BS”D (B’Siyata D’Shamaya) Aramaic: With the help of Heaven
which is also known as ָבתֹון ַש ַבת ַש –Shabbat Shabbaton, the same terminology that the Torah uses for a regular Shabbat. Thus the pasuk can be rendered:
On six days melacha is permitted –the first and last days of Pesach ,)2(one day of Shavuot ,)3(one day of Rosh HaShana ,)4(one day of Succoth ,)5(one day of Shemini Atzeret .)6(However the seventh is the holy of holiest, no melacha is permitted, not even cooking, this is Yom Kippurim!65
What ‘work’ is forbidden on the Shabbat?
Most Americans see the word “work” and think of it in the English sense of the word: physical labor and effort, or employment. Under this definition, turning on a light would be permitted, because it does not require effort, but a Hakham, a Rabbi, would not be permitted to lead Shabbat services, because leading services is his employment. Jewish law prohibits the former and permits the latter. Many Americans therefore conclude that Jewish law doesn’t make any sense.
The problem lies not in Jewish law, but in the definition that Americans are using. The Torah does not prohibit “work” in the 20th century English sense of the word. The Torah prohibits “melacha” ָכה( ָלא ְמ ,)which is usually translated as “work,” but does not mean precisely the same thing as the English word. Before you can begin to understand the Shabbat restrictions, you must understand the word “melacha”.
Melacha generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment. The word may be related to “Melech” (king; .)מלךAvodah (permitted labor) comes from the root eved -slave. The quintessential example of melacha is the work of creating the universe, which G-d ceased from on the seventh day. Note that G-d’s work did not require a great physical effort: he spoke, and it was done.
The word melacha is rarely used in scripture outside of the context of Shabbat and holiday restrictions. The only other repeated use of the word is in the discussion of the building of the sanctuary and its vessels in the wilderness, in Shemot (Exodus) Chapters ,31 .35-38Notably, the Shabbat restrictions are reiterated during this discussion,66 thus we can infer that the work of creating the sanctuary had to be stopped for Shabbat. From this, our Hakhamim, our Rabbis, concluded that the work prohibited on Shabbat is the same as the work of creating the sanctuary. They found 39categories of forbidden acts, all of which are types of work that were needed to build the sanctuary. These are the labors defined as melacha:67
Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving, Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing two stitches, Tearing, Trapping, Slaughtering, Flaying, Salting meat, Curing hide, Scraping hide, Cutting hide up, Writing two letters, Erasing two letters, Building, Tearing a building down, Extinguishing a fire, Kindling a fire, Hitting with a hammer, Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.
Abstaining from melacha on Shabbat is a loyalty test from The King. It is the yardstick of a covenant. That is why the penalty for intentionally breaking the Shabbat -is death!
Carrying the weight of water is burdensome. But, if you scuba dive and immerse yourself in the water, and then bearing the weight of the water becomes a pleasure. Even so, one immersed in Torah and Shabbat will never find
64The Day of Atonement.
65The weekly Shabbat and each of the festivals, in Vayikra chapter ,23are described as containing festival Shabbats. These festival Shabbats have the same actions and prohibitions as the weekly Shabbat. The only difference between the weekly Shabbat and the festival Shabbats is that we are allowed to cook on the festivals, if the fire is lit before the festival.
66Shemot (Exodus) .31:13
67First of all, the Mishkan itself is a micro-world. Each and every detail, along with the 39types of labor necessary for its construction, model the seven days of creation. As an aside, it now makes sense why the Torah forbids us to do those very same thirty-nine (forty less one) types of labor on Shabbat. Just as HaShem completed His activities of creation on the 7th day, so too we must stop our acts of labor on the 7th day. We are emulating the Creator!