Shabbat 102

Today’s daf (Shabbat 102b) begins the 12th Chapter of Massechet Shabbat titled ‘HaBoneh’ (one who builds), and having reached this point it should be clear that to transgress – at least on a biblical level – many of the Shabbat melachot, an individual must perform that action for a certain distance (4 amot) or carry an object of a certain size (kezayit). In fact, much of the first side of today’s daf (Shabbat 102a) addresses precisely these types of details and considers whether a person is liable when they only consciously perform a melacha for חצי שיעור – half the distance/measure.

Yet contrasting this, the first Mishna of ‘HaBoneh’ begins by stating that הבונה כל שהוא – ‘one who builds any amount’ is liable. Surprised by this difference, the Gemara queries whether ‘any amount’ of building is truly substantive to be worthy of rendering someone liable for its transgression. On this point Rabbi Yirmiya replies that poor people often dig small holes (and in doing so, transgress the melacha of ‘boneh’) to hide the few copper coins that they own so they can be at peace with the knowledge that their few worldly possessions won’t be taken from them – thus demonstrating that even a seemingly minor act of building is significant.

Like the laws of Shabbat, there are certain things in life that are also measured by specific units. Yet also like the laws of Shabbat, it is possible to perform the smallest of gestures – a כל שהוא – such as offering some words of encouragement, or helping someone with a task they need to fulfill, and in doing so help build up a person and thereby instill in them some inner peace.

Unfortunately, too many of us think that building people up is the work of the few. However, basing itself on the words of Yeshaya 54:13 – ‘and all your children (בניך) shall be disciples of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children (בניך)’, our Sages (Brachot 64a etc.) expound, ‘do not read ‘your children’ (בניך) but, instead, ‘your builders’ (בוניך)’ – meaning that if a person wishes to bring more peace into the world, they should be among the people who build people up, and in doing so, help build more peace in the world.

And if a person isn’t sure where to start, then they should recall the words of Rabbi Yirmiya who, by giving us an example of a poor person teaches us that the poor, the hungry, and those marginalised in our community must be first on our list of those towards who we should direct our building activities and for whom even a כל שהוא can make the world of difference by helping bring a little more peace and comfort to their lives.