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Two People Performing a Melacha

Shabbat (10:5) | Yisrael Bankier | 7 days ago

The Mishnah (10:5) teaches that if one carries a loaf of bread from a private domain into the public domain, they have violated the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat. If however two people carry the loaf, they would be exempt – meaning they would not have violated the biblical prohibition, yet it is nevertheless prohibited on a rabbinic level. If however carrying the loaf requires both parties, then the Chachamim and R’ Shimon debate whether they are exempt, with R’ Shimon maintaining it is still the case. Let us try to understand the exemption in the first case.

Rashi (Shabbat 92b, s.v. R’ Yehuda poter) explains that when two people carry a small item that is ordinarily carried only by one person, the exemption is because they are carrying the object in an abnormal way. This then is consistent with the earlier Mishnah (10:3) where we learnt that one is only liable if they carry an object in the regular fashion.

The Bartenura however explains that the exemption is based on the following pasuk (Vayikra 4:27): “If an individual person from among the people of the land shall sin unintentionally, by committing it – one of the commandments of Hashem that may not be done – and he becomes guilty”. The Gemara understands from the work be’asotah (by committing it) that one is only liable to bring a korban if they perform the entire melacha. In the case where only one is required to carry the item, yet it is carried by two, then it is considered as if neither performed the entire melacha.

Two other understanding arise out of the explanation of another case. The Gemara explains that if an item is carried by two people with only one able to carry the item on their own, then one person is chayav (liable). The Gemara asks which of the two are chayav. R’ Chisda explains that it is the capable one that is chayav. R’ Hamnuna however asks that the second person is nonetheless assisting. R’ Chisda however explains that assistance alone is not significant.

The Ramban asks, how could R’ Chisda think that the person incapable of carrying the item would be liable? He explains that considering our case where neither can carry the item, we find that despite the fact they are assisting one another, their actions are significant and they are both chayav. R’ Chisda therefore differentiates between the two cases. In the case where each are required to carry the loaf, since if without the involvement of both the melacha could not be performed, it is as if each of them performed the entire melacha and neither are considered “assisting”.

The Ramban cites another explanation in the name of R’ Moshe ben R’ Yosef. He explains that the doubt regarding which of the two are chayav was based on the following consideration. Is the one that was capable liable since he performed the core action? Or is the one that is unable to carry the item alone since he is the one exerting all his force? The latter consideration is similar to the case where neither is capable on their own since both are exerting all their energy to carry the item. R’ Chisda therefore clarified the doubt.

From the Ramban we find two different understandings why in our case both people are chayav. According to the Ramban it is because since the melacha depends on both of them it is as if each performed the entire melacha. According to R’ Moshe ben Yosef it is because each exert their full force. The Ramban however finds this second understanding difficult.

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