June 25, 2020

Shabbat 78

As previously explained in my comments to Shabbat 76a-b, ‘if a product is of sufficient value or use to a person that they would deliberately store it for future use, then this affords the product with inherent purpose, value and importance’. What this means is that if such a product was consciously carried from one domain to another on Shabbat, then the carrier would be required to bring a sin offering for having transgressed the melacha of המוציא מרשות לרשות.

In the Mishna (Shabbat 8:2) in today’s daf (Shabbat 78a-b) we are presented with a long list of such products including a קשר מוכסין – a tax collectors receipt. However, the Gemara (Shabbat 78b) then cites a Beraita recording a disagreement between the Sages and Rabbi Yehuda about this קשר מוכסין.

According to the Sages, a קשר מוכסין only has inherent purpose, value and importance prior to showing it to the tax collector whereas, once it has been shown to them, it is valueless. But according to Rabbi Yehuda, even once the receipt has been shown to the tax collector the receipt has inherent purpose, value and importance. This is because, as Rav Ashi explains, if a different tax collector demands payment, the original receipt can be used as proof of payment (nb. for a 3-minute video where Dr. Henry Abrahmson discusses tax collection during the time of the Mishna, see https://alldaf.org/p/64794). What we learn from here as well as from many of the other cases cited in this chapter is that items can have inherent purpose, value and importance long after having been initially purchased or received, and that the act of storing items for later use affords such items with value.

Interestingly, the Gemara elsewhere (Gittin 65a) explains that the first sign of a child’s maturity is when they can distinguish between beneficial items (in that case, a nut) and non-beneficial items (in that case, a pebble), from which we learn that one of the most important gifts of life is being able to distinguish between the important and the frivolous – such as knowing what documents to keep (eg. tax receipts that can save you from futher payments), and what documents to throw.

Based on this teaching, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam (Atara LaMelech p. 147) explains that since the most precious resource that each of us have is the gift of time, what we do with our time is a reflection of our maturity. Consequently, if we use our time well to help ourselves and others, then we are like the child who knows the difference between the pebble and the nut, whereas if we use our time frivolously, then it is as if we have not even reached the first stage of maturity expected of a child.

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