SALT - Monday, 8 Adar 5777 - March 6, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            In the last two editions of S.A.L.T. we noted the question addressed by a number of writers concerning the use of the Urim Ve-tumim on Shabbat.  In response to queries posed by the kohen gadol, the letters of the Urim Ve-tumim would, according to one view in the Gemara (Yoma 73b), protrude and rearrange themselves to provide the answer.  This could, conceivably, constitute an act of writing that would be forbidden on Shabbat.

            The Klausenberger Rebbe addresses this issue in the context of a fascinating discussion regarding the general question surrounding the case of melakha (forbidden activity) performed on Shabbat through speech.  In a responsum on the topic published in his Divrei Yatziv (O.C. 105), the Rebbe asserts that indeed, a melakha caused through speech constitutes an act of Shabbat desecration.  He cites the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Shabbat (119b) that “dibbur ke-ma’aseh” – speech is akin to action.  The Gemara draws proof from King David’s proclamation in Tehillim (33:6), “Bi-dvar Hashem shamayim na’asu” – “The heavens were made with the word of the Lord.”  The verse here speaks of the heavens being “made” (“na’asu”), despite the fact that they were brought into existence through mere speech, the proclamations of the Almighty, indicating that producing something through speech is equivalent to producing something through action.  The Gemara makes this comment amidst its discussion of the laws of Shabbat, and thus the Klausenberger Rebbe concludes that the Gemara here establishes a halakhic equation between speech and action with respect to the Shabbat prohibitions.  The concept being conveyed, the Rebbe explains, is that as we refrain from creative activity on Shabbat in commemoration of the end of the process of the world’s creation, we must refrain even from creative activity performed verbally, because this is precisely the activity which God performed, as it were, during creation.  Since our Shabbat commemorates God’s cessation of work, we must refrain from creative action performed through speech, as this is the very kind of “activity” that ceased on the first Shabbat after the six days of creation.

            Amid this discussion, the Klausenberger Rebbe notes the question raised concerning the Urim Ve-tumim.  He suggests that indeed, consulting the Urim Ve-tumim could constitute a Shabbat violation, since causing melakha through speech is forbidden no less than performing melakha through direct action.

            The Rebbe applies this concept to explain the startling position of the Semag (cited by the Beit Yosef, O.C. 244) that the prohibition of amira le-nokhri – asking a gentile to perform melakha on one’s behalf on Shabbat – is forbidden by force of Torah law.  Many later writers noted that the Talmud frequently speaks of amira le-nokhri as a prohibition enacted by Chazal, and they thus wondered how the Semag could make such statement.  The Klausenberger Rebbe cites a theory advanced by some Acharonim that the Semag refers to the specific case of a gentile employed by a Jew, and in his view, instructing one’s non-Jewish employee to perform melakha constitutes a Torah violation.  The Rebbe explains that in such a situation, where the Jew’s request is almost guaranteed to be fulfilled by the gentile employee, the Jew is considered as having produced melakha through his speech.  As such, according to the view of the Semag, the Jewish employer has committed a Torah violation, as the Torah forbids performing melakha on Shabbat both through action and through speech.