June 19, 2020

Shabbat 3

Today’s daf (Shabbat 3a-b) explores the implications of the Mishna discussing concerning the prohibition of transferring an item from one area (eg. private) to another (eg. public) which is biblically trangressed when someone (i) lifts up an item in one area, and, (ii) places it in another area. Here the focus is both on the item (which is lifted up and placed down) and on the person (who does the lifting up and placing down), with the implication being that someone can have an item placed in their hand in one area and transfer it from one area to another but not be biblically liable until they have both lifted the item from one area and placed it in another.

On Shabbat 3a we read of a fascinating case which exquisitely encapsulates the nuance and creativity of Talmudic logic where Rav asks Rebbi: ‘If items were placed on a person, and that person then walks from one area to another – what is the law? Is the lifting of his body comparable to the lifting of the item or not?’.

In the case of the Mishna there were two considerations: the item, and the person, whereas here the item and the person have been attached to one another. So the question is whether the person standing up is considered to be an act of lifting up the item, and whether the person stopping is considered to be an act of placing down of the item?

Rebbi rules that this case is biblically prohibited and that it cannot be compared to someone in whose hand an item is placed in one area who then moves into another area. This is because ‘his body is at rest, while his hands are not at rest’ i.e. when a person walks from one place to another, they lift themselves up and put themselves down, while the moving of a hand with an item does not necessarily involve both actions, because hands are always moving.

Significantly, this idea that ‘hands are not at rest’ has further halachic applications, and it is one of the reasons why we wash our hands upon waking up each morning because we presume that our hands are constantly moving and are likely to touch parts of our body while we are sleeping that are usually covered.

However there is one final lesson we can learn from the distinction that Rebbi draws between the body and the hands, which is that while our bodies may often be at rest, our hands should always be kept moving. Significantly, many of the mitzvot involve hands, and especially on Purim we are taught that ‘whoever stretches out their hand on Purim should be given tzedakah’. So may we all use the power of our moving hands to do mitzvot – especially on Purim! Wishing you all a Purim Sameach!

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