Talmud Tips

For the week ending 16 May 2020 / 22 Iyyar 5780

Shabbat 65-71

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Kiddush in an Oasis

If a person loses track of the days while wandering in the desert, when should he keep Shabbat?

This question is posed in the gemara and our Sages offer two different answers. Before anyone suggests that this scenario is not realistic in our era of superior technology, it is not difficult to point to at least one non-fictional event in recent years when a person or group was stranded and completely isolated from the rest of the world.

So, if a person loses track of time in the desert, Rav Huna says that he should count six days and then keep Shabbat on the seventh. The Sage Chiya bar Rav, however, says that he should keep the first day as Shabbat and then count six more days.

The gemara explains the basis for their divergent opinions. Rav Huna reasons that the lost person should act in accordance with the way Hashem created the world. Just as there were six weekdays followed by Shabbat, a stranded individual should follow the original blueprint and count six weekdays prior to declaring Shabbat. Rabbi Chiya, on the other hand, says that he should first keep Shabbat and then count six other days. This was the order of the week for Adam HaRishon, the first human. He was created on erev Shabbat, and his first day of counting was Yom Rishon, Sunday. (Rashi)

The gemara cites the following beraita as a proof to Rav Huna’s view and a rebuttal to Chiya bar Rav’s opinion: “One who was travelling on the road or in the desert and lost track of the days, should count six days and then keep the seventh day as Shabbat.” Apparently, this authoritative beraita was not included in the transmission of the Oral Law to Chiya bar Rav, and had he known this beraita he would not have disagreed with Rav Huna.

The gemara concludes (perhaps in the name of Rava who is mentioned earlier) that one should not think that on the first six days a person may do an unlimited amount of melacha as on any weekday, and on the seventh day he should refrain from all melacha as on a normal Shabbat. Rather, since each day of the week is perhaps really Shabbat, and it is only the person’s lack of knowledge that is keeping the truth from him, one might think that he should indeed refrain from all melacha on every single day of the week. However, this course of action would not be viable since he would die from lack of sustenance, and therefore he is permitted on each day — including the seventh day, Shabbat — to do that which is necessary for his survival. But no more than is truly necessary. Each day seems the same: there is concern that the day is Shabbat, and no melacha should be done, but this is a situation of life threatening pikuach nefesh, and therefore the minimum measure of work needed to stay alive may be done on each day of the week.

If this is the halacha, asks the gemara, in what way does the day that he designates as Shabbat differ from the other six days of the week? The answer provided by the gemara is that only on his Shabbat does he make Kiddush and Havdalah. (Presumably the beracha of Kiddush is made over a cup of wine, if he has one, after nightfall, and the beracha of Havdalah is made over a cup of wine on the next night, with spices if he has them, but without fire since that day might be Shabbat.)

It is related in the name of the Gaon from Vilna that a careful reading of the Torah provides a hint to the halacha taught in our sugya. The Torah states: “Six days you shall work, and you shall do all of your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest for Hashem your G-d — you shall not do any work.” (Shemot 20:9-10)

The Gaon points out that the Torah could have simply stated not to work on Shabbat. He asks: Why does the Torah tell us not only to rest on the seventh day but also to work on six days? Why does the Torah stress that during the week we must do all of our work? Why does the Torah emphasize that we must not do any work on Shabbat?

The Gaon explains that the Torah is teaching more than the mitzvah to keep (shamor) Shabbat. The Torah here is also instructing us to remember (zachor) which day is Shabbat.

The Torah is directly addressing a “normal” situation when we are at home and know and remember which day is Shabbat. Then, the Torah states, we do all our work during the week and not any on Shabbat. However, the special wording leads to deducing the halacha when the day of Shabbat is in doubt, although we need to remember and honor the seventh day, Shabbat, in an appropriate way, we may not do all of our work on any day nor rest completely on any day. In this “doubtful” case, every single day is one in which a person may do the minimum work needed in order to sustain himself. (See Tosefot on the daf, who discusses the matter of unlimited travel in the desert during the week to reach civilization, as opposed to the lack of extended travel on the seventh day, and why this factor is not mentioned instead of Kiddush and Havdalah.)

  • Shabbat 69b

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