Since our parsha discusses both the creation of all living things, and the creation of Shabbos…
Question # 1: Animals on Shabbos
Why must animals observe Shabbos, when they are not required to observe any other mitzvos?
Question #2: A Bird in the Hand
Does carrying a bird desecrate Shabbos min haTorah?
Question #3: Togetherness
If two people carry an item together, are they culpable of chillul Shabbos?
The words of the Aseres Hadibros are: “The seventh day is Shabbos for Hashem, your G-d. You may not do any work; not you, your son, daughter, your slave and maidservant, or your animal.”
Thus, we are introduced to the concept that Shabbos is not only for us to observe, but also for us to ensure that animals are not involved in Shabbos desecration. We understand that we are required to observe Shabbos, but why should our animals be required to do so? Does the Torah assume that they comprehend what Shabbos means and can calculate which day of the week it is? How should we punish them if they disobey?
The answer is that they are not required to keep Shabbos; animals have no requirement to observe mitzvos. The mitzvah applies to us: included in our observance of Shabbos is an obligation that we are not to have our animals perform melacha for us.
There are two aspects to this mitzvah, one called shevisas beheimah and the other called mechameir. Shevisas beheimah requires that my animal not be worked by a person, and includes a situation in which a Jewish animal owner allows another person to use his animal to perform melacha for human benefit. The owner violates this lo saaseh even if he allows a non-Jew to use his animal to perform melacha, notwithstanding that the non-Jew has no mitzvah to observe Shabbos, and, indeed, is not even permitted to do so (Sanhedrin 58b).
Mechameir is when a Jew uses an animal to perform a melacha, even if he does not own the animal.
We see that these two activities, shevisas beheimah and mechameir, are both prohibited min haTorah. Does this mean that they are considered on the same level as performing one of the 39 melachos on Shabbos? Chazal explain that there are two categories of activities that are prohibited min haTorah on Shabbos — those that are included under the heading of melacha, and those that are not. The first are those that the Torah says could require capital punishment, as we see from the story of the mekosheish (see Bamidbar 15 32-35). Shevisas beheimah is certainly not considered a melacha, notwithstanding that it is prohibited min haTorah.
According to some tanna’im, mechameir has the full status of a melacha. The halacha is that although mechameir is not a melacha, it still violates Shabbos min haTorah, on a level approximately similar to the way that stealing violates the Torah.
Both shevisas beheimah and mechameir violate Shabbos min haTorah only when the animal is used to perform an activity that for a person is considered melacha. Thus, having an animal plow or plant a field violates Shabbos. We will see more on this topic at the end of this article. Before we do, we need to discuss a different subject.
Chai nosei es atzmo
In several places, the Gemara discusses a halachic principle called chai nosei es atzmo, literally, “a living thing carries itself” (Shabbos 94a, 141b; Eruvin 103a; Yoma 66b). The Gemara (Shabbos 94a) quotes and explains this concept, when it cites a dispute between Rabbi Nosson and the chachamim regarding someone who carries an animal or bird on Shabbos. Rabbi Nosson rules that the carrier is not in violation of Shabbos min haTorah, because of the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, whereas the chachamim rule that the carrier is culpable of desecrating Shabbos. The Gemara then states that the chachamim agree that carrying a person does not violate Shabbos min haTorah, because of chai nosei es atzmo. The chachamim contend that, notwithstanding the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, carrying an animal desecrates Shabbos min haTorah, because animals will try to wriggle out of the person’s control when they are carried. This argument does not concern Rabbi Nosson, although the Gemara never tells us why.
A bird in the hand
At this point, we have enough background to answer the second of our opening questions:
Does carrying a bird desecrate Shabbos min haTorah? The answer is that this is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im, in which Rabbi Nosson rules that the person doing this is not guilty of desecrating Shabbos because of chai nosei es atzmo, but the chachamim conclude that it does violate carrying, min haTorah. The halacha follows the opinion of the chachamim (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 18:16).
Why is chai nosei es atzmo exempt?
Why is it that, because of the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, carrying a person is not considered desecrating Shabbos? Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. she’ha chai) is bothered by this issue, mentioning three approaches to explain why this is true, each of which requires a lengthy introduction. To remember the three approaches in the order in which Tosafos proposes them, I suggest the follow popular acronym: ATM.
The “passenger” assists the “carrier” in the transportation.
Two (or more) people, or one person and one (or more) animal(s), are involved in performing the melacha, together.
The melacha activity is dissimilar from the way any carrying was performed in the construction of the Mishkan.
The first approach suggested by Tosafos understands that carrying a person is not a melacha min haTorah because the “passenger” distributes his weight to help out the person who is hauling him. Tosafos rejects this approach because, although it is easier to carry a person than the same amount of dead weight, it is far easier to carry a much lighter object than it is to carry a person, yet carrying the light object violates Shabbos min haTorah, whereas carrying a person does not. Thus, Tosafos explains that there must be a different reason to explain chai nosei es atzmo.
A point that Tosafos does not note is that the approach just mentioned appears to be how Rashi (Shabbos 93b s.v. es) understands the topic of chai nosei es atzmo. We will need to address this sub-topic at another time.
The second approach to explain chai nosei es atzmo quoted by Tosafos is based on a principle, taught by the Mishnah (Shabbos 92b, 106b), that there is a qualitative difference between a melacha that is performed by two people together and one that is performed by a sole individual. The halachic term applied when two people perform a melacha together is shenayim she’asu. When the person being carried makes it easier for someone else to carry him, it is considered shenayim she’asu, and neither the carrier nor the passenger violates a Torah melacha.
However, based on detailed analysis of the rules of shenayim she’asu, Tosafos denies that this rationale will exempt the performer of this act from culpability on Shabbos. There are three opinions among tanna’im as to what are the rules germane to shenayim she’asu. Rabbi Meir, the most stringent of the three, disagrees with the rule that shenayim she’asu is not considered as performing a melacha (Shabbos 92b). He contends that when two people perform a melacha activity together, they are usually both culpable of violating the melacha. (We will mention shortly the one case when even Rabbi Meir accepts that there is an exemption.)
The tanna Rabbi Yehudah, a second opinion, draws a distinction regarding whether the two people can perform the melacha only when they are working together or whether each can perform the melacha separately. When two people carry something together that neither would be able to carry on his own, both are culpable for carrying the item on Shabbos, since this is the usual way for two people to perform this melacha activity. For example, a table too heavy or bulky for one person to carry is usually carried by two people. Therefore, two people carrying this table is the usual way to transport it. This case is called zeh eino yachol vezeh eino yachol, in which case, both transporters are culpable for desecrating Shabbos, according to Rabbi Yehudah.
However, regarding an item that each would have been able to carry on his own, such as a chair that is easily carried by either individual alone, should the two of them carry it together, neither is guilty of violating Shabbos, since this is an unusual way of carrying it. This case is called zeh yachol vezeh yachol.
The third approach is that of Rabbi Shimon, who rules that whether the item can be carried by each person separately or whether it cannot, no one violates Shabbos min haTorah.
The conclusion of the rishonim is that the halacha follows the middle opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 1:16).
At this point, I will digress briefly to answer the third of our opening questions: If two people carry an item together, are they culpable of chillul Shabbos?
The answer is that this case usually involves a dispute among tanna’im, and the accepted halacha is that, if either could carry it by himself, they are exempt from chillul Shabbos min haTorah. However, if it is a large item, and neither can carry it on his own, they are culpable of desecrating Shabbos.
One can and one cannot
What is the halacha if one of them is able to carry it by himself, and the other cannot? This case is called zeh yachol vezeh eino yachol, which we have thus far omitted from our discussion. What is the halacha if one of the parties can perform the melacha activity by himself, and the second cannot perform it without the assistance of his associate?
The Gemara raises this question and concludes that the person who can perform the melacha by himself is culpable, even when he is assisted, and the person who cannot perform it by himself is exempt from a melacha min haTorah (Shabbos 93a).
Now, notes Tosafos, let us compare the case of chai nosei es atzmo, when one person carries another, to the rules ofshenayim se’asu. In this case, the person doing the carrying can obviously perform the melacha by himself without the assistance of the other person. And, the person being carried is not performing the melacha by himself. According to what we just learned, the person doing the carrying should be culpable for violating the melacha. Since the halacha of chai nosei es atzmo is that the person doing the carrying is exempt from violating the melacha min haTorah, the approach of shenayim she’asu does not explain the halachic conclusion, and clearly cannot be the correct reason for the principle of chai nosei es atzmo. In baseball jargon, we would call this a swing and a miss.
Tosafos, therefore, proposes a third way to explain the principle of chai nosei es atzmo: The 39 melachos of Shabbos are derived from the activities performed in the building of the Mishkan in the Desert. Notwithstanding the importance of constructing the Mishkan as quickly as possible, it was strictly prohibited to perform any aspect of its building on Shabbos. This implies that the definition of what is prohibited on Shabbos is anything necessary to build the Mishkan.
Tosafos notes that building the Mishkan never necessitated carrying something that was alive. Although both hides of animals and dyes manufactured from animal sources were used in the construction of the Mishkan, Tosafos concludes that the animals whose hides were used were led, rather than carried, to where they were slaughtered, and the animals that provided sources for the dyes were transported after they were dead. Thus, chai nosei es atzmo creates an exemption from desecrating Shabbos because of a unique rule in the melacha of carrying: for an activity to be considered a melacha min haTorah of carrying, the activity has to be fairly comparable to the way it was done in the construction of the Mishkan (see Tosafos, Eruvin 97b s.v. es and Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat; see also Penei Yehoshua on Tosafos 94a s.v. shehachai).
We noted above that, whereas Rabbi Nosson rules that someone who carried an animal on Shabbos is exempt from violating Shabbos min haTorah, the chachamim disagree. However, the Gemara concludes that the chachamim also accept the principle of chai nosei es atzmo, but disagree with its application regarding the case of someone carrying an animal, since the animal will be trying to escape. The chachamim agree that chai nosei es atzmo applies when carrying a person, as evidenced in two different places in the Mishnah:
In Mesechta Shabbos, the Mishnah (93b) states that carrying a bed containing an ill person on Shabbos is not a melacha min haTorah. This is because the bed is subordinate to the person, just as clothing or jewelry is. Carrying the person, himself, is not a melacha, because of chai nosei es atzmo.
The second place is a Mishnah discussing a rabbinic injunction banning sale of a donkey or cow to a non-Jew on any day of the week (Avodah Zarah 14b). The Gemara (15a) explains that this prohibition is because of concern that selling a large animal to a non-Jew could cause the seller to desecrate Shabbos, and then explains two different scenarios whereby this could happen.
A. Renting or lending
One way is that a Jew may rent or lend an animal to a non-Jew over Shabbos, which could easily cause the Jewish owner of the animal to desecrate Shabbos. When the non-Jew renter or borrower uses the animal on Shabbos, the Jewish owner violates the Torah prohibition of shevisas beheimah, explained at the beginning of this article. Prohibiting the sale of large animals to non-Jews avoids a Jew having any financial dealings involving these animals.
The other concern is that the Jew might sell the animal to a non-Jew before Shabbos, but the non-Jew discovers on Shabbos that he cannot get the animal to follow his instructions, so he asks the Jew for help with the animal after Shabbos starts. If the Jew speaks and the animal obeys his voice and thereby performs melacha, the Jew has directed the animal to work on Shabbos, which is a desecration of mechameir, even should the non-Jew already own the animal.
For those in the cattle business, there are heterim discussed in the Gemara and the halachic authorities, which we will leave for another time.
Chai nosei es atzmo
We now know why Chazal banned a Jew from selling an animal to a non-Jew. What does this have to do with chai nosei es atzmo?
The Mishnah teaches that Ben Beseira permits selling horses to non-Jews, which the chachamim dispute. Having your animal work on Shabbos is prohibited min haTorah only when the animal performs what is considered melacha. Thus, having an animal plow, plant, or grind grain is prohibited, min haTorah, on Shabbos. However, having an animal carry a human rider on Shabbos is prohibited only miderabbanan, since the human is capable of walking – chai nosei es atzmo. Therefore, Ben Beseira permitted selling a horse to a non-Jew, because this would never lead someone to violate Shabbos min haTorah. The Sages prohibit selling a horse, because there are instances in which it is used to perform melacha de’oraysa, and therefore it is included in the prohibition of selling large animals to a non-Jew.
As I mentioned above, animals have no requirement to observe mitzvos. The requirement that it is forbidden to do melacha is a commandment that applies to us; observing Shabbos requires that we refrain from having them perform melacha for us. And the reason is simple: Hashem gave us permission, indeed responsibility, to oversee and rule over the world that He created. However, we must always remember that it is He who gave us this authority, and, by observing Shabbos, we demonstrate this. Our power extends over all of creation, including the animal kingdom. Thus, Shabbos limiting our control of animals demonstrates that our authority the rest of the week is only by virtue of the authority granted us by Hashem.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). Understanding that the goal of our actions affects whether a melacha activity has been performed demonstrates, even more, the concepts of purpose and accomplishment.