The 4 categories of prohibited works on Shabbat

Friday, 29 October, 2021 - 4:23 am

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How do we know which activities are forbidden? What does G-d (and not our logic) want us to refrain from doing on Shabbat?

There are a few places in the Torah where G-d commands us to keep the Shabbat. One such place is in Exodus 35:1-2, which speaks about the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

Moses gathered the Jewish people to tell them that G-d wants them to build Him a Temple, the Mishkan. But he starts by giving some laws about Shabbat. Our Sages explain that Moses wanted us to understand that even though the construction of the Mishkan is very important, it is still forbidden to build it during the Shabbat. From this we learn that the works involved in the building of the Mishkan are forbidden on Shabbat.

These works are called Melacha (plural Melachot). There are 39 primary type of works (Avot Melacha), and each one includes more prohibited derivative works and activities (Toldot).

The Melachot are divided in 4 general categories:

1) The works of producing bread (and food generally), starting from the field activities (sowing, planting, harvest etc.) until the cooking and baking, including all the intermediate stages of preparation of food.

2) The works of producing cloth and leather, starting from shearing wool until the sewing, including all the intermediate stages such as dying, spinning, weaving etc.

3) The works of writing on a parchment, including the activities involved in producing the parchment and the ink.

4) The works of construction, that is all the activities related to building a house.

There is one Melacha that does not belong to one of these categories: the prohibition of carrying an object from a private domain to the public domain.

Thus, the Melachot forbidden on Shabbat are the activities that were involved in the construction of the Mishkan, and do not necessarily correspond to difficult or tiring works (as we explained last week).

Shabbat Shalom,

Arie from the Yeshiva

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