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The Music of Halacha: The Meaning of the Thirty-Nine Part One

The Shelah HaKadosh (Shabbat 89b) connects the Forty Minus One categories of forbidden creative work on Shabbat to the Forty Minus One lashes administered in Malkut (Biblical Flogging) Our Sages taught (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 14) that Adam and Eve, and the Serpent, received Thirty Nine curses for their sins. (The Radal on Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer quotes the Gra and lists the thirty-nine curses.)


“Therefore,” continues the Shelah, “when administering Malkut, and purifying the sinner, we strike him thirty-nine times to remove the impurity of sin from his soul.”

“Ten lashes on his spine, corresponding to the ten curses of the snake, ten to his right corresponding to Adam who was created with the Right, ten on the left corresponding to Eve who was created with the left, and nine on the belly corresponding to the nine curses of the earth from which Adam and Eve were formed. (Rikanati, Bereishit. See Tosafot, Bava Kammah 16b, s.v. ‘v’hu.’)

The Maharsha (Chiddushei Aggadot, Shabbat 10b) explains how this relates to Shabbat: Adam was created to live in the Garden of Eden and to serve God in a spiritual manner according to his loft level before the sin. The physical labor of the six days of the week were included in the curse, “Through suffering you shall eat of it (Genesis 3:17),” and, “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread (Verse 19).” Adam was to have lived with Menucha, all week.”

“And He placed him in the Garden to work it and guard it,” referring to Shabbat, to work during the six days, and to guard on Shabbat (Bereishit Rabbah 16:5). Had he not sinned, he would have carried all of creation immediately into the Day of Eternal Shabbat, the World to Come.

All the physical labor we do during the week is because of Adam’s sin. The Thirty-Nine categories of forbidden work are intended to help us repair the sin and its damage, and to remove the curses.

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