His actions and falsely testifies that the holy one, blessed be He, did not rest after the act of Creation.”
As is known to all, the Torah did not detail which acts are forbidden on the Sabbath aside from ploughing and reaping (Exodus 34:21), burning fire (Exodus 35:3), and gathering wood (Numbers 15:32).
And this is testimony that G-d gave them to the sages, as the Yerayim wrote in section 274: “The acts in the Torah are forty minus one, and the sages saw which work was similar. Similar work was called ‘acts,’ as it says, ‘acts of work you shall not do.’ And they said that there are acts which the Torah was strict about; they were not written down, but handed to the sages.”
Ibn Ezra wrote in his introduction: “And why about leprosy, which are laws for a single individual and a limited time, are the laws explicit, but about laws obligating the entire nation in every era there is no honest witness in the Torah, only hints here and there we can tease out? Why is the Torah like this? It is a sign for us that Moses relied upon the Oral Torah, which is a joy to one’s heart and healing for one’s body, for there is no division between the two Torahs.”
We have written and expanded in pervious weekly portions that all the sages’ learning is based on their own reasoning and deduction, as the Yerayim wrote, “handed to the sages.”
In this week’s portion we have come to explain the way in which the sages have reasoned and deduced the laws of the Sabbath. We will check and see: do they match a reasonable explanation? Are their ways of learning consistent?
Tractate Shabbat 49b: “Regarding what we learned, the principal categories of labor are fourty less one–to what do they correspond? Said Rabbi Hanina the son of Hama to them: To the forms of labor in the Tabernacle. Rabbi Jonathan, son of Rabbi Elazar said to them, ‘Thus did Rabbi Simeon the son of Rabbi Jose the son of Lakonia say: They correspond to the words ‘work’ (melacha), ‘his work’ (melachto), and ‘the work of’ (melechet), which are written forty less one times in the Torah. Rav Joseph asked: Is ‘and he went into the house to do his work’ (Genesis 39:11) included in this number or not? Said Abaye to him, ‘Then let a Torah scroll be brought and we will count.’ Did not Rabbah the son of Bar Hanah say in Rabbi Johanan’s name: they did not stir from there until they brought a Torah scroll and counted them? The reason I am doubtful, replied he, is because it is written, ‘for the work they had was sufficient’ (Exodus 36:7). Is that of the number, while this is to be interpreted in accordance with the view that he [Joseph] entered to perform his business [adultery], or perhaps ‘and he went into the house to do his work’ is of the number, while this ‘for the work they had was sufficient’ is meant thus: their business was completed? The question remains unresolved.”
The Gemara clearly and explicitly determines that the number of times the words “melacha,” “melachto,” and “melechet” appear in the Torah is 39, and from here they learned the count of principal acts forbidden on the Sabbath and all the laws and halachot of work on Shabbat, their derivatives and the derivatives of their derivatives rely on the 39 principal acts to this very day.
And what shall one who seeks knowledge do? Bring a book and look!
Before we go deeper into the actual learning, we have also done as Abaye instructed and decided to count how many times those three terms which the Gemara specified appear in the Torah. This is the result of the examination: “melacha”–24 times, “melechet”–19 times, and “melachto”–4 times. This totals 47 times!!!
The count and structure of the acts forbidden on the Sabbath evaporates before us like smoke. If Chazal erred on this fundamental of fundamentals, on the very count of the principal acts and omitted eight of them, on what other laws of Sabbath have they erred?
Where these eight extra words came from we do not know, but we have already clarified, in pamphlet 9, that many distortions befell the textual transmission over the many years of exile and trouble, and even in peaceful times it was the way of the scribes to add and take away, as the Beit Yosef, Choshen Mishpat, section 333 writes: “One who pays another to write him a Torah scroll and in it there were found errors, so that someone must be hired to proofread it: the Rashba wrote in part one, section 1056, that if there were errors as the scribes are accustomed to make, the scribe owes nothing, but if he erred very badly, beyond what is usual for scribes, he must pay for it.”
But anyway, the existence of scribal errors cannot explain the addition of eight full words in different places in the Torah. Was the Torah that Chazal had totally different from the one we possess? And see what is written in the commentary of R’ Chananel, and in the “Iyunim” section of R’ Adin Steinsaltz (Tractate Shabbat, p. 206): “Some scholars say that the correct wording here should be ‘melacha and melachto,’ without ‘melechet’ – and then the Talmudic count fits the Torah text (‘Shaar Ephraim’).” But nobody explained why should the wordmelechet be omitted from the wording of the Talmud. And we see once again that our rabbis distort things, change wordings and fix them on their own, just in order that they wouldn’t have to say, “Our rabbis had erred.”
Rabbi Natan, in Shabbat 70a, learned from a different place, “Because it is said, ‘And Moses assembled all the congregation of Israel, and said unto them, these are the words… ‘words,’ ‘the words,’ ‘these are the words’: this indicates the thirty nine labors taught to Moses at Sinai.” Rashi comments that the plural ‘words’ implies two, ‘the’ is regarded as an extension, making it three, and ‘these’ (eleh–aleph-lamed-hey) is given its numerical value of 36, thus totaling 39” But the Pnei Yehoshua wrote about Rabbi Natan’s words on page 49b, “This is nothing but simple calculation and gematria for its own sake.” There is no need to add that Rabbi Nathan does not detail and explain as does the Gemara above.
We will return to the learning itself and see that not only in the count of acts did Chazal make gross errors, but that all the acts which Chazal mentioned they determined on their own, to the extent that the Tosfot on Shabbat 49b, fourth reference, asks: “How did they know which were the principal acts and which were the derivatives? There is no sense in saying that on their own they clarified which were the important jobs and made them principal acts.” The Tosfot remained puzzled about the determination of principal acts.
To further illustrate the confusion and lack of clarity on the issue of forbidden acts, go see how Chazal counted winnowing (zoreh), selecting (borer), and sifting (meraked) as three principal acts. The Gemara in Shabbat 73b asks: “But selecting is winnowing is sifting?” and answers: “Every act which they did in the Tabernacle, even if there are others like it, counts. And so thrashing (kotesh) ought to count! [Despite its similarity to kneading (lash), it was also done at the Tabernacle.] Abaye said that the poor eat their bread without thrashing.” The Tosfot asked: “And you might say that sifting should also not be counted, for the poor eat their bread from a mixed dough;” they explained that most poor people eat from sifted grain.
From the work of the Tabernacle we have wandered to the table manners of the poor. In our day there is no difference between the rich and the poor when it comes to baking bread, nor was there in the generation which left Egypt, when all were nourished by the manna. So why do we determine the law following the custom of poor people in Abaye’s era?
Not only this, the Gemara counts two acts–salting and curing–and the Gemara asks in 75b: “But aren’t salting and curing identical? Rabbi Johanan and Resh Lakish both said: Omit one of these and insert the tracing of lines.” About this the Rambam wrote in his commentary on the Mishnayot: “They said that salting and curing are not two acts, for salting the hide is part of curing it. They recalled it to teach you that salting is a part of curing, and they filled the count of 39 acts with the act of tracing lines. But the author of this mishna erred about this act, and mentioned it as a part of writing.” There is no end to the confusion and embarrassment.
Come see how Chazal remove the Scripture from its plain meaning in Shabbat 70a: “Whence do we know the divisions of labors? [One is obligated to bring a sacrifice on each and every act.] Said Samuel: The Scripture says ‘everyone that profanes it shall surely be put to death.’ The Torah decreed many deaths for one desecration. But this refers to willful desecration. Since it is irrelevant in connection with willful transgression (as it is written ‘whosoever does any work therein shall be put to death’), apply it to an unwitting offender. Then what is meant by ‘shall be put to death’? He shall be put to death through money [by bringing sacrifices which he will pay for].” So you see that Chazal explain the Scriptures as they wish, and what is written explicitly in the Torah makes no difference to them. They took this verse and stood it on its head: willful has become unwitting, death has become monetary fines.
And here is another example of the matter: “Do not burn fire in all your dwelling places.” Chazal asked why the verse specified fire; we count 39 principle acts, and fire is included among them. They were divided on this in Shabbat 70a, “Kindling is singled out to teach that it is a negative precept [for which one does not incur the penalty of premature death and stoning, as with the other principal acts, according to R’ Yossi]. Rabbi Nathan said: It is particularly specified to indicate division [that one is liable for each and every principal act].” This is one of the ways in which the Torah is learned, as Rashi wrote: “This is a method of learning the Torah, something meager which was part of the general rule and has been taken out of the rule, comes to teach you. It was not taken out of the general to teach you about itself but to teach you about the entire general rule.”
If you should wonder, because “from plowing and reaping you shall rest” is also exceptional, Rashi writes that this verse should be interpreted in light of the sabbatical year, as written in Tractate Rosh Hashana 9a, “We have learnt: ‘from plowing and reaping you shall rest.’ Rabbi Akiva says…the ploughing of the eve of the seventh year which enters the seventh.” They took a verse whose topic was the holy Sabbath, tore it from its place, and stuck it onto the sabbatical year.
And it is not enough that Chazal castrate the text, there is also no order or consistency to their learning. Here we have learned that burning was part of a general rule, and why was it singled out? To teach us about the general rule. But in other places we learn the opposite, the general and the specific–there is naught in the general that is not in the specific, as brought in Menachot 55b–after they learned all they could from general rules and exceptions to those rules they asked: “And maybe, about a general rule and a specific, there is naught in the general rule that is not in the specific?” You see that two opposite methods can be used one as easily as the other. Because of the confusion and lack of order in the learning of the methods, the Maharshdam wrote on Orach Chaim 34: “And one should not question the methods, for we have seen that the Torah says things not in their place and we explain it–if there is no connection to the issue, connect it to something else. There is no question why the Torah did not say it in its proper place… and there are several incidents like that upon which a person could expand, but one should certainly not revoke the methods.” That is, one should not ask about the methods nor question their lack of sense, and one should not be puzzled about the absence of consistency nor be amazed at how things are turned on their heads. Anything that makes no sense shall be placed elsewhere, as the person sees fit, and stuck onto any issue, even if it has nothing to do with that issue. Thus the Torah is made as sealing wax in the hands of Chazal, who may knead it as they see fit, lengthen it here and cut if off there, pull away and stick on.
To conclude, we will cite the rabbi of Jerusalem, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank OBM, in his responsa book Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim 1, section 43: “But certainly tradition was not given to Moses at Sinai in detail, each general rule and specific by itself in every place, but it was left to us to explain the general rules and specifics; this proves that we may explain without any special received tradition.”
So you learn that the general rules and specifics are not necessarily tradition given to Moses at Sinai, and one may interpret it or not interpret it without any special received tradition. This is the rule with the other methods through which the Torah is interpreted, for they all are from the insight of the sages, and one may use any of them to interpret or not interpret, without any special received tradition. Thus sages throughout the generations have done, using their own intellectual outlook and the inclinations of their hearts and the public custom. We have already discussed these matters in many places, and one who wishes knowledge will find it.
Words of True Knowledge.