Tuesday, January 18, 2011

definition of melaches Shabbos at Marah

The Kli Chendah on last week’s parsha raises the question (discussed already by the Pnei Yehoshua) of what the definition of melacha on Shabbos consisted of after the command to observe Shabbos was given at Marah. The definition of av melacha in our halachic world means a significant labor that was performed in the construction of the Mishkan (B.K. 2a, Tosfos). But how could that possibly have been the definition in Marah, pre-building of the Mishkan?

My off-the-cuff idea is that the observance of Shabbos as given in Marah was not a kiyum mitzvah of shemiras Shabbos per se (i.e. with all the associated gedarim of hilchos shabbos like avos/tolados), but rather was a kiyum mitzvah of listening to the words of a navi (i.e. Moshe Rabeinu). There was simply no concept of a cheftza shel mitzvah as we know it until mattan Torah.

Rashi writes that mitzvos were given at Marah “l’hisasek bahem.” The Brisker Rav is medayek that this implies an obligation of limud but not of practical observance, in contradiction to a number of gemaras (e.g. Sanhedrin 56) which imply that practical observance did begin in Marah. It’s a little bit of a stretch, but I am wondering if Rashi perhaps is alluding to this idea that what was given in Marah was something to be "involved in" (in the sense of practical observance as well as limud), but not what we could truly call a mitzvah.

I’ll save you the trouble of asking and raise the question myself: what of the commandments like taking the korban pesach in Mitzrayim – were those mitzvos or not? I’m not sure that’s a knockout punch to my theory. Maybe pre-mattan Torah these were not mitzvos in the same sense or the same form they took on post-mattan Torah. How can you prove otherwise?


  1. I recently asked Rav Dovid Feinstein a question of similar nature. Datan and Aviram weren't happy with Man not falling on Shabbat, so they took some leftovers and put it outside the Machaneh on Shabbat itself. I ask, how weren't they Chayav Mittah at this point? This is, unquestionably, Hotza'ah! How is the Mekoshesh any different?
    So Rav Dovid gave me two-three answers right away.
    1)It was before Matan Torah
    2)There were no Onshim
    3)No Hatra'ah
    The problem is that, based on the way Rav Dovid said it, I'm not sure if one and two are two separate answers, or one bigger one.
    Same question of the Mitzvah status of pre-Matan Torah Mitzvot.

  2. Anonymous11:35 PM

    The Glioni HaShas on Shabbas brings a Divrei Chaim Misanz that says the only reason we learn from the Mishkan what not to do on Shabbas is because the Mishkan is a microcosm for the world. So, those activities that were necessary to create the Mishkan were also necessary, on some level, to create the world. On Shabbos, we are really trying to refrain from those activities that Hasham used to create the world. Therefore, it is possible that Bnei Yisroel new the 39 Melachose before at Marah, eventhough the Mishkan was not yet erected.

  3. I don't understand why this is a kashya at all. Maybe they were told about all hilchos shabbos, except for how they were later to be darshened out.

  4. Sb -- the question is a question because your sevara is speculative -- you need some proof that things worked that way.

  5. Rabbi Elchonon Adler has a sefer on the historical development of Shabbos:

    In the sefer (I just started it) he has an interesting discussion based on the Maharal's writings about the nature of Mitzvos before and after Matan Torah.

    I think he implies a similar idea to yours, but I'll have to wait to get home to check.

  6. I think it's the opposite - to be a good question, there has to be basis for the assumption that before there was a written Torah, with all of its derashos, there could not have been any mitzvah that corresponded to those derashos. Meheichi Teisi that this is true? It's speculative - in fact, it's more than just speculative, it's a big chiddush

  7. Why would something that is derived from a derasha be true if there is no derasha? Doesn't make sense to me. Why go through the exercise of making derashos, debating derashos, when l'shitascha they are not real sources anyway?

  8. I recently heard a shiur (a podcast from KMTT, by Rav Binyamin Tavori, a Gush rebbe) in which he quoted -- I forget the source -- an alternative definition of melachot shabbat for purposes of the resting that a goy may *not* do on shabbat (since goyim in theory are "not allowed" to keep shabbat). Acharonim suggested a common sense definition of work for this purpose - e.g. physical labor. The idea is that a goy can satisfy his obligation *not* to rest on shabbat by doing hard labor -- perhaps even if not technically a melacha by Jewish standards (e.g. moving around heavy objects inside the house).

    If we borrow this concept, perhaps this was the same definition of work forbidden for Jews after Mara and before matan torah. If so, this answers both questions raised: (1) no need for mishkan, because the 39 technical avot don't apply yet, and (2) what datan and aviram did (per midrash) was arguably not common sense "labor" -- just carrying a small object outside -- whereas foraging as usual for mann would be real field work and qualifies as "work" even within the common sense definition.

  9. great unknown6:44 AM

    There appears to be a weakness in the logic of historical events leading to halacha. A fundamental example is "Avrohom kiyaim ...", and that he [and Lot] had matzah on Pesach - zaicher li'yetizas mitzrayim ?!

    There seems to be a concept that the taryag are fundamental to the total structure of the Briyah, regardless of the historical developments which are conditioned many times on bechira. Or maybe not even bechira. This was the ta'ana of Adam Harishon after the chet when he learned the mitzvah of Parah Aduma: the game is fixed.

    The Torah, after all, existed before the Briyah. If you understand that, all else is simple. [I'm being a bit frustratedly sarcastic there.]

    You can also ask about Parah Adumah according to the shita that chok means that. "Cohen, ohel moed, what's that?"

  10. great unknown8:08 AM

    Going back to Avrohom Avinu kiyaim es kol hatorah kolo: how was he mekayaim "Vehigadeta Lebincha..."?
    Or gid hanasheh?

  11. >>>Acharonim suggested a common sense definition of work for this purpose - e.g. physical labor.

    This is definitely not what the Parashas Derachim and others held. They answer the question of how Avraham could have observed Shabbos when he might have been a ben noach and not allowed to do so by saying he wore tzitzis -- if he was not metzuveh in Shabbos he was thereby in violation of hotza'ah.

    Great Unknown -- isn't that the whole point of saying there is some mystical tikun to the mitzvos that transcends even the specific details of practical performance? E.g. IIRC there is a Zohar quoted in chassidishe seforim that says Ya'akov was mekayeim tefilin by the stripes on the maklos. Be that as it may, there seems to be a significant number of Achronim who take the idea that the Avos observed the Torah pshuto k'mashma'o and do try to work out the details, the Parashas Derachim bring one such example.

  12. >>>Acharonim suggested a common sense definition of work for this purpose - e.g. physical labor.

    ++++ This is definitely not what the Parashas Derachim and others held. They answer the question of how Avraham could have observed Shabbos when he might have been a ben noach and not allowed to do so by saying he wore tzitzis -- if he was not metzuveh in Shabbos he was thereby in violation of hotza'ah.

    Yes, Rav Tavori also mentioned this suggestion that Avraham could have worn tzitzis in the street. However, he also discussed a t'shuva which recommended that a ger-in-process who already accepted kabbalas hamitzvos but who did not completely finish his conversion before shabbat should move heavy objects around inside during that shabbat, as a way of "not resting" (since not fully converted yet) while still observing Jewish/halachic shabbat (consistent with his kabbalat mitzvot). I can't recall who the author of this tshuva was, but it is from a podcast series on famous authors of tshuvos from the 19th century.

  13. great unknown11:48 AM

    Personally, I take the "mystical tikun" to be primary and the Brisker details to be secondary. Which is not to say that it is at all possible to do any tikkun whatsoever without the technical details today after matan torah. Quite the opposite: those who claim that they are fulfilling the "spirit" of the Torah while ignoring the halacha are poisoning the Briyah. Sorry, Madonna-Esther.

    I would also submit that stringent adherence to technical, mechanical details is also a great tikkun. Rabbeinu Yona states that Torah Lishma means looking for chumrot.

    Of course, this requires the broad knowledge and wisdom necessary to balance often-conflicting chumrot, such as in the story of the Netziv and the Bais Halevi regarding the Korban Pesach. We are living in a time of so many accumulated chumrot that almost everything has become a chumra haba lidai kulah. Which is one reason I retired.

    However, before matan torah we find many examples of what would today be very serious violations of halacha, performed by Gedolai Olam. As the Rishonim explain - at that time great people with the proper insight and sensitivity could decide that the net spiritual gain was sufficient justification. Today, the same actions would merit kares.

    There is also the inyan of the horo'as sha'a of a Navi which falls under the same category, and extending further, ais la'asos LaShem. This however, is reserved for the greatest of the great [not for political reasons but for their great piety and learning]. [There is also the inyan of gedola avaira lishma, which is probably beyond the ability of anyone today or the last few centuries; but then I am not Hashem's bookkeeper.]

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  15. - Rav Hutner says that the difference between the 7 mitzvos benei noach and matan torah is that the 7 mitzvos benei noach were tzivuyim greida - do this - but the mitzvos given at matan torah were mitzvos of bris.

    Not sure about the mitzvos before matan torah

    - There is a deah in shabbos that the 39 av melachos are becuase the word melacha appears 39 times in the torah - so it's not bound to the mishkan - there is also a deah in the yerushalmi that there are many more than 39 av melachos