Protect the Day of Shabbat

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“Whoever is careful with the observance of Shabbat, will be forgiven for all his sins, even idolatry” (Masechet Shabbat 118b)

“If the Children of Israel would observe one Shabbat properly, the Mashiach would immediately come” (Yerushalmi Taanit 1,1)

Importance of Melacha Prohibition

Dayan Grunfeld explains the importance of the prohibition of Melacha on Shabbat:

“We have seen the fundamental importance of the prohibition of Melacha on Shabbat. We have seen that even one Melacha-Act on Shabbat strikes at the roots of the whole Torah, and is an arrogant denial of G-d and his mastery of the world.”

“We can now perhaps begin to understand the extreme gravity with which the Torah views the violation of the Shabbat, and how it could say, “Those who desecrate it shall die; anyone who does a Melacha on that day – that soul shall be cut off from the midst of its people.” (Shemot: 31,14)

“Indeed, who could do such an act, knowing its full implications, unless he were already dead to all the spiritual aspirations of the Jewish people? It is the simple truth, which we have unfortunately witnessed so many times in recent years, that when the Shabbat goes out of the life of an individual, a family, or a community, their Jewishness is turned into a hollow mockery, to be discarded altogether by those who come after.”

“In matters of such seriousness, even unthinking transgressions must be guarded against. It is a very poor excuse, when fundamental questions of this nature are at stake, to say, “I wasn’t thinking.” Shabbat presents special dangers in this respect, since it concerns actions which we are in the habit of doing all the other six days of the week. Jews at all times, conscious of all that is at stake, have been determined not to be dragged down by habit and forgetfulness. They have therefore sought methods of protection against unintentional desecration of the Shabbat.”

A Fence Around the Law

“The Rabbis have done this by means of protective legislation; the method known as ‘erecting a fence around the Law’ [‘seyag la-Torah’]. A prohibition of this kind is called a ‘gezerah’ (rabbinical decree) or with special reference to the laws of Shabbat, a ‘Shevut.’ “

“In taking these measures, our Rabbis have acted with the full approval and authority of the Torah, which itself commands us to take effective precautions against the unwitting violation of its laws. Thus we find (Shemot 23,13),

‘And concerning all that I have told you, you shall take measures to guard yourselves.’

And again (VaYikra 18,30),

‘And you shall safeguard that which I have given into your charge.’

Referring to enactments made by the Sages in pursuance of this divine command the Torah says (Devarim 17, 10-11),

‘You shall not turn aside from the word that they declare unto you, to the right hand, nor to the left.’

These ‘gezerot’ are thus as binding upon every Jew as the Torah itself. Moreover, since in every case the reason for the decree lies in the frailty and forgetfulness of human nature, they must remain binding for as long as human nature remains unchanged.”

“Our Rabbis have restrained us in this way from doing on the Shabbat many activities which, although not themselves melachot, could very easily lead to our doing melachot. This may be either because:

They outwardly resemble melachot and so can be readily confused with them; or
They are linked with melachot by habit in everyday life; or
The act itself normally involves or easily leads to a melacha in practice.”
“Tearing up a piece of paper is an example of the first kind. It is not a melacha – the constructive purpose being absent; but it bears enough of a resemblance to one (namely, cutting material to a required shape) – for it to be prohibited as a precautionary measure.”

“Agreeing to buy an article is an example of the second kind. This is a situation habitually linked with a melacha (namely, writing down a note of the agreement) – it is therefore forbidden to enter into such an agreement, even verbally, on Shabbat.”

“Climbing a tree is an example of the third type. It may easily lead to breaking a twig or tearing off a leaf, both of which are actual melachot.”

Importance of Gezerot:

“It has been proved countless times that if all these safeguards are taken seriously and observed as an integral part of the Shabbat law, the probability of actual desecration of the Shabbat is greatly lessened.”

“One’s attitude to this safeguarding legislation is an indicator of one’s attitude to the whole institution of Shabbat – indeed to the divine Torah as a whole. The Jew who decides to take a gezerah lightly has already decided in his heart to treat lightly the Torah itself. He has forfeited the right to call himself an observant Jew.”

“It should be noted, however, that the Rabbis, in their great practical wisdom, restricted this type of legislation to the minimum necessary to avoid transgression of the actual Torah laws. It is a rule of ‘halachah,’ or Jewish law, that ‘A protective measure is never enacted to safeguard another protective measure’ (Bava Metzia, 5b).”

“This reflects the realistic viewpoint of the Torah itself which, while insisting on the high standard demanded of the servant of G-d, nevertheless gives full weight to the practical necessities of everyday life. “

Suspension of Shabbat Rules in Case of Serious Illness

In general, serious illness or any threat to life overrides all the prohibitions of the Torah, including those directed against the performance of “Melacha” on Shabbat, except for three. Those three exceptions to the rule are idol-worship, sexual immorality and murder.

So that if a mob boss approaches a Jew with the proposition that if the Jew will murder someone, then the Jew will not be killed, but if he refuses to murder the designated victim, the Jew will pay with his own life, this is an offer which the Jew must refuse.

However, in the case of Shabbat, if a Jew suffers from a serious, life-threatening disease, and the only cure is to cook (one of the basic melachot), and let’s make it worse, some mock-turtle soup (assuming that’s made from turtle, a most assuredly non-Kosher creature), the soup must be prepared.

To illustrate this principle, there is the authenticated incident where a student came to the Brisker Rav, Rav Chaim HaLevi Soloveitchik, to ask what could be done on Shabbat for a particular individual whose life was in danger, the Rav shouted “Murderer! How dare you hesitate for an instant to do anything required for this person!”

Resting the Animals

Dayan Grunfeld discusses below a topic of major interest to those of us involved with animals, in one way or another, but closes with a paragraph of relevance to all.

“In the Ten Commandments and elsewhere the Torah commands us to let our animals rest on Shabbat. This means that we may not allow any animal of ours to do any melacha, nor may we place any burden on it, apart from bridle and reins and anything needed for its protection.”

“If, however, the animal wishes to do a melacha for its own satisfaction, e.g. to crop grass, we are of course not to prevent it; the Torah says, ‘so that your ox and your donkey may rest…,’ and depriving it of its satisfaction can hardly be called ‘rest’ (Mechilta, Shemot 23, 12).”

“It is interesting to note here the essential difference between the prohibition of melacha as applied to Man and as applied to animals. For Man, the prohibition flows from a higher concept than that of physical rest. In the case of the animal this is not so. The superficial argument against true Shabbat observance [‘…after all, the Torah only wants me to enjoy myself, and if my enjoyment is a cigarette….?’] can now be seen for exactly what it is worth. It expresses a desire to exchange the Shabbat of Man for the Shabbat of the animal.”