SALT - Monday 10 Shevat 5777 - February 6, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This shiur is dedicated in memory of
Miriam Heller z"l
whose yahrzeit falls on the seventh of Shvat,
by her niece, Vivian Singer.

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            The Torah in Parashat Beshalach tells of the manna, the miraculous food which fell from the heavens each morning to feed Benei Yisrael during their period of travel through the wilderness.  On Friday, we read, twice the ordinary quantity of manna was provided, so that the people would have food also for Shabbat, when no manna fell.  On the first Friday after God began providing the manna, Moshe instructed the people to cook or bake the manna that day in preparation for Shabbat (16:23).

            The Tosafists, in Moshav Zekeinim (Parashat Behaalotekha), question on the basis of this verse the famous tradition (mentioned in Yoma 75b) that Benei Yisrael were able to experience any taste they wished in the manna.  If the manna could be tasted any way one wished, the Tosafists ask, then why was it necessary for them to cook or bake the manna at all?  Seemingly, according to this tradition, there was no preparation needed before partaking of the manna, and it is thus difficult to understand why Moshe instructed the people to prepare the manna before the onset of Shabbat.  The Tosafists suggest that the people would need to verbally mention the food which they wanted the manna to become, and thus they “cooked” the manna by speaking.  Cooking in this fashion was forbidden on Shabbat, and so the people needed to “prepare” the food through their verbal pronouncement before Shabbat.

            This issue touches upon the interesting discussion of several halakhic authorities concerning the status of forbidden actions performed through supernatural means.  If a person commits a prohibited act, but not in the standard manner, but rather through magical powers, does this transgress the given prohibition?

            Several writers noted a seeming contradiction in this regard between two halakhot.  The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (101a) writes that one may trap a snake on Shabbat through magical incantations, despite the prohibition against trapping animals on Shabbat, and this ruling is codified in the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 328:45).  The Mishna Berura explains that this is allowed because it is not the natural way of trapping.  This halakha certainly suggests that supernatural methods of committing an otherwise forbidden act are permissible.  On the other hand, several sources (including Halakhot Ketanot 2:98) indicate that one is guilty of murder even if he kills through some supernatural, magical technique.  The Steipler Gaon, in Kehilat Yaakov (Bava Kama 45:2), answers this question by drawing a distinction between the Shabbat prohibitions and other Torah violations.  The Shabbat prohibitions are unique in that they are violated only when the act is performed through a regular, direct action.  If one performs one of the prohibited Shabbat actions ki-le’achar yad – indirectly, in a roundabout way, then he does not violate Shabbat (on the level of Torah law).  By the same token, the Steipler Gaon explains, performing a forbidden Shabbat activity through supernatural means does not constitute an act of Shabbat desecration.  When it comes to all other Torah prohibitions, one is guilty of a violation even if he commits the act in a “magical,” supernatural way.

            This position, it would seem, is at odds with the aforementioned comment of the Tosafists regarding the manna.  As we saw, the Tosafists claimed that it was forbidden to “cook” the manna by supernaturally transforming it into the desired food.  This would certainly suggest that supernatural means of committing a forbidden act are prohibited even in the context of the Shabbat prohibitions.

            A slightly different view is taken by Rav Chaim Palagi, in his Leiv Chayim (O.C. 2:188).  Rav Palagi also distinguishes between the Shabbat laws and other Torah prohibitions, but he formulates this distinction differently.  He writes that on Shabbat, one transgresses any one of the thirty-nine melakhot (categories of forbidden activity) only if he performs an action in the normal manner in which that action is usually performed.  Since hunting is not normally done through incantations, but rather through a physical act of seizure or entrapment, trapping via incantation does not constitute an act of Shabbat desecration.  In general, however, one transgresses the Torah’s laws even if he commits the act through supernatural means.

            This approach perhaps provides us for an explanation as to why it was forbidden for Benei Yisrael to “cook” the man through a verbal proclamation.  As this was the standard manner of preparing the manna, it fell under the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat.  Although unusual methods of performing melakha generally do not constitute Torah violations, this method of cooking would violate Shabbat since it was the usual method of food preparation at that time and under those circumstances.

            It should also be noted that the Gemara (there in Masekhet Yoma) states that the sinful members of the nation did not enjoy this special feature of the manna, of miraculously transforming it into whichever food they desired.  Accordingly, we could easily explain that the command to prepare the manna before Shabbat was directed specifically to them.  The righteous members of the nation, who were able to miraculously turn the manna into the food of their choice, perhaps had no need to prepare their manna before Shabbat.

(Based on Rav Chaim Leib Eisenstein’s Peninim Mi-bei Midresha, Parashat Beshalach)