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The Music of Halacha: Which Shabbat?

A story is told by both the Bavli [Babylonian Talmud] (Shabbat 150b) and the Yerushalmi  [Jerusalem Talmud] (Shabbat 15:3): A pious man once went for a Shabbat stroll through his vineyard. He noticed a break in the fence and immediately thought, “I will repair that right after Shabbat.” He then said, “Since I had this thought on Shabbat, (planning for after Shabbat) I will never repair it!”

Although both Talmuds share the same story, they actually understand the pious man’s conclusion in different ways. The Yerushalmi teaches that, “Shabbat to Hashem,” means that just as God rested on Shabbat, so too, must you rest on Shabbat. The bible prohibited action, and the Sages prohibited speaking about prohibited action, and Piety demands that we keep the Shabbat even in our hearts. The prohibition on thought is an extension of the Biblical and Rabbinic prohibitions. All three are part of Shabbat to Hashem.

The Bavli, on the other hand, does not see the Pious care for one’s thoughts on Shabbat as an extension of the Biblical and Rabbinic laws. The story is simply describing how a pious person guards himself on many levels. His actions were rooted in Piety, not in “Shabbat to Hashem.”

God also rested from creative speech, since His speech is action. He speaks and something appears. Our speech and action are two distinct stages and we are not Biblically prohibited from speech about creative acts that are forbidden on Shabbat.

What about thought? God’s thought is also equal to action. Why do we treat thought differently from speech? Why does the Yerushalmi understand thought as an extension of the Rabbinic prohibition of non-Shabbat speech, while the Bavli sees the care for one’s speech on Shabbat as a separate act of Piety, unrelated to the prohibition?

It seems that we can approach the Shabbat laws from Heaven’s perspective, as reflecting how God functions, as does the Yerushalmi, or, we can see them as addressing us, human beings, as we function. The former is the effort to create the Shabbat in Heaven here on earth. The latter, is our effort to create Shabbat in our context, as applied to the way we think, speak and act.

The Halacha, which follows the Bavli, teaches us that we must begin by creating a “Shabbat LaShem,” here in our world, within our existence. It is only after we succeed in  creating a sense of Shabbat here, to the point that we will decide to piously guard Shabbat even in our thoughts, that we can then approach Shabbat as an opportunity to have Heaven’s Shabbat here on earth.

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