Old 05-06-2007, 08:04 AM
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Before the seventh day of the week was called “Saturday,” it already had a name: Shabbat. “Shabbat” means “rest.” On Saturday, the Torah says that a Jew should not do certain activities. Why? Read on.

When G-d created the universe, He did it in six 24-hour days. At the end of the sixth day, everything was complete and tranquil and pristine and perfect and natural. No downtowns. No cell phones. Environmentalist, Utopian Nirvana. Just like a camping trip in Yellowstone. That seventh day was the first Shabbat in history. So in a way, Shabbat means retreating back to that state of existence on a weekly basis, dropping the world for a dose of something different. If Shabbat sounds like a vacation to you, you’re on the right track: it is—for the soul. Read on.

Shabbat is an affirmation that G-d exists and created all that we see and therefore there must be purpose and harmony, Point A and Point B, to this universe. All week long, one might do whatever, but come Shabbat, he must declare, “Life has Meaning!” in a most tangible, impactful way—by stopping all work. That’s the significance of the work prohibition.

A. The Torah says, "Do not perform melachah on Shabbat." Melachah means work. But what's "work?" The melachot (plural for labors in Hebrew), are the 39 categories of action that the Torah interprets as work that may not be performed on Shabbat.

B. When the Torah was given, our ancestors were a large pack of nomadic desert denizens--the original millions of Wandering Jews. It was less than two months after the massive Exodus from Egyptian slavery when Moshe (Moses)-came down Mt. Sinai with the Torah, containing the charge to keep Shabbat. "Don't work on Shabbat!" charged the Torah. "But we don't work anyway," rejoined the Jews. "This is the desert, remember? Nobody has a job here!" At that point, Moses stepped in and pointed out that work was done: the multifaceted efforts made to construct the Mishkan--the portable, collapsible Tabernacle that moved with the camp from place to place. He explained that work associated with Mishkan-making was what the Torah meant by "work," and that these things should not be done on Shabbat from then till eternity. And so it remained.

C. Each of the 39 melachot break down into subcategories called tuldot (pronounced TOOL-dote), which means offspring. Because of their "children," the 39 melachot are also referred to as av melachot, meaning father categories.

OK, but what are they?

1. Don't eat your Wheaties

The first 11 of the 39 concern that indispensable staple of life--bread, since bread was baked on a weekly basis in the Mishkan(Tabernacle). Since the bread tree has yet to be genetically engineered, various things must be done to bring forth bread from dirt: planting wheat, plowing the field, reaping grown wheat stalks, binding sheaves of wheat, threshing, winnowing, sifting kernels, grinding, sifting flour, kneading dough, and finally, baking. Any and all of the above are Shabbat no-nos. But since most of us are not farmers, it's unlikely that you'll find yourself doing any of these over the Shabbat. However, there are many "tuldot"(sub that originate in these 11 prohibitions.

2. Man makes the clothes...

In the Miskhan, richly colored, ornately decorated and intricately woven materials were the fabric of daily life: the priests' uniforms, the exquisite cloth partitions, and the giant leather and cloth sheets that served as a multi-layer roof. Preparing these textiles involved the next 13 melachot: shearing, bleaching, combing and dyeing wool; spinning and weaving thread/yarn, making two loops (as an anchor on which to base material); sewing two threads together, separating two threads, tying a knot, loosening a knot, sewing two stitches (to attach sections of material), and tearing (other threads or material) in order to sew two stitches. Though stupendous be thy sartorial skills, sorry, they'll have to sit Shabbat out.

3. ...and the leather too..

Our textual tour through the creation of the Mishkan takes us to the Desert Leather Factory, where the Jews of old created portions of the Mishkan's roof out of animal hides. Making leather and parchment entails seven steps, which make up Melachot Nos. 25-31: trapping deer, slaughtering it; and flaying, salting, curing, scraping and cutting its hides. Today, this translates into no weekend deer or duck huntin' out in them thar backwoods, and no leatherworking, on the Day of Rest.

4. Work? Out

The remaining eight Melachot comprise the bulk manual labors that manual labor is comprised of--when you're a working person, you can't avoid the following, and neither could the Mishkan-makers: writing two letters, erasing (old text) in order to write two letters, extinguishing a flame, igniting a flame, striking with a hammer, and carrying (an object) from one domain to another. Today, you can't avoid these either; the tuldot originating from these eight have been interpreted by Halachic authorities to prohibit much of work as we know it. Among the most prominent tuldot issuing from this block of melachot are the prohibitions of using a writing instrument (source: "writing two letters"), driving (source: "igniting a flame," as in your car's combustion engine), and carrying your briefcase out your front door and down the street (source: "carrying from one domain to another").

To be continued....
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