SALT - Thursday, 12 March 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Vayakhel begins with Moshe telling the people of the requirement to abstain from prohibited activity on Shabbat, and singling out in particular the prohibition against kindling a flame on Shabbat (35:3).  Rashi draws our attention to the Gemara (Shabbat 70a) which cites two different views as to halakhic implications of this verse, which seems to assign a unique status to the prohibition of havara (kindling).  According to one view, the Torah singled out one of the thirty-nine Shabbat prohibitions to establish that they must be treated as separate prohibitions.  Thus, if a person unintentionally violated several prohibitions on one Shabbat, he must offer a separate sacrifice for each violation.  According to the other view, however, the Torah singled out havara for the purpose of lowering its halakhic status.  Whereas the other Shabbat prohibitions constitute capital offenses, such that one is liable to capital punishment for intentional violations and must bring a sacrifice if he violates unintentionally, havara is treated as an ordinary Torah prohibition.  As such, a violator of havara is liable to malkot (lashes) in the case of a willful violation, and does not bring a sacrifice if he transgresses unintentionally.  The Gemara cites this ruling in the name of Rabbi Yossi. 

            Tosafot Yeshanim, in Masekhet Shabbat (29b), writes that Rabbi Yossi’s view applies specifically to the prohibition of havara, and not to the related prohibition of mekhabeh – extinguishing a flame.  Intuitively, we might have assumed that these two prohibitions should be viewed together as a pair, such that the status of one must necessarily be true of the other.  According to Tosafot Yeshanim, however, this is not the case.  Although Rabbi Yossi relegates havara to a lower status of prohibition, he nevertheless regards mekhabeh as a capital offense like the other Shabbat prohibitions. 

            The Tosafot Yeshanim draws compelling proof to this assertion from the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Keritut (20a-b).  The Gemara there cites a berayta that addresses the case of one who unintentionally stokes coals on Shabbat, which has the effect of extinguishing some coals and kindling others. The berayta records a debate as to whether the individual in this case must bring one sin-offering or two.  Intuitively, of course, we would have assumed that he must bring two sin-offerings, as he transgressed two Shabbat violations – kindling, and extinguishing.  The Gemara offers several different explanations of this debate, one of which being that it hinges on the controversy surrounding havara.  The first view cited in the berayta reflects the position of Rabbi Yossi, that havara is not treated as a capital offense.  As such, in this case the individual has committed only one capital offense – extinguishing – and therefore brings just one sin-offering.  The second view in the berayta maintains that havara is no different from the other Shabbat prohibitions, and thus in this case, where one both kindles and extinguishes, he must bring two sacrifices.  This discussion clearly works off the assumption that even if havara has a lower halakhic status than the other Shabbat prohibitions, the prohibition of mekhabeh is treated as an ordinary Shabbat prohibition, thus providing proof for the Tosafot Yeshanim’s claim. 

            Tosafot Yeshanim also notes that this conclusion appears to emerge from a Mishna in the seventh chapter of Maskehet Shabbat (the chapter known as Kelal Gadol), though without specifying which Mishna.  Rav Aryeh Leib Baron, in his Birkat Yehuda, suggests that Tosafot Yeshanim refers to the Mishna (73a) which lists the thirty-nine Shabbat prohibitions, and mentions mekhabeh before havara.  This point was already noted by the Tosafot Yom Tov, who observed that in listing other similar pairs of prohibitions, the sequence is reversed.  For example, the prohibition of building (boneh) is listed before the prohibition against deconstructing (soter); the prohibition of writing (koteiv) is mentioned before that of erasing (mocheik); and the prohibition of stitching (tofer) appears before the prohibition of tearing apart a stitch (korei’a).  This pattern should seemingly dictate that the prohibition of havara – kindling a flame – be mentioned before the reverse prohibition, that of mekhabeh, putting out a kindled flame.  The reason why the sequence is reversed, the Tosafot Yom Tov explains, is because havara is on a lower halakhic level than mekhabeh according to Rabbi Yossi.  Possibly, Rav Baron writes, this was the intent of Tosafot Yeshanim in drawing proof to its position regarding mekhabeh from the Mishna.  The fact that mekhabeh is listed before havara reflects Rabbi Yossi’s view regarding the unique status of havara, thus proving that this status applies only to havara, and not to mekhabeh.


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