How Are We Mechaneich?

Question #1: Chinuch and Chanukah

Dr. Edward Ucater, Ed. D, asks me:

“I know that teaching requires a lot of dedication, but what does chinuch have to do with dedicating the mishkan, chanukas hamishkan?”

Question #2: One School Fits All?

This question was submitted by Dr. Cyrus Kologist, Ph. D:

“Why do so many schools require that you send them all of your sons or all of your daughters? Don’t different siblings sometimes thrive better in dissimilar educational environments?”

Origins of chinuch

Although the word chinuch is used in modern Hebrew to mean “education,” this is not the word’s correct translation. Teaching is limud or shinunlimud is the general word for “teaching” and shinun, which does not have a simple literal translation into English, means teaching something until the student knows it thoroughly. However, the root of the word chinuch appears in Tanach most frequently referring to the dedication of the Mishkan or of its vessels. Since it is difficult to “teach” these appliances, the word chinuch is usually translated in those contexts as dedicated and dedication. This leads us directly to our first question above, that of Ed Ucator. “I know that teaching requires a lot of dedication, but what does chinuch have to do with dedicating the mishkan, chanukas hamishkan?”

Rashi (Bereishis 14:14 and Devorim 20:5) explains that the word chinuch refers to a beginning. Other early commentaries emphasize that chinuch means to become accustomed to doing a particular activity (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah Menachos 4:4; Rabbeinu Yonah and Metzudas Dovid, Mishlei 22:6). According to the Rambam (ad loc.), the primary meaning of the term chinuch is the training of people, and using the word chinuch in reference to items is a borrowed usage. Just as we say that chinuch is to accustom a person to perform certain activities, we “accustom” the utensils of the Beis Hamikdash to perform their jobs. Rav Hirsch adds that the word chinuch includes dedicating something for a lofty, holy purpose.

Chinuch does not mean book knowledge. It means training. And “training” means doing the mitzvos. Chanukas hamishkan and chanukas hamizbei’ach mean to use them for the first time.

Only twice in Tanach is the word chinuch used in reference to people, and only once in chumash. That place is in parshas Lech Lecha, where the Torah refers to Avraham’s followers as chanichav, “Those he had trained.” The other Biblical place where the word refers to people is in Mishlei, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko; gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu, “Train the young man according to his way! Even when he gets older, he will not diverge from it” (Mishlei 22:6). These are the immortal words of Shlomoh Hamelech explaining the basics of Chinuch. All proper chinuch must be based on understanding the lessons of this pasuk and our Chazal. This verse functions both as a halachic and advisory directive on how to train youth, and also provides a guide to see that a child will develop and mature to fulfill his potential.

Understanding Mishlei

Let us see how the traditional commentators explain the pasuk, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko. Among the classic commentaries, we find two basic approaches to understand what Shlomoh Hamelech was emphasizing.

(1) According to Rashi, the pasuk is simply an observation of human nature.

(2) According to most commentaries, the pasuk also includes a commandment. Allow me to explain the difference in translation:

Rashi’s approach

“However you train a young man according to his way, we know that when he gets older he will not diverge from it” (see Rashi ad loc.) The verse is not an instruction, but an observation, and applies whether one is taught to be good or to be bad. However someone is trained when young, this is the way he will likely act as an adult, provided that he enjoys the direction in which he is going. Rashi points out that at times a person could act inappropriately or even wickedly, as a result of having been given faulty education as a child. As a matter of fact, most people retain some shortcomings in their personality because they enjoyed pursuing undesirable behaviors as children and were not trained to act correctly.

Most authorities understand that Mishlei is providing instruction and not just observation (Metzudas Dovid, Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, Hirsch, Malbim). The word “chanoch” in the pasuk is a command – this is how you are required to train your child! Train the young man according to his way!

His way

What does the pasuk mean by emphasizing al pi darko, according to his way? How do we do this correctly?

The requirement is to assess the specific strengths and needs of each particular child and to train him to serve Hashem in a way that fits his nature (Rabbeinu Yonah, Malbim, Hirsch). Thus, this adage establishes the most important criterion of Torah education – that each child is a different world – and that he must be trained and directed in his avodas Hashem keeping that in mind. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that darko means his unique path – and that the mitzvah of chinuch is to get him used to this path. Train him to follow the proper midos and practices that fit his personality, to develop and improve himself by doing things that are easy for him because they emphasize his tendencies and personality and they utilize his strengths (Rabbeinu Yonah). Darko means that these are things that come naturally to him and that he learns to do them because he wants to, not because he is forced (Meiri). Train him to do mitzvos that fit his nature and his desire (Meiri). This means that he does mitzvos without being disciplined, and the behavior pattern therefore becomes part of his nature (Meiri).

Based on the Gemara (Shabbos 156a), the Gra explains that one should identify the child’s personality traits, his mazel, and train him to use them for Torah. If you force him to squelch his mazel, to repress his natural penchants, the result is that, as soon as no one is watching, he will do what his mazel inclines him to do, without developing it to use for Torah. One whose mazel inclines him to bloodshed can be trained to become a mohel or a shocheit; these inclinations are trained to be used for mitzvos and other positive purposes. This makes him an oveid Hashem. However, if he is not trained to use these inclinations for mitzvos, he will use them for the opposite. The Gra compares this to Dovid Hamelech, whose nature was inclined toward violence, yet, because he was taught when young to use his nature to serve Hashem, he became the poet of Israel.

How to train

Some early authorities emphasize the following: If the child is gifted with skills important in Torah learning, do not train him in other things. However, if he is not a “learner,” train him in an appropriate trade (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Again, this way he will learn to use “his way” in a Torah framework.

On the other hand, if you attempt to train a child for something that is against his nature, it will not last (Malbim; Hirsch). He may go through the motions of keeping mitzvos as long as an adult is supervising him closely. But once he is old enough to free himself from supervision, he will likely use his talents in a non-Torah or an anti-Torah direction.

Tailor-made chinuch

Clearly, there is no “one size fits all” approach to education. One must first identify the appropriate way to educate this particular child, and then provide it.

At times, I have been told that these rules apply only to parents, but not to schools and other chinuch mosados. Unfortunately, this is an error. These cardinal rules of chinuch apply to all chinuch situations without any exceptions. Chinuch must be tailored to the student or child, or it is not chinuch. Obviously, a school cannot create 500 learning programs for 500 students, but insisting that a child attend an educational program not suited for him or her violates chinuch and constitutes abuse of authority. No single method of education is suitable for all children. An education system that assumes that all children should be educated the same way is destined to fail for a large percentage of its students.

Like father?

A parent should recognize that, usually, a child shares the same interests and inclinations as his parent — but not always. Recognizing this requires much judgment and analysis (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Even when the child’s approach to serve Hashem manifests itself in a different way from that of his parents, the goal of Torah education still remains that our children follow the example of their parents’ commitment to Torah values (Hirsch, Devorim 21:18).

It goes without saying that one should not pressure a child to follow the educational or life path of an older sibling. For those who disagree with me, I refer you to Rav Hirsch’s excellent essay at the beginning of parshas Tolados and also to Volume VII of his Collected Writings.

Life without luxury

Some extend the lessons of chanoch lana’ar to other areas. For example, even if one is fortunate to be wealthy, train your child to live without luxuries, since luxuries quickly become necessities (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). One very great talmid chacham praised his mother for having been careful not to buy him more than he needed. Although his parents were financially comfortable, and able to purchase him whatever he wanted, she was careful not to spoil him, though it would have been only natural for them to do so, all the more so since he was an only child. When, in adult life, he was faced with serious challenges, he was able to meet them and grow as a person and a talmid chacham, only because his parents had trained him to use his own strengths and not to rely on outside help when he was young (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting the Maharam Chagiz).

A child should be taught to observe mitzvos out of joy and not out of fear of punishment. All this is part of the education that children should receive and see in the example provided by their parents (Hirsch, Devorim 21:18).

The most important part of chinuch is training in ahavas Hashem, loving G-d, and yiras Shamayim, fear of Heaven. The parents, themselves, must manifest these qualities. One can educate properly only by example.

Age appropriate

Certainly, all chinuch must be appropriate to the age of the child (Meiri; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz). Expecting a child to sit at the Shabbos table when he is too young to do so is clearly a violation of chanoch lana’ar al pi darko, as is any other expectation that is unrealistic for a child of his age. One should start the training process slowly and gradually get a child in the habit of acting with the proper midos that are appropriate for his personality. He will learn to internalize these midos, and they will become part of him. Gradually, one can increase the requirements and lessons, and he will grow to absorb them (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz).

Lana’ar

Mishlei emphasizes that we are educating a na’ar, a young man. Habits are easier to change when one is young, and training a child accomplishes a lot in his proper moral and ethical development. Speak to your child softly, and make sure that you are teaching him in a way that is appropriate to his temperament and to his age (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz).

If we examine the halachos of the ben soreir umoreh in parshas Ki Seitzei, we see a very important lesson. As Rav Hirsch explains, the Torah regards the first three months after a boy turns thirteen as the critical age that determines his moral future. The Torah expects a young man to obey his parents and turn to spiritual values. For this reason, he is called a bar mitzvah — the son of the mitzvah duty assigned by Hashem. The Creator of man ordained that this period awaken within a child a spirit that inspires him to do enthusiastically what is morally noble (Commentary to Devorim 21:18).

Training adults

Notwithstanding that one should begin training a child when he is young, we should note that the word chinuch includes the training of adults. As we noted above, the one example of the use of the word chinuch in Chumash refers to those individuals whom Avraham Avinu developed and educated, who were adults when they came under his influence.

Chazal also refer to the obligation to train and influence one’s adult children (Kiddushin 30a).

When he gets older…

The entire pasuk in Mishlei reads, Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenu, “Train the young man according to his way! Even when he gets older, he will not diverge from it.” Having figured out the best approach in training each child for his goal, the long-term results should be that one sees the child develop into an adult who makes the decisions that are consistent with Torah values.

Torah chinuch

Although most of our discussion has revolved around explaining the pasuk in Mishlei, one should not think that the ideas of chinuch were first invented by Shlomoh Hamelech. Indeed, there are numerous places where the Torah itself teaches these lessons. For example, the mitzvah of the Hagadah on Seder night, transmitting the experience of yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is mentioned four times in the Torah, each time in a variant way – because different children have different needs. As the compiler of the Hagadah demonstrates, offering alternate approaches teaches that we are to take into consideration the individual needs of each child.

I will share with you that, upon this basis, I recently answered a question that had bothered me for years. Four different times, the Torah describes the mitzvah of Hagadah, teaching your son about the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach, and this detail is explained during our Seder with the story of the four sons. Yet, there is very little halachic literature explaining how one should fulfill this mitzvah. Compare this to other mitzvos for which there is extensive discussion among the halachic authorities defining the responsibility of the mitzvah.

My suggested answer is that there cannot be rules for the mitzvah of Hagadah. Since it is a mitzvah of chinuch, it must be tailor-made to the needs of the child involved and, therefore, formal rules are downplayed.

Ben soreir umoreh

We mentioned above that the purpose of the Torah’s parsha of ben soreir umoreh is to teach many of the rules of education. In this context, I encourage our readers to read Rav Hirsch’s comments on the parsha and his essays on education in Volume 7 of the Collected Writings. There, he analyzes many of the halachos of ben soreir umoreh, and, in his typical style, he develops brilliant insights into proper Torah education.

This teaches a very deep lesson in education: “These words hold the key to the secret of proper child-raising. A father and a mother united as one in their love for their child and in complete agreement on the principles by which he should be raised… But such unity can be achieved only if the child’s father and mother are united also in their own subordination to the Will of G-d. If they view the sacred function of child-rearing as their most sacred task, to be performed for Hashem and in keeping with His holy Will… If His judgments serve as a matter of course to resolve any disagreements” (Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Volume 7, Page 348).

Conclusion

It is incumbent on any educator to study the commentaries to the pasuk and practice them. I find it highly surprising that many people who consider themselves educators have never bothered to study the verse Chanoch lana’ar al pi darko with the classic commentators. In fact, one does not require the classic commentators; but a simple reading of the pasuk sets every parent and educator on his or her way.

Wanted Dead or Alive

In honor of Parashas Terumah and the Construction of the Mishkan…

Wanted Dead or Alive

bug trapQuestion #1: Getting Rid of those Bugs!

“May I trap or kill mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Hanging from the Lowest Tree

“I forgot to hang flypaper before Shabbos. May I do it on Shabbos?”

Question #3: A Charming Shabbos

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?”

Answer: Catching or dispatching

We have all been in the following uncomfortable situation. Some time during Shabbos, a mosquito appears in our vicinity, seeking to earn its living. Although we realize that this creature requires its sustenance, we are not eager that we, our children, or our guests should become mosquito fodder, even just as a minor donation. Are we permitted to trap or kill the mosquito? Trapping living things, tzad, was an action necessary for acquiring some of the materials used to build the Mishkan, and is one of the 39 melachos, categories of prohibited activity on Shabbos (Mishnah Shabbos 73a and Rashi ad loc.). Killing living things also violates the melachos of Shabbos, but space constraints will require that we leave this discussion for a different time. We will use this opportunity to discuss many pertinent principles of Shabbos and some details of the melachah of tzad.

Shabbos nomenclature

When discussing what one may or may not do on Shabbos, the Mishnah and Gemara use three terms: (1) chayov, punishable, when a particular act constitutes melachah, meaning that it desecrates Shabbos by violating a Torah law; (2) patur, exempt, meaning it does not violate a Torah law, and (3) mutar, permitted, when an act may be performed on Shabbos. We will discuss the middle term, patur, which states that a particular act does not violate Torah law, since this usually indicates something prohibited due to rabbinic sanction. Even though the word patur usually implies an act prohibited by rabbinic law, sometimes the Sages permitted it. But what makes performing a forbidden activity patur?

Meleches machsheves

The Gemara (Chagigah 10b; Bava Kama 26b; Kerisus 19b) teaches that the Torah prohibited only something that can be categorized as meleches machsheves, which can perhaps be translated as premeditated melachah. An obvious example of meleches machsheves would be trapping an animal to obtain its hide or meat. Similarly, someone who digs a hole to plant the base of a tree violates the meleches machsheves of choreish, ploughing, and one who picks a fruit performs a meleches machsheves of kotzeir, harvesting.

Meleches machsheves is often explained by what it is not. Following that approach, I will provide three categories of labor that are exempt from being defined as desecrating Shabbos min hatorah, because they do not qualify as meleches machsheves, at least according to some opinions.

Mekalkeil

In general, an act constitutes meleches machsheves only when its direct result is beneficial. This means that an action that is inherently destructive does not violate Shabbos min hatorah, even when one needs the result. For example, digging a hole in the ground, which one does not need, in order to obtain earth is defined as a destructive activity and prohibited only miderabbanan. The dug hole itself is a negative development, which renders the burrowing an act of mekalkeil, not prohibited min hatorah, but only because of rabbinic injunction. However, digging a hole to plant or to create a posthole results in a positive benefit and is indeed prohibited min hatorah, since one wants the hole in the ground.

Bemino nitzad

Here is a second example of meleches machsheves that is particular to the melachah that we are discussing, tzad. The tanna’im (Shabbos107b) dispute whether it is prohibited min hatorah to ensnare a creature that mankind does not typically use, such as a scorpion or a flea, which is called ein bemino nitzad, literally, a species that is not trapped. The halachic conclusion follows the lenient opinion, ruling that tzad applies min hatorah only to a species that is bemino nitzad, commonly trapped, so that mankind can benefit from it. For example, a species that is eaten, from whose body a medicine is extracted, or whose hide is used as leather qualifies as bemino nitzad. The halachic authorities discuss whether trapping an animal for scientific research or so that one can have it as a pet makes the animal into bemino nitzad (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:21; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 50:4 at end).

However, a species that is caught only because it is an annoyance has the status of ein bemino nitzad.

Why is this true? The purpose of trapping is to harness a living creature, so that mankind can use it. Thus, tzad is a type of acquisition (see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; however, see Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh, who might disagree with this analysis.) However, trapping creatures that mankind does not generally use, such as scorpions or fleas, is not an act of acquiring these creatures, but of distancing them from victims that they may harm. Therefore, most opinions conclude that trapping a species that is ein bemino nitzad does not violate the melachah of tzad, and is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction. Thus, since flies are ein bemino nitzad, catching them would not violate a Torah prohibition. Hanging flypaper on Shabbos would still involve a rabbinic prohibition, and it is similarly prohibited to set up a mousetrap on Shabbos (Magen Avraham 316:9; see Piskei Tosafos, Shabbos 17b #62).

By the way, many authorities consider mice to be bemino nitzad, since there are places in the world where their hide is used (Chayei Odom 30:7). There is also a dispute whether a non-kosher species that is harvested as food for non-Jewish consumption is considered bemino nitzad (Ritva, Shabbos 106b; Nimla Tal, Meleches Tzad #37).

Melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah

Many authorities rule that another category of activity is not prohibited min hatorah, because it is not considered meleches machsheves. There is a dispute among tanna’im whether a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, literally, an act not needed for its purpose, is prohibited min hatorah or only miderabbanan. Whereas Rabbi Yehudah contends that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min hatorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, these acts are prohibited only by virtue of rabbinic injunction. Let me explain.

What is a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah? Among the rishonim, we find differing opinions how to define and even how to translate this term, and there are many instances where a dispute in halachah results. Since this complicated question is a bit tangential to our topic, I am going to present only one approach. According to Tosafos (Shabbos 94a s.v. Rabbi Shimon) and the Rivash (Shu’t Harivash #394), Rabbi Shimon contends that the 39 melachos are prohibited min hatorah only when performed for a goal or purpose similar to the reason why this melachah was done when constructing the Mishkan. Performing a melachah to accomplish a purpose other than that for which this melachah was performed in the Mishkan qualifies as a melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. This means that it is prohibited only miderabbanan, according to Rabbi Shimon and those who rule like him.

Here is an explanatory example: Removing an item that has a bad odor from a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, into a reshus harabim, an open area meant for public use, is a classic case of melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah. Although moving something from a reshus hayachid into a reshus harabim constitutes the melachah of carrying, moving the foul-smelling item from a house to a reshus harabim does not constitute a melachah min hatorah, according to Rabbi Shimon, because the purpose of the carrying when building the Mishkan was to move the item being carried to a new location. However, when removing a foul-smelling item, there is no significance attached to the place to which the item is moved; one’s only goal is to distance it from its current location. The public area does not constitute the goal of one’s act, but, rather, a convenient place to dump unwanted material. For this reason, Rabbi Shimon contends that this act was not prohibited by the Torah, but only by the Sages. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehudah considers melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah to fulfill the definition of meleches machsheves and therefore prohibited min hatorah.

Although most rishonim conclude that the halachah follows Rabbi Shimon that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited only because of rabbinic injunction, the Rambam and others rule, according to Rabbi Yehudah, that melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah is prohibited min hatorah.

When exempt is permitted

There is a passage of Gemara that reflects both on our opening question and on a different aspect of the melachah of tzad. “Shmuel said: Whenever the Mishnah states that something is patur when performed on Shabbos, the activity is prohibited [because of a rabbinic injunction], with the exception of the following three instances, where patur means that the activity is permitted. The first case is catching a deer, the second is catching a snake and the third is lancing a boil” (Shabbos 3a; 107a, as explained by Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Shmuel proves from Mishnayos that, in these three instances, the acts are permitted (Shabbos 107a). The first two of these cases educate us to understand what constitutes the melachah of trapping. (The case of lancing a boil involves a different topic that we will leave for a future article.)

What are the first two cases presented by Shmuel? The first situation is when a deer entered a building and someone sat in the doorway of the building, thereby preventing the deer’s escape. When that person sat down, he trapped the deer and therefore performed the melachah of tzad. This is true, even if he was not involved in coaxing the deer into the building. The Mishnah (Shabbos 106b) then states that if a second person sits alongside the first in a way that the deer’s escape is still blocked, even when the first person gets up, the second person has not desecrated Shabbos. This is because the second person did not trap the deer but merely guaranteed that a captured animal remain in captivity. Although the Mishnah says that the second person is patur, Shmuel explains that one may lechatchilah sit down alongside the first person, even if one’s intention is to keep the deer trapped when the first person gets up. This explains a different aspect of tzad — the melachah is making the animal available for human use; once it is already trapped, there is no further violation in maintaining it under human control.

The second case is based on two different mishnayos. One Mishnah (Shabbos 107a) permits catching a scorpion so that it doesn’t bite, and another states that catching a snake to prevent it from biting does not violate Shabbos min hatorah, whereas catching it for medicinal use does (Eduyos 2:5). Tosafos proves that both Mishnayos that permit tzad to protect someone are discussing creatures whose bite is painful, but not life-threatening, pikuach nefesh (Tosafos, Shabbos 3a s.v. Bar). Were the Mishnah discussing a creature whose bite is life-threatening, it would be obvious that one may kill it, because of the general rule that actions necessary to protect life supersede Shabbos and almost all other mitzvos.

Shmuel ruled that although catching non-dangerous creatures is ordinarily prohibited on Shabbos, since this involves only a rabbinic injunction, the Sages permitted it under extenuating circumstances.

Why is this considered only a rabbinic injunction? We have already presented two possible reasons. The first is because of the principle of melachah she’einah tzerichah legufah, since one has no interest in capturing a snake or a scorpion (Tosafos op. cit.). The second reason is that one is not catching these species to make them available for human use, which is an essential component of the melachah of tzad (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 189:7; see Biur Halachah, 316:2 s.v. Oh Choleh).

Mosquitoes versus snakes

Although we have discovered that one may catch snakes and scorpions that are not life-threatening, this does not tell us whether one may trap mosquitoes, bees or wasps. Although the sting or bite of these species is indeed painful, it is not usually as painful as a snake or scorpion bite. Thus, it might be that Chazal did not permit catching mosquitoes, bees or wasps.

Based on the following passage of Gemara, we can presumably prove the correct answer to this question:

“Someone who trapped a flea on Shabbos — Rabbi Eliezer rules that he is liable for desecrating Shabbos min hatorah, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that his desecration of Shabbos violates only a rabbinic ordinance” (Shabbos 107b). The Gemara explains that this dispute is dependent on an issue that we discussed earlier — Does one desecrate Shabbos min hatorah if he traps a species that is not usually trapped? Rabbi Eliezer rules that he does, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua rules that he does not. Thus, it appears from this Gemara that although Shmuel proved that it is permitted to trap a scorpion, even of the non-deadly variety, one cannot trap a flea, which only causes discomfort.

Three types of varments

We can, therefore, divide the different types of unpleasant biters and stingers into three categories:

  1. Those that are potentially life-threatening to people. In this instance, if there is even the slightest possibility of danger, one may kill or catch them on Shabbos.
  2. Those whose bite is very painful, but does not present any life-threatening danger. These may be trapped on Shabbos, provided that one’s intent is to save people from harm (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:25). However, it is forbidden to trap if one intends to use the insect, reptile or arachnid. (Modern biology categorizes spiders and scorpions as arachnids, because they have eight legs, are carnivorous and are wingless. If we want to categorize insects and arachnids together, we should use the word arthropods, but that still excludes snakes and other reptiles. So, for most of this article, I have simply used the word creatures. My apologies to the scientists reading this.)
  3. Those whose bite will be unpleasant, but not highly painful. In this instance, there is a dispute among the rishonim. Tosafos and the Rosh (ad loc.) quote from an earlier baal Tosafos, named Rav Poras, that if one sees that an insect may bite him, he is permitted to catch the insect so that he can remove it. When the insect is not so close to him, he may brush the insect off, but he may not trap it.

Not all authorities accepted Rabbi Poras’s approach. The Mordechai (#402) quotes Rav Yehudah Gaon that he noticed that the “elder rabbis” did not trap fleas, even when the fleas were on their skin. The Beis Yosef, however, contends that even Rav Yehudah Gaon accepts the ruling of Rabbi Poras, but that he himself practiced this as a personal chumrah, not as the required halachah that he would rule for others. There are other rishonim, however, who disagree with Rabbi Poras and prohibit trapping mosquitoes, even when they are on someone’s skin, since they are only a discomfort and not dangerous (Meiri, Shabbos 107b).

Consensus

The consensus of halachic authorities follows Rabbi Poras, although there is a dispute among them whether it is permitted to catch the insect only when it is actually biting (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 316:9; Bach) or whether one may remove the insects even when they are in close proximity (Taz 316:8; Magen Avraham 316:18; Elyah Rabbah). The Mishnah Berurah (316:37) concludes that when one can brush off the insect, he should not rely on the heter of trapping it, but he implies that one may trap the insect if brushing it off will not suffice.

Answers

At this point, let us take a fresh look at some of our original questions:

“May I trap mosquitoes, bees, or wasps on Shabbos?”

The answer is that if the insect is about to attack someone, one may trap it. One may also trap it if its sting or bite is very painful, and certainly if it is potentially dangerous.

“May a snake charmer work on Shabbos?” If one is not intending to use the snake, it is permitted. This is all the more so if the snake is dangerous.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos to ensure that Shabbos is a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. We certainly see this idea borne out by the ideas of meleches machsheves, which denote the purpose of the action, and have no correlation at all to the amount of energy expended. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by our refraining from our own creative acts (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Commentary to Shemos 20:11).