The Shabbat Borders – Origins, Applications and Lessons
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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Beshalach
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The Torah portion of BeShalach includes several verses about observing the Shabbat. These were said in regards to the Manna which fell from heaven on every day besides Shabbat. This is because gathering the Manna, carrying it and preparing it would have involved types of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat.
One of the verses are (Exodus, 16:29), “See that the L-rd has given you the Shabbat. Therefore, on the sixth day, He gives you bread for two days. Let each man remain in his place; let no man leave his place on the seventh day.”
In the context of the story of the Manna it seems that the words “Let each man remain in his place, let no man leave his place on the seventh day” mean that the people shouldn’t leave their tents in order to collect the Manna. This is, indeed, how the Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni interpret the verse. However, the sages of the Talmud (cited by Rashi) understood this verse to be referring to the laws of Techum Shabbat – Shabbat borders.
Techumin – Walking Borders for Shabbat
The Talmud (Eiruvin 51a), says that the verse is alluding to the laws of Techumin – that one may not walk more than 2000 amot (cubits) beyond the city borders on Shabbat.
· “Let no man leave his place on the seventh day” alludes to the law that one may not walk beyond the techum (boundary) of his area. The idea of the boundary being 2,000 amot is based on the borders around the cities of the Levites which were 2,000 amot (see Numbers 35:5). (They used this space for their fields and to have open space around their cities.)
· “Let each man remain in his place,” alludes to the law that if one did leave the techum, one must remain within their four amot (approximately 6 feet) until the end of Shabbat. The words his place in the verse indicate the private area of each individual. This means that even if one is outside the “general place” of the community, he still has his own space. See below as to why four amot is considered the personal space of each person.
The reason that the sages understood the verse to not only referring to the collection of Manna is that the verse doesn’t say “let no man leave his place on the seventh day in order to collect the Manna.” Because it did not specify this, the verse seems to be teaching us a general law about Shabbat.
What is the Techum?
The Techum Shabbat is an imaginary line around each city or town that is 2,000 amot (approx. 3160 feet) beyond the last house of that city or town. This line is not affected by municipality or county lines. It is forbidden to walk beyond this line on Shabbat or Yom Tov. There are many details as to how to measure this line. As such one should consult with a Rabbinic Authority as to the exact boundary of their city. If one remains with the same city (i.e., area with houses) one may walk for many miles on Shabbat as he will not be crossing any “Techum line.” This is true even if he passes through areas that are under the jurisdiction of different municipalities.
Torah or Rabbinic?
There is a dispute among the authorities as to whether the laws of Techumin (Shabbat boundaries) are of Torah or rabbinic origin.
· Some Say Rabbinic
According to many authorities (cited in Shulchan Aruch HaRav 396:1), these laws are of Rabbinic origin. The verses mentioned above were used by the sages as a support for their decree. But since that is not the original intent of the verse, the law is considered to be a Rabbinic law.
· Other Say Torah
According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Eiruvin 3:4), the essential laws of Techumin (Shabbat borders) are from the Torah but the rabbis added to these laws.
Specifically, by Torah law, one may not walk beyond 12 mil (approximately 7.5 miles) beyond the city borders. This measurement is based on size of the Jewish camp in the desert which occupied 12 mil. When the Torah writes “Let a man not leave his place” it is referring to “the place” of the Jewish camp. The rabbis, however, instituted the much smaller Techum of 1 mil which is the 2,000 amot mentioned above. The Rambam (Laws of Shabbat 27:2) concurs with this view.
This is a practical application as to whether these laws are of Torah or Rabbinic origin regarding the following case.
There is a question (Eiruvin 43a) as to whether the Techum limits apply to a person who walks passed the Techum line on a wall that is 10 tefachim (handbreadths – 32 inches) above the ground and is less than 4 tefachim (38 inches) wide. The same question applies to one who travels (miraculously) through the air (using a Divine name as is known to the tzadikim). This question is not resolved in the Talmud.
Generally, in cases of doubt, we are lenient if the law in question is Rabbinic but we are strict if it is a Torah law. Practically speaking, if the Techum laws are of Rabbinic origin, one may be lenient and walk on such a wall both beyond the 2,000 amah limit and beyond 12 mil from the city.
But according to the authorities that the laws of Techumin beyond 12 mil are from the Torah, one may not walk on such a wall on Shabbat beyond 12 mil. (See below as to another application regarding Eliyahu HaNavi.)
There are three opinions as to the final halacha:
· Rabbi Yosef Karo (as interpreted by the Mishnah Berurah 404:7) is of the opinion that we should be strict and follow the opinion that Techum Shabbat is of Torah origin.
· The Gaon of Vilna wrote (O.C. 404:4) that the halacha follows the opinion that the rules of Techum Shabbat are completely of Rabbinic origin.
· According to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (404:2), even the opinion that holds the laws of Techumin are of Torah origin may agree that, nowadays, they only have Rabbinic force. This is because the laws of Techum Shabbat are derived from the size of the Jewish camp in the desert, as mentioned above. That camp had the law of a public domain (reshut harabim) for Shabbat purposes. As such, the laws of Techum only apply (on a Torah level) in an area that has the status of a reshut harabim. Nowadays, however, according to the opinion that is widely accepted (see O.C. 345), most streets do not have the status of a Torah level reshut harabim. As such, the laws of Techum are only on a Rabbinic level.
The Zohar (vol. 2 pg. 64a) writes that the Shechinah (Divine presence) which we call the Shabbat queen rests on the place of the Jewish people every Shabbat. This includes their places of residence as well as the 2,000 amah Shabbat border (Techum). One must take care to not desecrate this holiness by observing the following three matters.
· To not profane Shabbat with words by speaking about mundane matters
· To not profane Shabbat with actions by doing any of the forbidden Shabbat labors. And,
· To not profane Shabbat with one’s feet by walking beyond the Shabbat borders.
According to the Arizal (Pri Etz Chayim, Hakdama LiSha’ar Shabbat, 1) the Techum Shabbat represents an area that is free of any unholy forces on Shabbat. In the era of the Mishkan (temporary sanctuary in the desert) and Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) this area was 12 mil as alluded to in the Torah, see above. These 12 mil are equal to three parsa (a land measure used in the Talmudic era) which correspond to the three Divine Atributes of Netzach, Hod and Yesod (Victory, Splendor and Foundation). After the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash, however, when the 11 levels of klipa (unholy forces) were strengthened in the world, the original border of 12 mil was shortened to one mil (which is 2,000 amot) (12-11=1). This one mil represents the level of Netzach ShebeNetzach (Victory within Victory). We stay within this border on Shabbat so that we not intermingle the holy and unholy forces on this holy day.
The Lesson of the Four Amot
We mentioned above that, if one leaves the Techum Shabbat, they must stay within the area of four amot (approximately six feet) around themselves. This is based on the verse “Let each man stay in their place.” The place of each man is considered to be four amot. This is because the average height of a person (in Biblical times) was three amot. The additional amah is to spread his arms and legs.
The question can be asked, why is the amah of spreading one arms and legs included in the Torah’s definition of a “person’s space?” Why was that space not defined as three amot, which is the measurement of the body in its normal standing or lying position?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains (Likutei Sichot vol. 16 pg. 195 and on) that the purpose for which we were created is to not remain in the natural spiritual state in which we were born. Rather, our purpose is to improve and elevate ourselves, so that we reach higher levels than our natural disposition.
The manner in which one can elevate themselves spiritually is through using his power of action (represented by the hands and feet) to improve himself and his environment. As our sages say (see the beginning of Torah Ohr by the Ba’al HaTanya), “when one is involved in Tzedaka and acts of kindness their heart and mind become purified one thousand fold.”
When a person’s body is in their natural standing or lying position it represents a person who is remaining in the spiritual state in which he was born. When one lifts their hands above their body, however, it represents a person who is using the power of his action (symbolized by the hands and feet) to elevate himself beyond his natural state.
By establishing that a person’s “space” is four amot our sages were alluding to us that we must not be satisfied with our natural inborn goodness. Rather, we must improve both ourselves and the environment around us.
How Does Eliyahu get to a Brit on Shabbat?
The Magen Avraham (295:2) writes Eliyahu HaNavi may not be able to come to the earth and announce the arrival of Moshiach on Shabbat as he may not be able to travel beyond the 12 mil Shabbat border even when flying above the earth. (This depends on the opinions above as to whether we consider these laws to be of Torah or Rabbinic origin.) This is why we mention Eliyahu HaNavi after Shabbat (O.C. 295:2), to indicate that he is now eligible to appear.
Despite this, when a brit coincides with Shabbat we prepare a chair for Eliyahu and we welcome him. How can we reconcile these two ideas?
The Chatam Sofer explains (Responsa 6:98) that when Eliyahu will come to announce the arrival of Moshiach, he will do so with his physical body. He will have to fly (miraculously) from the physical Gan Eden (which is in this world) to Yerushalyim. This may be forbidden as explained above. For a brit, however, only Eliyahu’s soul attends. A soul without a body need not fulfill the mitzvot. In addition, the soul can descend from heaven directly to the desired location without traversing any point on the earth at all. As such, this “trip” can be made on Shabbat as well.
We will continue this discussion next week, G-d willing.
May Eliyahu soon come to Announce the Arrival of Moshiach!
 Likutei Sichot vol. 27 page 38 and one
 This opinion is also mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (Eiruvin 17b). It is noteworthy that Rabbi Akiva is of the opinion (Sotah 27a) that the Shabbat borders of 2,000 amot are a Torah law. This is not the final halacha. The Ramban (Chidusim on Eiruvin 17b) questions, how, according to Rabbi Akiva, did the rabbis institute the concept of an Eiruv Techumin which allows one to walk beyond the Techum Shabbat (by placing food at a certain point), if this is overriding a Torah violation. He suggests that the concept of Eiruv Techumin may be a Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai (oral tradition from Sinai). See there for another interpretation.
 See Eiruvin 55b where Rabbah bar Bar Chana says “I saw the area of the Jewish camp in the desert and it was three by three parsa.” (One parsa equals 4 mil.)
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!