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The Boundaries of Shabbat and of the Human Personality

"Let every person stay in his place; let no one leave his place on the day of Shabbat." (Shemot 16:29)

Rashi on this verse immediately refers us to the famous dispute between Rabbi Akiva and the Sages. Rabbi Akiva (Sota 27b) states that the law against leaving a city's limits on Shabbat - techum Shabbat - is of biblical origin; the Torah forbids one to walk more than 2,000 cubits outside of his city. The Sages (Eruvin 46a), however, believe that this prohibition is really rabbinic in origin.

The Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 27:1) complicates matters by mentioning a third opinion (not held by him): there is indeed a biblical prohibition, but it prohibits one only from going more than twelve mils (one mil = 2,000 cubits) out of the city, i.e. 24,000 cubits. The stricter 2,000-cubit limit, however, is rabbinic in origin.

Bearing all this in mind, we encounter a strange discussion. The Gemara (Shabbat 69a) asks if there is a situation wherein a person on Shabbat could forget all the thirty-nine prohibited acts (melakhot), yet still know it was Shabbat. The assumption here is that Shabbat, halakhically, is characterised by certain prohibitions. This assumption is interesting and debatable in and of itself, but our attention must focus on the answer.

The Gemara replies that such a situation is indeed possible - if one agrees with Rabbi Akiva that the prohibition on leaving the city limits beyond 2,000 cubits is biblical. Thus, if a person were to forget all thirty-nine melakhot, but were to remember the separate prohibition of leaving the city beyond 2,000 cubits, then even though this prohibition is not one of the classic thirty-nine, it would be enough to characterize the day as being Shabbat.

The Amudei Or (Rav Yechiel Heller) asks immediately: according to the Rambam, there is a view that techum Shabbat is biblically prohibited at the twelve-mil mark; why can the Gemara not cite this view also in its answer?

The answer to the Amudei Or's question is clear. There are two separate facets of the idea of Shabbat. One entails a certain list of prohibitions - a list that automatically differentiates Shabbat from other days. The second facet is what we perhaps would call a "positive" side, a list of things one MUST do, proscriptive acts.

According to Rabbi Akiva, the law of techum Shabbat flows from the prohibitive side of Shabbat, even if it is not legislated technically as one of the thirty-nine melakhot. Thus, if one remembers only this law, one still remembers the prohibitive side of Shabbat, which the Gemara assumed to be central here.

According to the view that states that twelve mil is biblically prohibited, this prohibition flows from a different source entirely. It is generated by the POSITIVE side of Shabbat, more specifically, the idea mentioned in the verse above, "Let every person stay in his place." The nature of this law is not a prohibition against walking a certain distance outside the city, but rather a positive command to remain in one's domain during Shabbat.

Philosophically, this idea is captivating. The week is a time for travel, change, growth and development. One leaves a protected shell to venture out beyond stable yet staid environments, to forge one's personality in a world of conflict, change and tension. A muscle will grow weak if there is no demand made upon it to exert itself.

Shabbat, however, is the time when "home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill." We return to the blazing hearth, to our base, and there, in a secure, stable environment, we review all that we have encountered, we evaluate all that we have done, and we mold our personalities. "Let no man go out from HIS place..."

We find expression of these ideas in many places; let us mention two of the more revealing sources.

Rav Yochanan ben Nuri (Eruvin 42b) holds that if a person in a moving wagon fell asleep before Shabbat, and woke up after Shabbat had begun, the 2,000 cubit limit applies from the place where he woke up, and not from the place he was when Shabbat began.

There are two contradictory explanations of Rav Yochanan's opinion. One says that the person, while asleep, is just like any other inanimate object, and therefore cannot "acquire" a base-location which he will be prohibited from leaving. The second opinion claims that, on the contrary, since a conscious person can acquire his own personal space, and thus be prohibited from moving beyond that, so can a person who is sleeping. Until he awoke, every second, he was acquiring his own personal space as he travelled, beyond which he cannot go. The fact that he was not conscious of his acquisition or of the prohibition is irrelevant; his mere existence, conscious or otherwise, is enough.

The philosophical assumptions of this debate are clear. On the one hand, human beings are, to a certain extent, molded by their surroundings, as much as any inanimate, unintelligent object. There is a definite place for some form of determinism in our world view; we are shaped by our environments, to a certain extent. This view is carried to its logical, yet absurd extreme, by the first view which claims that a sleeping person, one devoid of the ability to choose, is wholly an object, wholly determined.

On the other hand, the second opinion claims that we are not clay in the hands of unseen forces; we choose, we build, we form ourselves in a manner different from all other beings and things which populate the universe.

The tension between these two views is one which always accompanies us. We acknowledge that when we go out to sail the seas beyond our safe dry shore, we are formed to a certain extent by that which surrounds us, and that we are as vessels in the grasp of the molder. However, when we return on Shabbat, we affirm that it is we who place the final stamp on who we are, that by review and decision, we do indeed create and mold ourselves.

The second place where we find an illustration of this conflict is in a dispute between Rav Chisda and Rabbi Meir. Rav Chisda (Eruvin 19a) claims that one should not learn from one teacher only, while Rabbi Meir (Avot De-Rabbi Natan 8:2) disagrees and says that a person should have one mentor alone.

Eventually, Rav Chisda moderates his view and says that there is a time when one should learn from only one person, namely, during one's formative years. At that stage, a person needs to receive a tradition, a rooting, a basis upon which he can stand and from which he can venture forward in years to come, and to which he may return after his adventuring.

Again, the dispute centers on whether a person should place himself in a situation where he will be molded entirely by one source alone, or whether he is to draw from as many different wells as possible, secure in the belief that he himself, in the end, is the one who will sculpt it all into the final form of a human being. However, even those who claim that we do have the final say in what and who we are, recognize the need for some inviolable place, beyond even our own touch, to which we can retreat when necessary and where, ironically, we can chisel away to our hearts' content.



A project of Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene hulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Sponsored by Dr. Ruth Borchard of the Shoresh Charitable Fund (SCF). Published with assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.Web Site: http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha

And Miriam chanted for them” – Kol Isha?

Dr. Admiel Kosman Department of Talmud

From the plain sense of the text we can deduce that women used to sing in the presence of men and occasionally even along with them, as is evident from Scripture’s account of the Song of Miriam in this week’s reading: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them (masculine suffix): Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea” (Ex. 15:20-21.

Also Deborah sang a victory song with Barak for vanquishing Sisera and his army: “On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang: …” (Judges 5:1).[1] Likewise we find that women sang and danced before King Saul after David slew Goliath: “the women of all the towns of Israel came out singing and dancing to greet King Saul with timbrels, shouting and sistrums” (I Sam. 18:6). Ecclesiastes describes choral groups of “male and female singers” (Eccles. 2:6),[2] and the song of men and women is mentioned also in the farewell words of Barzillai the Gileadite to David (II Sam. 19:36). In the book of Ezra, as well, the list of those who returned to the land of Israel in the first immigration, following the license given by Cyrus, includes “200 male and female singers” (Ezra 4:65).

The picture presented by the Talmud, as we know, is quite different. There we find the statement, attributed to Samuel, that “a woman’s voice is indecent” (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 24a). Indeed, not all communities have always interpreted this as a total prohibition against hearing female singing, but in actual practice, following various developments which we can not go into here at length,[3] later rabbinic rulings viewed this as a comprehensive proscription against hearing a woman’s voice raised in song.[4] In this context one should bear in mind that also joint singing of men and women was not viewed with favor, following the words of Rav Joseph bar Hiyya, in the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48a, who stated:

If men sing and women respond [in song to the singing of the men], this is licentiousness; and if women sing and men respond [in song to the singing of the women], this is like setting fire to chaff, for it kindles desire like a flame set to linen.

Clearly the discrepancy between the implication of the biblical sources and the view cited above requires explanation. An attempt to cope with this discrepancy can be traced back as far as tannaitic literature, in the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, Be-Shalah (Horowitz-Rabin ed., p. 152): “‘And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.’ Scripture tells that just as Moses recited the song for the men, so Miriam recited the song for the women, for it says, ‘Sing to the Lord …’”

This homily apparently takes the stand that Miriam sang only for the women, so her singing was not for the men, neither in itself nor as a choir of women singing with Moses’ choir.[5]

Among traditional commentaries one can find other opinions which assert that in certain circumstances, one may hear in a woman’s voice spirituality and that these circumstances pertained on the occasion of Miriam’s song. For example, the Zohar, Numbers (Shelah 167b), says:

“Then Miriam the prophetess ... took a timbrel in her hand ...” All the righteous in the Garden of Eden listen to her[6] sweet voice, and several holy angels give thanks and praise along with her to the Holy Name.

These commentaries, according to the thesis I shall present below, have in common what we might call a spiritual-utopian bent. Halakhically these commentators had no choice but to express the spiritual potential of the female voice in utopian terms. In other words, those commentators who sensed great spiritual potential in the female voice assumed that this could be shown only under conditions that would pertain in time to come, when there would no longer be any evil inclination; at present the yetzer hara throws up a smokescreen of physical attraction that makes it impossible to sense the powerful spiritual vitality of the female voice.

For example, Rabbi Menahem Azaria of Pano[7] (1548-1620), having assumed that Miriam and the women who sang in chorus did indeed sing before men,[8] claimed:

Song was her intention, and one should not be strict [forbidding this] in any event, since the evil inclination does not exist in that world.[9]”

In other words, Rabbi Menahem Azaria assumed that the moment of spiritual elation in which Miriam and the women sang before the men on the shore of the Red Sea was an exceptional moment in which the quality of the World to Come penetrated into this world, making it possible to deviate from the general rule forbidding women to sing before men. Hence the female voice at that special moment was both prophetic and divine, enabling the men to attain special spiritual elation.[10] This is apparently what he meant in saying “Song was her intention,” namely song in the sense of the spiritual revelation that enabled this singing. Moreover, it should be noted that Rabbi Menahem Azariah was not referring here to a quality of song which was specific to women, rather to the general prophetic quality of song, which could be male or female. In fact, in such song the distinction between male and female disappears altogether, since it is altogether divine.

Another possibility suggested by Rabbi Menahem Azariah is that only Miriam sang before the men, the rest of the women joining her only with musical accompaniment of various instruments but not with their voices raised in song. Why was Miriam’s singing here considered permissible? His explanation is that the other women were ordinary people, incapable of “directing their minds to the atika,”[11] whereas Miriam was a prophetess and as hence could know that at this precise moment it was the will of G-d that a woman [she, herself] should sing before the men, even though the halakhah generally forbade this.

The last possibility, the most remarkable of those offered by Rabbi Menahem Azariah, is that behind every single woman stood an “angel” to whom Miriam turned when she requested to be joined in song, and it was these angels who sang along with Miriam, not the rest of the women. Perhaps this can be viewed as an interesting reflection of the notion that when an “angel” stands behind a “woman” then her song is inspired singing, so that even men can become spiritually elated by it.

A different approach to this problem was taken by Rabbi Ephraim of Luntshitz, author of Kli Yakar on the Torah (d. 1619). He maintained that the status of women’s singing changed in this week’s Torah portion because the women themselves changed for a brief moment, climbing to the spiritual level of men in their “receptiveness of prophecy,” and in any event at this specific moment the men were presumably in no danger of becoming excited by the women’s voices. Rabbi Ephraim’s interpretation is based on a grammatical “error” which he found in the scriptural text: Miriam turned to the women, asking them to join her in song, in the following words, “And Miriam chanted for them (Heb. la-hem, masc.): Sing to the Lord...” (Ex. 15:21), but the text ought to have read, “Miriam chanted for them (Heb. la-hen), using the feminine form, since she was addressing the women. Hence Rabbi Ephraim concluded, “At the Red Sea the women attained the level of men in their receptiveness of prophecy, therefore Scriptures says la-hem, as if talking to men; and indeed of the end of days it is said, ‘A woman shall court a man’[12] (Jer. 31:22).”[13]

The principle difference between the approaches of these two rabbis regarding a woman’s voice can be summarized as follows: Rabbi Menahem Azariah emphasized the change that occurred at this specific, miraculous moment in the inner world of the men, rising to a level of spirituality at which they could sense the spirituality of the female voice; whereas Rabbi Ephraim of Luntshits viewed the change as having occurred within the women themselves, rising to greater spiritual heights (which, as he said explicitly, was the level of men), and in any event the element in their voices which could entice men into sinful thoughts would disappear.[14]

[1] Ralbag wrote on Judges 4:25: “Over the miracle that the Holy One, blessed be He, wrought for Israel through the hand of Deborah, she sang; and the mention of Barak does not mean that he assisted her in making the song, for she herself composed it; rather, Barak is mentioned along with her the same as ‘Then Moses sang’.” In other words, in Ralbag’s opinion, the prophetess Deborah composed the song herself and was assisted by Barak only in the performance of the song, just as in our parshah it says, “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song,” which, here too, should be understood as Moses having composed the song and the Israelites only assisting him in singing it (see Yehezkel Kaufmann, , Jerusalem 1962, p. 133, commentary on v. 1). [2] The Zohar compares this chorus with Miriam’s chorus of women at the Red Sea: “Rabbi Jose said: For it is written, ‘singing [fem.],’ as it is said , ‘And Miriam chanted for them’ (Ex. 15:20)” (Zohar, Exodus, 19a). [3] Saul J. Berman, “Kol Isha” in: Leo Landman (ed.), Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Memorial Volume, New York 1980, pp. 45-66. [4] See the summary of opinions presented in Rabbi Yehiel Michael Epstein’s Arukh ha-Shulhan, Hilkhot Ishut, Even ha-Ezer 21.3. It should be noted that several later posekim took a more lenient stand, some permitting mixed singing of sacred songs by men and women together in certain circumstances. For example, see the ruling by Rabbi Yehiel Jacob Weinberg, Resp. Seridei Esh, Part II, par. 8. Also cf. Joel B. Wolowelsky, “Modern Orthodoxy and Women’s Self-Perception,” Tradition 22 (1986), 65-81. [5] According to Philo’s understanding in Life of Moses, II.256 (Susan Daniel-Nataf ed., II, Mossad Bialik, Jerusalem 1991, p. 321). It should also be noted that Zayit Ra’anan on the Mekhilta gives a gloss on the Mekhilta, maintaining that the reading should be that Miriam sang the “song for two [li-shnayim]” instead of “song for women [le-nashim],” in other words, that Miriam sang with two women who responded in chorus after her. Other commentators attempted to explain this difficulty by claiming that Miriam took the timbrel in her hand not so it could serve as an accompaniment to the pleasing song of the women, but on the contrary, so it would spoil this beauty, the sound of the timbrel interfering in the men’s hearing the women’s voices. On this subject, cf. Rabbi Issachar Eilenburg, , comments on Ex. 15:20 (Jerusalem: Hadrat Yerushalayim, 1998), p. 82; Rabbi Jacob Kuli, , Exodus, Be-Shalah (Jerusalem: 1967), p. 360. Rabbi Joseph Rosen held that Miriam and the women who accompanied her only played instruments but did not sing. See Menahem M. Kasher (ed.), Jerusalem 1961, p. 10. [6] Apparently Jochebed’s. Cf. loc. sit. [7] Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Pano, Lemberg 1884, Part IV, par. 36.99b. These remarks by Rabbi Menahem Azariah are better known from the other source in which they are cited: Yalkut Hareuveni on Exodus, Warsaw 1884, Parshat Be-Shalah, p. 78, on the verse, “And Miriam chanted for them.” This anthology was redacted by Rabbi Abraham Reuben Ha-Cohen Sofer, who lived in Poland in the 17th century. It should be noted that in his citation Rabbi Sofer distorted the original reason given by Rabbi Menahem, preferring this explanation over the one which preceded it. In the original source, Rabbi Menahem argued that the former explanation was preferable since the Torah says Miriam addressed the women, commanding them, “Sing,” and it does not appear that the women were merely a passive chorus responding to the men, rather they were a central vocal ensemble that sang before the men. [8] As a second possibility. The first one, he maintained, was that the women who joined Miriam did so only as a secondary voice, responding to the central male voice sung by Moses and his fellows. According to the words of Rabbi Joseph, Babylonian Talmud, Sotah, cited above, this is not strictly forbidden but is merely viewed as “licentious” behavior (of which they were not extremely wary). [9] Meaning the spiritual world. Compare with the remarks attributed to Abraham’s servant Eliezer in the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 58a: “It is well-known that desire does not exist in that world [the World to Come].” [10] A similar interpretation to the verse at hand was given by Rabbi Issachar Eilenburg in Tzedah la-Derekh. [11] Atika Kadisha is the epithet given in mysticism for the One G-d, Himself alone. See Judah Liebes, Torat ha-Yetzira shel Sefer Yetzira, Jerusalem 2001, p. 51. [12] Rabbi Ephraim assumes this verse to be saying that in time to come women will rise to the level of men. This position is evidenced repeatedly by Rabbi Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, in various places in his works. For example, cf. “Nahal Kedumim le-Parashat Be-Shalah,” par. 21 (Jerusalem 1976). [13] In this connection, it is worth noting Rabbenu Bahya’s comment on the verse at hand: “One ought not to wonder that prophecy should come to a woman, for she is of human kind, and is called man, as it is said: ‘He … called them Man’ (Gen. 5:2).” Rabbenu Bahya proceeded to list quite a number of women who, according to tradition, received prophecy, and several tenets of the faith that according to the midrash were revealed by women. He concluded, “All this indicates that womankind is not totally vapid, but has substance” (Rabbenu Bahya, Be’ur al ha-Torah, ed Rabbi Hayyim Dov Chavel, II, Jerusalem 1994, p. 135.) [14] Also cf. Tovah Cohen, “Yihudah shel Miriam ke-Manhigah,” , Bar-Ilan Parasha page Beshalah 5760.



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After the momentous Exodus and the spectacular splitting of the Red Sea the Jews find themselves at Marah:

So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah for they were bitter, therefore, its name was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, which he threw into the waters and made the waters sweet. There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he tested them, and said, "If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that heals you." (Exodus 15:22-26)

While the situation seems like a question of insufficient supplies, namely, the people are in need of an efficient water source, the end of the text seems perplexing: There he made a statute and an ordinance.

Traditionally, this text has been understood as an indication of some type of law-giving. Prior to Sinai, where the major revelation would take place, the people here receive the first installment of Torah: statutes and ordinances.

The Israelites were given ten precepts at Marah, seven of which had already been accepted by the children of Noah, to which were added at Marah social laws, the Sabbath, and honoring one's parents ... for it is written, "There [sc. at Marah] he made for them a statute and an ordinance" ... and "As the Lord thy God commanded you." (Sanhedrin 56b)

The logic of the Talmud is clear: The Ten Commandments are enumerated twice in the Torah. When they are repeated--specifically these two commandments, Shabbat and honoring parents--they contain the phrase "as the Lord thy God commanded you." 1 Clearly, this phrase would be equally apt for any or all of the Ten Commandments which had been given years before at Sinai. Why is this phrase added only to these two commandments?

The Talmud asserts that some laws were actually taught at an earlier juncture, at Marah.

Therefore As the Lord thy God commanded you refers to Marah, and not to the first tablets transmitted at Sinai.

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