The Exceptional Melachah1
If the other forms of forbidden labor on Shabbos are like neatly dressed and presentable children, then hotza’ah is the poor little orphaned waif. Our Rishonim sensed that there was something different about what we call “carrying.” It just doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the rest of the thirty-nine melachos. They went so far as to call it a lesser, or debased, melachah. First of all, if transporting between domains is forbidden, why is it permissible by Torah law to transport between one private domain and another? And why should transporting be forbidden altogether? Unlike all the other melachos, hotza’ah does not change the object upon which the melachah is done. Only its location changes, but not its substance.
Yirmiyahu recognized how different hotza’ah was. “Do not carry a burden from your houses on Shabbos, and do not do any melachah.” Is hotza’ah, then, not a melachah?
Thirty-eight melachos bar activity that demonstrate Man’s mastery of his physical surroundings. We give up the creative interventions that show the power of our intelligent selves imposed upon physical substance. Despite our considerable ability – far in excess of anything else in the animal kingdom – we proclaim that Hashem is the Creator – not ourselves.
What the rest of the melachos are to the physical world, hotza’ah is to the social world. The ban on “carrying” on Shabbos subordinates our creative powers as applied to the social universe.
Living in a social environment rather than alone, means interactions between the individual and the community. All these interactions are represented in the forbidden acts of carrying on Shabbos. The individual brings of his own to the public good. He yields some of his possessions to the State. This corresponds to transporting from the private domain to the public domain, and is therefore forbidden on Shabbos, when we subordinate the rights of the State to our primary obligation to Hashem. The individual also takes from the community; carrying from the public domain to a private one is similarly forbidden. The most elevated form of community life is the ability of the individual to further the cause of the greater community, to move the community agenda further along. This is represented by the prohibition of moving objects four amos, i.e. a significant distance, within the public domain. On Shabbos, however, we must remind ourselves that G-d’s presence and blessing is the single most important factor in advancing the greater good of the community.
Between the two groups of melachos – the thirty-eight on one hand, and hotza’ah on the other – we perceive the overarching message of Shabbos. Man must subordinate himself, his intelligence, talents and creativity, to Hashem. He looks to G-d for all direction in his manipulation of the physical world; he yields his social life to His dictates as well.
The Torah offers two conflicting rationales for observing Shabbos in the two versions of the Aseres ha-Dibros. One of them points to Hashem as Creator of heaven and earth, while the other underscores Hashem as our Deliverer from bondage in Egypt. Through our examination of hotza’ah, we understand that the two arguments are complimentary.
Realizing that Hashem created and sustains the physical universe, we gladly acknowledge His role and put our creative talents on hold each Shabbos, by refraining from thirty-eight melachos. Recalling our redemption from slavery in Egypt, we remember that He was the One who forged us into a people. He created the national identity that would become the basis of the Jewish State and the Jewish community. By eschewing any carrying from domain to domain on Shabbos, we place HKBH at the center of all of our public life, turning to Him for guidance as to what we take from and give back to the community.
Hotza’ah, then, is both similar and dissimilar to the other melachos. It completely fits the paradigm of activity suspended on Shabbos in the interest of proclaiming Hashem as true Creator. On the other hand, it differs from the others by focusing on Man’s capacity for social organization and living, rather than as master of the physical universe.
The Mishkan Pattern
And it was in the first month in the second year, on the first of the month, the Mishkan was erected. Moshe erected the Mishkan…
After listening to Chazal’s understanding of these psukim, we realize that we’ve been here before.
We saw earlier that the first group of kohanim were inaugurated over a seven day period. During that week, nothing became permanent until the end. Each day of that period, the korbanos were repeated anew, along with the ceremonial acts upon the kohanim themselves. After that, they assumed their role without interruption.
The inauguration of the Mishkan paralleled this perfectly. This pasuk does not mark the first time that all the components were joined together to produce the functioning Mishkan. Moshe had done the same for the previous seven days. There, too, each day’s activity was temporary, and repeated again on the next. What made this day special is that the Mishkan remained in place, ready to function until the order came from Above to dismantle it and move on to the next location.
This pattern was roughly predicted even earlier, at Matan Torah. There too, an initial state of flux gave way only at the end to the next stage of development. For six days the cloud covered Har Sinai, but nothing more happened. Moshe was not permitted to go up to the summit. The Shechinah, as it were, required a period of time to establish its presence on earth. Once it had – on the seventh day – Moshe received permission to ascend. The mountain had become the place from which the Divine teaching would emanate, and Moshe went up to receive it.
Here as well, the Mishkan required a period of time to become the place for the Shechinah specifically among men. When the period was completed, the Mishkan assumed the role on a continuous basis.
Interestingly, having placed the Mishkan on a firm footing, Moshe drops out of the picture. Once the Shechinah attached itself to the Mishkan, Moshe was unable to enter it – despite having been the crucial personality in getting the Mishkan to function. Having completed his job, Moshe stepped back to become just another among the people. This demonstrated that it was not Moshe’s specialness, his insight, his work that bound the Shechinah to its abode, but the role and importance of the Torah Nation. The Shechinah came because of Klal Yisrael, not because of its leader. Moshe had to remain outside until he received a new invitation, the call to him in the first pasuk of Vayikra.
The pattern is not yet exhausted. The seven day period that precedes our pasuk adumbrates the future. In our parshah, we see a Mishkan fully inaugurated after it was erected, dismantled, erected again, etc. over a period of seven days. The process would continue in the future. There would be seven appearances of the Mishkan: in the desert, Gilgal, Shiloh, Nov, Givon, the First Beis ha-Mikdosh, and Second Beis ha -Mikdash. Afterwards, destruction and a long period of silence, finally yielding to a new day, and a permanent place on earth with the coming of Moshiach.
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Shemos 35:1
2. See, for example, Tosafos to Shabbos 2A, s.v. pashat
3. Yirmiyahu 17:22
4. Shemos 40:17-18
5. Shemos 29: 30, 37
6. Shemos 24:16, 18
7. Shemos 40:35