< Lesson 12: Preparing Fruits & Vegetables for Serving on Shabbos

Lesson 13: How We Got From “Don’t Work on Shabbos” to All These Details…

To people that aren’t familiar with Halachic Orthodox Judaism, the laws of observing Shabbos contained in these videos might seem a little arbitrary, and it may be hard to understand why the details make a difference.

If your understanding of Shabbos (Shabbat) is based on the literal translation of the text, like “guard Shabbos,” “remember Shabbos,” “don’t do work on Shabbos,” etc., it’s hard to understand why these things are called work.

I’d like to give a little bit of a background on where these laws come from. What are they based on?

The Three Sources for the Laws of Shabbos

1. The Written Torah

The Text

If we look at the text of the verses of Torah, we don’t see the details.

For example, in Shemos (Exodus), the Chumash (book of Torah) says:

Sheishes yamim yeiaseh melacha uvayom hashvi’i Shabbos Shabbason kodesh Lashem, kol haoseh melacha b’yom hashabbos mos yamus.

Six days work shall be done, and the seventh day is a Shabbos of complete rest,⁠ holy to Hashem (God); any who do work on the Shabbat day shall surely die.

Shemos (Exodus) 31:15

Further on in Shemos, in Parshas Vayakhel, it is repeated:

Six days work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be holy for you,⁠ a Shabbos of complete rest to Hashem; all who do work on it shall be put to death.

Shemos (Exodus) 35:2

As you can see, the Torah just talks about rest. However, our interpretation of what is called rest and what is called work is not based on what we think it is.

The Rambam Explains

Rambam (Maimonides), in his introduction to his classic Halachic work, Yad Hachazakah, writes his first words:

All of the mitzvot (the laws we observe) were given to Moshe (Moses) at Sinai, and all the written ones were given with their explanation, “And I gave you there the stone tablets (The Ten Commandments), and the Torah, and the Mitzvah.” What is the definition of Torah? Torah is the written law, and Mitzvah is the interpretation.

Introduction to Rambam’s Yad HaChazakah

Moshe went up on Sinai for 40 days, and Hashem taught him there all the laws, the interpretation of what it means in the text.

In his introduction to the Mishnah, Rambam gives an example:

It says in the text “and you shall sit in a booth for 7 days.” The Torah doesn’t give us any guidelines as to what this booth should be made of, what are the laws associated with the booth; however there’s a whole tractate in the Mishnah that says how many walls there have to be, what the schach, the covering, has to be made of, etc. Those, the Rambam writes, were not arbitrarily chosen by the Rabbis; rather they were told to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai, and Moshe came down and explained them to us.

So, Shabbos is the exact same thing. The Torah tells us don’t do work on Shabbos. What is the meaning of work?

We previously read that verse in Shemos 35:2, which is the beginning of the chapter, but it’s nestled between the chapters talking about the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Moshe came down and told us that those acts that are needed to construct the Mishkan, are the things that you are not allowed to do on Shabbos.

The Tabernacle was the physical construction that brought G-d’s Shechina (Presence) down to the world. Those physical things, that were done to create the spiritual things, are the things that we shouldn’t do on Shabbos. Shabbos is our spiritual space to spend with G-d, and all of the physical things that we need to build that, we don’t do on Shabbos.

So, for example, there are a list of 39 things – baking, cooking, selecting, plowing, etc. – some of them were mentioned in the previous lessons – all these things were told to Moshe at Sinai.

2. Laws Added by the Prophets

In addition to that, if you look at the prophets, in the book of Yeshaya (Isaiah), near the end of the prophecies of Yeshaya, he tells us some laws that are called Divrei Kabbalah. They aren’t the laws that were mandated by the Torah, but laws that were added by the prophets. The prophets spoke in the name of God; God told us these things, too:

“If you will restrain your foot because it is the Shabbos, restrain from accomplishing your own needs on My holy day; if you proclaim the Shabbos a delight, and the holy day of Hashem is honored, and you honor it by not engaging in your own affairs, from seeking your own needs and discussing the forbidden…

“Then you will delight in Hashem, and I will ride you on the heights of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob, your father. For the Mouth of Hashem has spoken it.”

Yeshaya (Isaiah) 58:13-14

Yeshaya tells us that the atmosphere of Shabbos, the way that we bring the delight of the observance of Shabbos, we relish the day of Shabbos, and we keep Shabbos separate and different from the rest of the week; we don’t have the mundane discussions of our business on Shabbos, we walk on Shabbos differently, we travel differently than during the week – that brings an element of sanctity to the day of Shabbos and to us, and this is the atmosphere that is created for us by Shabbos.

So, there is a section of the laws of Shabbos that were not mandated by the Torah, but by Yeshaya, by what is called by the rabbis “Divrei Kabbalah,” the words of the Prophets.

3. Rabbinic Law

And then, the Torah tells us, “v’nishmartem es mishmarti” – we’re told to protect and make safeguards to the laws of the Torah. The Rabbis of the generations were given the authority by God, as Moshe told us, to make fences to protect the laws of the Torah.

So, for example, we talked about the laws of muktzeh, that there are certain things that can be handled on Shabbos and certain things that can’t. We discussed in one of the lessons that egg shells shouldn’t be handled directly on Shabbos and we discussed how to throw them away. It seems to be very mundane – what difference does it make?

But these laws are mandated by the rabbis, based on what Moshe told us that we should do. There’s a whole section of rabbinical laws that are not arbitrarily made – these were made to protect the sanctity, the atmosphere, of Shabbos, to make sure that Shabbos is the special day that it’s supposed to be.

All For One Purpose

So, these laws contained in these videos – you see these bookcases around me? There are books in it that were written thousands of years ago, and there are books that were published even this year, by contemporary authors.

There’s one goal in all of this: to know what it is that God wants from us. All of these things are not arbitrary laws that were made, but rather by delving to the depths of the understanding of what is the Will of God, what did God mean when he told us these 39 divisions of labor, what is it that was meant by Yeshaya to create an atmosphere of Shabbos, and which laws were enacted by the rabbis of the generations to protect and to safeguard and to make Shabbos this special day that it is.

Go into the home of someone that observes Shabbos properly, and there’s joy in the house, there’s a sense of purpose in the house. Shabbos is not something we’re observing to keep God happy. It’s to bring God into our lives, to make us Godly people, to bring God into everything we do, so that we can become the elevated Godly people.

Sources

These are some of the works that I used to create these videos, if you are interested in following up and studying them yourself:

  1. The four volume work of The 39 Melochos, written by Rabbi Dovid Ribiat (Feldheim Publishers), an encyclopedic guide to the observance of the 39 categories of forbidden labor on Shabbos
  2. The Shabbos Kitchen, by Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen (Artscroll/Mesorah Publications) – one in a series of the laws of Shabbos

Another suggested book is Halachic Discussions on Hilchos Shabbos by Rabbi Doniel Neustadt (Machon Ohr Olam) – A practical guide in question/answer format.

All of the above are available in any Jewish bookstore.

You can go to any bookstore and look around for yourself – there are many books that were written, in any language you want. From the classic work Mishnah Berurah, written by the Chofetz Chaim, of the previous generation, who gave us an in depth study of the laws of the Torah, to contemporary works.

The Impact of Observing Shabbos

These are the laws of Shabbos. Shabbos has preserved the Jewish people through the years. Shabbos brings beauty and meaning into a person’s life. Please take the opportunity to think about the impact that Shabbos can have on you.

I hope everyone will benefit from the video series that we present to you.

Thank you.

Rabbi Pinchus Rappaport is a respected rabbi who received his Rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva of Staten Island, under the tutelage of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. He currently serves as a rabbi in Brooklyn, NY.

Since halachic opinions vary among the rabbis of different communities, Oorah and Rabbi Rappaport encourage you to direct any questions to, and get halachic guidance from, your local Orthodox rabbi. You may, however, rely on this video and email Rabbi Rappaport with questions in the interim, at askrpr2@gmail.com.

Shared as a zechus l’iluy nishmas Moshe Zeev ben Aryeh Leib

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