Out of Bounds
In this week's parsha the B'nai Yisrael are given the manna. It falls every
day from Heaven - except on the Sabbath. The Jews may not collect it on the
Shabbos and thus a double portion falls from heaven on Friday. "See that
Hashem has given you the Sabbath; that is why He gives you on the sixth day a
two-day portion of bread." In addition the Torah proscribes the Jews from
traveling distances on the Shabbos. "Let every man remain in his place; let
no man leave his place on the seventh day" (Exodus 16:29).
Rashi explains that this refers to the t'chum Shabbos, a Shabbos ordinance
that confines one's boundaries under certain settings to 2,000 cubits from
the initial point of origin. One cannot walk farther than that distance on
Though this is not the forum for a discussion of the intricate laws of
Sabbath borders, including certain limitations to the restrictions, one basic
question arises: There are many intricate laws regarding Shabbos activities.
None were yet mentioned. Why discuss the concept of confinement to an
approximate one-mile radius before the Jews learned about the most basic
prohibitions of the Sabbath such as lighting new fires or carrying in the
public domain? In fact, this law of t'chum does not carry the severe
penalties associated with other transgression. Why, then, is it the first
Shabbos law that is introduced?
Once a religious man came to the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soleveitchik,
and asked him whether he should join a certain organization comprised of
people whose views were antithetical to Torah philosophy. Well intentioned,
the man felt that his association would perhaps sway the opinions of the
antagonists and create harmony among the factions. He would be able to
attend meetings and raise his voice in support of Torah outlook.
The Rav advised him not to get involved. The man unfortunately decided to
ignore the advice. Within a few months, he was in a quagmire, because
policies and actions of the theologically-skewed organization were being
linked to him, and were creating animus toward him throughout the community.
For some reason he could not back out of his commitments to the organization.
He was torn. How could he regain his reputation as a Torah observing Jew and
ingratiate himself to his former community?
He returned to the Brisker Rav and asked him once again for his advice.
The Rav told him the following story. There was a young man who aspired to
become a wagon driver. He approached a seasoned wagoneer and began his
training. After a few weeks, he was ready to be certified.
Before receiving an official certification the veteran decided to pose a few
"Let's say," he asked his young charge, "that you decide to take a shortcut
and deviate from the main highway. You cut through a forest on a very muddy
trail. Your wheels become stuck in the mud and your two passengers become
agitated. The horses are struggling to pull out of the mud. They can't seem
to get out. What do you do?"
The young driver looked up in thought. "Well," he began, "first I would take
some wooden planks and try to get them under the wheels.
"Ah!" sighed the old timer, "you made a terrible mistake!" "Why?" retorted
the neophyte driver, "I followed procedure in the precise manner! What did I
The old man sighed. "Your mistake was very simple. You don't take shortcuts
into muddy forests!"
The activist understood the Brisker Rav's message.
Rav Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory explains that before the Jews were even
given the laws of Shabbos they were taught an even more important lesson in
life. Before you can embark on life's journeys and even approach the holy
Shabbos, you must know your boundaries. So before discussing the details of
what you can or can not do on Shabbos, the Torah tells us where we can and
cannot go on Shabbos. Sometimes, keeping within a proper environment is more
primary than rules of order. Because it is worthless to attempt to venture
into greatness when you are walking out of your domain.
In Memory of Reb Yisroel Zisha Ben Reb Hersh Mordechai - Irving Tanzer Of
Blessed Memory -- Yahrzeit --11 Shevat
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
If you enjoy the weekly Drasha, now you can receive the best of Drasha in book form! Purchase
Parsha Parables at a very special price!
The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation