Shabbath

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Shabbat in Numbers

Last week Torah portion, Emor, speaks about the prohibition of working on Shabbat. In fact, the Talmud enumerates precisely 39 categories of labor forbidden on Shabbat. But why 39? Rabbi Shimon b’ Rabbi Yossi ben Lakunya (Shabbat 49b) suggests that the number 39 can be derived from the number of times the various forms of the word “melacha” (work) appear in the Torah. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how this works out. In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Hananel ben Hushiel (990-1053) already pointed out that this word appears 61 times in the Torah, not 39! Actually, this word actually appears 63 times! Another Talmudic Sage, Rabbi Chanina of Sepphoris derives the number 39 homiletically strenuously computing gematria of the phrase, “These are the things.” (Shabbat 7:2) The lack of clear [...]

Passover, Shabbat and the Principle of Least Action

There is hardly a Jewish holiday more widely celebrated than Passover (Pesach). Jews of all denominations, affiliations, and levels of religious observance, if any at all, gather at the Passover Seder to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. What is often lost amid all of the beautiful rituals, not least among them the singing of Had Gadia and other Seder songs, is the deep meaning of this holiday, which is far more profound than a mere recollection of historical events, no matter how important they may be. What is, then, the deeper meaning of the Passover that transcends its historical significance? On the morrow of Shabbat One obscure and little-known (outside of the observant Jewish community) commandment ("mitzvah") may lead us to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Passover [...]

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