What's Your Purpose
Purpose driven action was introduced in the previous Music of Halacha essay. We posited that the laws of Shabbat define Action of Intention for everything we do, not only on Shabbat, but for the entire week. One of the three most important ingredients is purpose. The Shabbat laws were derived from the work necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. Every step had to be done with its specific purpose in mind. How do we define purpose? Do the laws of Shabbat guide us in determining what is considered a positive purpose?
We needed wheat to bake bread. Wheat needs to be planted and harvested. We have to plough a field before we can plant. What was the purpose of the plowing? Was it to plow in order to plant in order to have wheat in order to have bread etc.? Or, was it sufficient to plough with the purpose of making a space in the ground to hold the seeds? How conscious did the plowman have to be of the ultimate purpose of the trench he was making in the ground?
We can apply this question to Mitzvot we observe during the week: What purpose must someone have in mind when praying? Is the purpose to observe God’s commandment to pray? Is it necessary to have in mind why we observe God’s commandments? How conscious must we be of the ultimate purpose?
We must begin by defining the parameters of Purpose in the context of the Shabbat laws. We will start by studying the approach of Tosafot in Tractate Shabbat 94a. The Tosafot are discussing whether performing the identical action to what was done for the Temple service but with a different purpose is a liable action. They determine that the only purpose that concerns us is if the purpose is the same as the purpose of the action in the Temple. For example: Carrying from private to public property is one of the 39 Categories of Prohibited Actions. If someone dies inside a house and the family wants to carry the body outside to a public thoroughfare to protect them from the serious impurity of a corpse; their purpose is not to have the corpse outside as much as it is to not have the corpse inside the house. It is the same action, carrying something from one domain to another, but with a different purpose; rather than to bring the corpse to a specific place the person simply wants to remove it from his home. The purpose is different.
The Tosafot take the idea of purpose in this context beyond Rashi and other commentaries and they stress that the purpose must be exactly the same as the purpose served in the Temple.
It is clear that the Tosafot do not consider the ultimate purpose as the defining factor. They are interested in the immediate purpose. The Tosafot believe that a person plowing his field to grow wheat to be used in the Temple service does not need to think how the wheat that grows will be used. He must only plow with the purpose to plant. The immediate purpose is our only concern.
In order for a prayer to be considered a purposeful prayer it is only necessary to consider the immediate purpose, which is to fulfill the obligation to pray. The immediate purpose necessary for the fulfillment of a mitzvah is simply to fulfill an obligation.
The Tosafot’s insistence that the purpose be the same as it was for the Temple raises other issues. Do the concepts of Thoughtful Action apply to actions that were not part of the construction of the Tabernacle or its service? Do the ideas of Thoughtful Action apply to the mundane as well?
To be continued…