The Torah in Parashat Shelach (15:32-36) tells the story of the “mekosheish eitzim,” the man who violated Shabbat and was subsequently punished. The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (96b) cites three different views as to the precise violation committed by this individual. One view maintains that he picked pieces of wood from the ground, in violation of the prohibition against detaching vegetation from the ground on Shabbat. According to a different view, the sticks were already detached, but this man gathered them, in violation of “me’amer,” which forbids gathering scattered items into a heap on Shabbat. A third view maintains that the mekosheish simply carried sticks through the desert, in violation of the law which forbids carrying items through a public domain on Shabbat.
The Minchat Chinukh (Mosakh Ha-Shabbat – me’amer) suggests that one of the issues underlying this debate might be the scope of the me’amer prohibition. The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (73b) cites two views as to whether this prohibition applies to all scattered items, or only to gidulei karka – things that grew from the ground. Halakha accepts Abayei’s position, that the Torah prohibition of me’amer is relevant only to gidulei karka (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 340:9). The Minchat Chinukh infers from a textual nuance in the Rambam’s discussion of me’amer that according to the Rambam, the Torah prohibition of me’amer is limited not only to things that grow from the ground, but also to foodstuff. That is to say, inedible vegetation, such as wood, would not fall under the Torah prohibition. And for this reason, the Minchat Chinukh suggests, two of the three Amora’im cited did not accept the possibility that the mekosheish was guilty of me’amer. The Torah says explicitly that his violation involved wood (“mekosheish eitzim”), and in their view, wood is not included in the me’amer prohibition. Therefore, they needed to identify other prohibitions of which the mekosheish was guilty.
On this basis, the Minchat Chinukh suggests an explanation for Rashi’s otherwise perplexing comments on this passage in the Gemara. Commenting on the view claiming that the mekosheish was guilty of me’amer, Rashi makes reference – seemingly unnecessarily – to the opinion mentioned earlier (73b) that the me’amer prohibition applies even to salt. As we saw, one view among the Amora’oim maintains that me’amer is applicable to all items, not just those that grow from the ground. Rashi makes reference to that opinion in the context of the discussion surrounding the mekosheish to establish that the me’amer prohibition applies even to non-foodstuff. Elsewhere (Bava Batra 20a), Rashi writes that salt is not halakhically classified as “food,” and thus, for example, it is not susceptible to tum’a. Therefore, the fact that one view applies the me’amer prohibition to salt, and the other disagrees only because salt does not grow from the ground, demonstrates that this prohibition is relevant even to inedible items. That discussion, then, provides the background to the Gemara’s discussion about the mekosheish, as it explains why one view maintained that the mekosheish was guilty of me’amer. The Rambam, however, maintained that me’amer is not applicable to inedible items, and he understood that this is precisely the point of debate (or one of the points of debate) among the Amora’im in identifying the prohibition transgressed by the mekosheish.