Talmidav Shel Aharon
13-5768: Mitzvah N-7
January 28, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 7 – It is a negative commandment not to go out on the Sabbath beyond the Sabbath limit.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “let no an go out of is place on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:29) This mean s that if one goes outside the city or town, even one cubit more than twelve mils (The distance corresponding to the length of the Israelites camp in the wilderness), he is to receive whiplashes by the law of the Torah. Whoever goes out beyond 2,000 cubits, which is the area of open land about the town or city, is to be punished with whiplashes of disobedience. This is the view of Rabbi Alfasi and Rambam. [but there are many early authorities, of blessed memory, who hold that even if one walks many parasangs, it is only a violation of a law of the Sages and not a law of the Torah]. The 2,000 cubits are reckoned as square cubits, so as to gain the extra distance to the corners [in the square of 2,000 by 2,000 cubits,] Within the city it is permissible to walk through all of it, even if it is very large. It is in force everywhere, in every time, for both men and women.
Last week we talked about the 49 Av Melachot, the primary rules of what is forbidden work on Shabbat. But note, that this law is based on a verse that is found in the Torah four full chapters before the giving of the Law at Sinai. This is a very separate law that is derived from the miracle of Manna in the wilderness. Everyday the people were to go outside the camp to gather the Manna they would need for the day. On Friday, they had to gather a double portion (which is why we have two Challot on Friday night!) and were told not to leave their place. Since this is taken to mean they should not leave the camp to gather Manna (which would not fall on Shabbat) we get the reference to the size of the Israelite camp in the wilderness. I suspect that this is a bit of Rabbinic fantasy. There is no reference I know of in the Bible that sets a size to the Israelite camp.
A “mil” is 2,000 amot (cubits) or 1121 meters or 1226 yards. There are 4 mil in a parasang, which is 4486 meters or 4905 yards.(There are 1760 yards in a mile and 1000 meters in a kilometer) So we have here the better part of a mile from home a person can walk. The 2,000 cubits distance around the city is a 2,000 cubit square that allows a person to walk to the corners of the square (as opposed to a 2,000 cubit circle from some center point that would be more restrictive. The city that the Haftz Hayyim is referring to is a walled city which has a very distinct boundary, (the city gate) that one can measure from. Because most cities today do not have a wall, a “wall” is created by the construction of an “Eruv” a Shabbat boundary that serves as the limit one can measure so one knows when he or she has violated the Shabbat boundary.
The argument between Rabbi Alfasi (who wrote the Jewish Law code called the “Tur”) and Rambam (Who wrote the Jewish Law code called the “Mishna Torah”) and many of the other Sages is the source of these measures. Alfasi and Rambam see this law as a prohibition of the Torah and the others see it as a Rabbinic Law. At stake is the punishment. Violations of Torah law are far more serious that violations of Rabbinic Law since the Rabbis were far from infallible. It is hard to say exactly why they don’t take the more strict position except for the possibility that this is an easy law to break unintentionally. It is really easy to step beyond the boundary. I suspect that they want to be a bit lenient on those who err in their journey.
Within the eruv or the walls of the city, one is able to walk from one end of the city to the other since it is all considered to be “his place” so no restrictions apply.
Conservative Judaism in effect, put this entire law aside with its historic (or some say catastrophic) decision to allow Jews to ride to synagogue on Shabbat (but not to any other place) this opened the door to travel far beyond these limits. Those who still refrain from driving and travel on Shabbat usually don’t travel outside these limits to this day.