Shabbat 123

In today’s daf (Shabbat 123a), reference is made to the previous Mishna (Shabbat 17:1-2, 122b) beginning with the words כל הכלים (‘these are all the utensils that may be moved on Shabbat’) which states that while a needle’s normal usage should mean that it is categorized as ‘Mukzeh’ (set aside from Shabbat usage since sewing is forbidden on Shabbat), a needle can be used for other reasons such as for removing a thorn and is therefore not considered ‘Mukzeh’. However, the question raised by Rava the son of Rabbah in our daf is whether a needle which is broken and which does not have its eye is also not considered ‘Mukzeh’?

Rav Yosef initially finds this to be a strange question since whether or not a needle has its eye, it is equally effective at removing thorns. But Rava the son of Rabbah then qualifies his question by citing from Mishna Keilim 13:5 which states – within its discussion of the laws of טומאה (ritual impurity) – that a needle whose eye has been broken off is not considered a כלי (utensil) and is therefore not susceptible to טומאה (ritual impurity). Given this, if such a broken needle is not considered a כלי, then surely it does not fit into the necessary criteria of כל הכלים (‘these are all the utensils that may be moved on Shabbat’) and therefore perhaps such a needle should be ‘Mukzeh’?

Initially, Abaye dismisses Rava the son of Rabbah’s concern on the basis of the principle that the laws of טומאה (ritual impurity) operate differently to the laws of Shabbat, and thus while such a needle may not be considered as a כלי in the world of טומאה, it is considered to be enough of a כלי in the world of the laws of Shabbat to qualify for the exemption of it not being Mukzeh if used for alternative purposes. However, Rava successfully explains that, at least with respect to this particular question, an object which is no longer considered a כלי vis-à-vis the laws of טומאה (ritual impurity) is also not considered a כלי vis-à-vis the laws of Shabbat, and thus an eyeless needle is considered to be Mukzeh.

Reflecting on this debate, there are occasions when changes in parts of our life only affect parts of our life, and there are occasions when changes in parts of our life affect all aspects of our life. For those like Rav Yosef and Abaye, rules and principles exist to help us compartmentalize different aspects of life such that changes in one area should not trigger changes in another. However, for those like Rava the son of Rabbah and Rava, not all aspects of life can be compartmentalized, and sometimes a radical change affects every part of our life.

I know many people like Rav Yosef and Abaye and who are outstanding compartmentalizers, and I also know many people like Rava the son of Rabbah and Rava who wear their heart on their sleeve wherever they go. What we learn from our daf is when it comes to the essential questions of who and what we are, all aspects of our life are affected.