Introduction to Hotza'ah

Shabbat (1:1) | Rabbi Nechmiah Litke | 17 years ago

Masechet Shabbat begins with the laws of hotza’ah - transferring an object from one domain to another. This melacha is one of the thirty-nine Avot Melacha (primary acts which are forbidden on Shabbat). Although the Torah states that no melacha shall be done on Shabbat, it is not immediately obvious which types of labor are Avot Melacha. Logically, bringing an item inside would not be considered a melacha due to the lack of creativity in performing this action. However, the Gemara (e.g. Shabbat 39b) learns that since Shabbat is written (Shmot 35) next to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), any important activity performed in the Mishkan’s construction is considered an Av-Melacha. Hotza’ah was performed in the Mishkan (see Shmot 36:6) and is therefore considered a melacha.

The melacha of hotza’ah however is considered a melacha geru’a (a lacking type of labor) since logically there should be no difference between carrying from a private domain to another private domain, which is biblically permitted, to carrying from a private domain to a public domain, which is biblically prohibited. For this reason the Tosfot (Shabbat 2b “pashat ba’al ha’bait”) explain that it is not enough to rely only on the p’sukim that connect Shabbat and the Mishkan. Rather two other p’sukim that deal specifically with hotza’ah in the prohibited manner are needed:

  1. With regard to the mun (heavenly bread) the Torah says (Shmot ), “Let no man leave his place on the seventh day”. The Gemara (Eiruvin 7b) learns from this “let no man take out anything on the seventh [day]”.

  2. With regard to the bringing donations for building the Mishkan the Torah says (Shmot 36:6), “Moshe commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying, ‘Man and woman shall not do more work towards the offering of the Sanctuary!’ and the people stopped bringing”. The Gemara (Shabbat 96b) learns that Moshe was telling Bnei Yisrael not to take out from their private domains to the public domain on Shabbat.

Another source for hotza’ah is the Beraitah (Shabbat 49b) that states that one is liable only for a melacha that was done in the Mishkan:

They picked up the beams of the Mishkan from the ground (public domain) to the wagon (private domain), so too you do not bring in from a public domain to a private domain. They took down the beams from the wagon to the ground, so too you are not to take out from a private domain to public domain.

Unlike previously, here the prohibition of hotza’ah is not learnt from a pasuk but rather from the technique used by those who carried the beams of the Mishkan. One should note that it is also forbidden to carry an item in a public domain for more than the distance of 4 amot (approximately 2 meters), and the Gemara (Shabbat 96b) does not learn this from a pasuk but rather through tradition.

One can therefore conclude that in contrast to the other thirty-eight melachot, the Gemara requires a specific source for hotza’ah. I would like to suggest that the abundance of opinions does not necessarily strengthen the reasons for forbidding carrying, but rather it demonstrates the difficulty in understanding this melacha’s prohibition.

Therefore I would suggest that the reason for its prohibition comes from a deeper understanding of Shabbat. Imagine what it would be like if people could carry from one place to another at will. Assuming that Shabbat is a day of rest and of reflecting on the previous week and spiritual preparation for the following week, by ignoring this halachic restriction the point of Shabbat would be missed. Shabbat is a day for learning Torah and spending time with those dearest to us. This is the time when we focus on what is really important to us in life, and this could be totally missed if there was no prohibition of hotza’ah.

One may find support for this reasoning in the Rambam. The Gemara (Shabbat 124b) learns that the prohibition against carrying something muktza comes from the same reason as hotza’ah. With regard to the restriction not to handle muktza on Shabbat, the Rambam (Shabbat 24:13) mentions that one of the reasons is that there should be a significant difference between Shabbat and the weekdays in a way that resting from work on Shabbat would be equal for all people.

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