A few times in the Gemara R’ Akiva and the Chachamim argue whether the prohibition of walking more than two thousand amot from a city is biblical or rabbinic. The pasuk that is brought as a source for this issur is from Shmot ():
“See that Hashem has given you the Shabbat; that is why He gives you on the sixth day a two-day portion of bread. Let everyman remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the Seventh day”
This pasuk seems to state clearly that one is not allowed to leave their place on Shabbat. If so how can the Chachamim say that there is no issur from the Torah? Many Rishonim use this pasuk (along with a few other Gemarot) to explained that the Chachamim also agree that there is a basis for the issur in the Torah. If so, what is the machloket between R’ Akiva and the Chachamim? A few options may be considered in order to explain this machloket.
Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 27:1) explains that there are in fact two different outer limits that relate to techumim. The first two thousand amot limit is indeed rabbinic, while there is a second further limit that is biblical. This issur therefore does originate from the Torah while the distance however was not specified; the Torah just states that one cannot leave his “place”. The Chachamim determined that this biblical measure was twelve mil, which is equivalent to the size of machaneh Yisrael. The sages however went one step further and placed an additional decree restricting the “place” to the city and an area of two thousand amot around it where it is still considered its “place”. If we accept Rambam's opinion we might be able to find new meaning to this issur. We know that there is an issur to take anything out of one's house to the public domain. This concept can be explained by a Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (4:3) that says:
“Do not despise anyone or anything as you do not have a man that does not have his hour and you do not have an object that does not have a place”.
The Mishnah introduces an important new concept in the world of objects. Any object has its own place, moving it from its place will automatically change its status. Changing an object on Shabbat is not allowed as it is considered Melechet Machshevet – productive work. Similarly moving the object from one place to another is, in a way, changing its essence. The Torah regards a man moving from one city to another in a similar way. A man has his own place and that is his city. Moving out from that city and going to a new place is in a sense changing oneself. That is the reason that the Torah does not want a man to do such a thing on Shabbat. It was the Chachamim that realised that two thousand amot around the city is still close enough to be considered staying in one’s place. This is the reason that the city itself is not counted in this measurement. But only the two thousand amot that are around the city. In the city itself one does not make any change by going from one place to another; it is only when he leaves the city.
On the other hand Ramban explains that this issur is not from the Torah but rather constituted by the sages. Ramban gives a very interesting insight about the pasuk that we brought before regarding the issur of Techumim. Ramban explains that every mitzvah that is written before the Torah was given at Har Sinai, once the Torah was given, is not considered a mitzvah unless it is repeated again later on in the Torah. In the case of Techumim the issur is written before the Torah was given and therefore it only holds as long as the Torah was not given and since it is not repeated later on in the Torah there is no issur of Techumim from the Torah.
In summary, no matter which opinion we hold by, the issur of techumim can be explained as saying that one should concentrate on his or her family and community – that is the purpose of Shabbat.
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