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Parshat Ki Tisa

CHALLENGE
-The Gemara bases the 39 labors of Shabbat on a mistaken count

It is well known that the biblical prohibitions of Shabbat can be classified into 39 labors — melachot — that are listed in the second Mishna of the seventh chapter of Shabbat. The Gemara in Shabbat 49b relates an attempt to find a source in the written Torah for this ancient oral tradition. The various forms of the word labor — melacha, melachto, and melechet — can be found exactly 39 times in the Torah. This is certainly a worthy hint for the 39 forbidden labors of Shabbat. While it is a hint, it is not the origin of the 39 melachot. That ancient oral tradition was known long before the rabbis tried to find a hint for it in the written Torah. Even if this hint turned out to be incorrect the tradition of 39 labors remains unaffected because it predated the attempt to connect the oral and written Torahs.

But are the various forms of the word melacha in the Torah 39 times? Working before the writing of the first concordance, Rabbeinu Chananel pointed out that there are over 60 mentions of the word melacha in the Torah. There are, in fact, 65 uses of the word melacha in its various forms in the Torah. This discovery, and the unfortunate scribal error in the commentaries that led some to believe that there were 61 mentions, gave rise to a literature trying to explain the Gemara's hint. See the Yefeh Enayim at the end of Eruvin for a summary. An excellent investigation of the scribal errors in the early commentaries can be found in the journal HaDarom, Tishrei 5726 pp. 159-180. We now have the tools to say with certainty that forms of the word melacha appear in the Torah exactly 65 times (see the Even Shoshan Concordance pp. 659-660). Below we will list each instance.

If the word melacha is in the Torah 65 times and not 39, does that mean that there are really 65 labors of Shabbat? Or does it simply undermine the laws of Shabbat and demonstrate that they are all false? It does not do any of this for two reasons. The first is that the 39 labors were knwon from an oral tradition and not from this count. The Gemara was only trying to find a hint for this tradition and if the hint does not work out that only undermines the hint and not the underlying tradition. Furthermore, the fact that melacha is in the Torah 65 times does not demonstrate that the Gemara was wrong. When we understand the Gemara properly we realize that it is entirely consistent with the count of 65. The following explanation is taken from R' Yisrael Yaakov Halevy's Piryo BeIto on Eruvin pp. 456-457.

This is what the Gemara in Shabbat 49b says:

R' Yonatan ben R' Elazar said: Thus said R' Shimon ben R' Yosi ben Lekunia: [The 39 labors] correspond to the melacha, melachto, and melechet that are in the Torah 39 times. Rav Yosef asked: "And he entered the house to do his work (melachto)" (Gen. 39:11) — is it from the count or not? Abaye said: Let us take out a Torah scroll and count. Rabbah bar bar Chanah said: They did not leave from there until they brought a Torah scroll and counted. He [Abaye] said: What is unclear to me is whether "But the work (vehamelacha) had been enough" (Ex. 36:7) is in the count.

The Gemara clearly says that there are 39 times in which forms of the word melacha appear in the Torah. But it also implies that not each appearance is necessarily counted towards the 39. What are the questions regarding Gen. 39:11 and Ex. 36:7? From the fact that these verses may have not been counted we see that not all instances are included in this count. But what are the guidelines for determining what is counted and what is not? The Gemara does not tell us but we can work backwards from the result and arrive at extremely reasonable rules.

The Piryo BeIto offers the following two rules — 1) repeated phrases are only counted once and 2) only uses of the word melacha that relate to Shabbat or the building of the Mishkan are counted. The first rule is certainly sensible. The second reminds us that we are looking for a hint to the prohibited labors of Shabbat and, since these labors are derived from the actions needed to build the Mishkan, they are quite reasonably referred to only in the context of Shabbat and building the mishkan.

Of the 65 times the word melacha appears in any form in the Torah, 25 times consist of 7 repeated phrases (5 are repeated twice, 1 three times, and 1 twelve times). Subtracting 25 from 65, but adding in 7 so that the repeated phrases are counted once, we are left with 47 times. Of these 47 times, 8 do not refer to either Shabbat or the building of the Mishkan. Subtracting 8 from the 47 yields exactly 39, the number of prohibited labors. We thus see that the Gemara's count is exact. But there is more. Note that the two verses about which the Gemara questions whether they are in the count. The first refers to Yoef returning to do his work (melachto). This seems clearly not to be relevant but the Yalkut Shimoni learns that the word melachto tells us that this occured on Shabbat. Rav Yosef was then asking whether this was an actual melacha, and would then be in the count, or something else. Abaye did not think this was a difficult question but he had another of his own. Exodus 36:7 uses melacha to refer to the work of bringing the material needed to build the Mishkan. This is not technically part of building the Mishkan but it is so close that clarification is required.

The following list of verses should make the above explanation more clear. The first set of numbers lists all of the verses and the second set lists only those included in the count based on the above guidelines. X marks those phrases that are not relevant to Shabbat and = marks those phrases that are exact repetitions.

1.1.Gen. 2:2 "By the seventh day G-d completed His work (vayechal E-lokim bayom hashvii melachto)"
2.2.Gen. 2:2 "And He abstained on the seventh day from all His work (vayishbot bayom hashvii mikol melachto)"
3.3.Gen. 2:3 "Because on it He abstained from all His work (ki vo shavat mikol melachto)"
4.XGen. 33:14 "According to the gait of the drove before me (leregel hamelacha asher lefanai)"
5.4.Gen. 39:11 "And he entered the house to do his work (vayavo habayta laasot melachto)"
6.5.Ex. 12:16 "No work may be done on them (kol melacha lo ye'aseh bahem)"
7.6.Ex. 20:9 "Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work (sheshet yamim taavod va'asita kol melachtecha)"
8.=Deut. 5:13 "Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work (sheshet yamim taavod va'asita kol melachtecha)"
9.7.Ex. 20:10 "You shall not do any work (lo taaseh kol melacha)"
10.=Deut. 5:14 "You shall not do any work (lo taaseh kol melacha)"
11.XEx. 22:7 "Had not laid a hand on his fellow's property (lo shalach yado bimlechet re'ehu)"
12.XEx. 22:10 "Had not laid a hand on his fellow's property (lo shalach yado bimlechet re'ehu)"
13.8.Ex. 31:3 "With knowledge and with every craft (uvedaat uvechol melacha)"
14.=Ex. 35:31 "With knowledge and with every craft (uvedaat uvechol melacha)"
15.9.Ex. 31:5 "To peform every craft (laasot bechol melacha)"
16.10.Ex. 31:14 For whoever does work on it (ki kol ha'oseh bah melacha)"
17.11.Ex. 31:15 For six days work may be done (sheshet yamim ye'aseh melacha)"
18.12.Ex. 31:15 "Whoever does work on the day of Shabbat (kol ha'oseh melacha beyom haShabbat)"
19.13.Ex. 35:2 "On six days work may be done (sheshet yamim te'aseh melacha)"
20.=Lev. 23:3 "On six days work may be done (sheshet yamim te'aseh melacha)"
21.14.Ex. 35:2 "Whoever does work on it (kol ha'oseh bo melacha)"
22.15.Ex. 35:21 "For the work of the Tent of Meeting (limlechet ohel moed)"
23.16.Ex. 35:24 "For any work of the labor brought it (lechol melechet haavodah hevi'u)"
24.17.Ex. 35:29 "To bring for any of the work (lehavi lechol hamelacha)"
25.18.Ex. 35:33 "Every craft of design" (kol melechet machshevet)"
26.19.Ex. 35:35 "To do every craft of the carver (laasot kol melechet charash)"
27.20.Ex. 35:35 "Artisans of every craft (osei kol melacha)"
28.21.Ex. 36:1 "To do all the work for the labor of the Sanctuary (laasot et kol melechet avodat hakodesh)"
29.22.Ex. 36:2 "To approach the work (lekarvah el hamelacha)"
30.23.Ex. 36:3 "For the work of the Sanctuary (limlechet avodat hakodesh)"
31.24.Ex. 36:4 "Those performing all the sacred work (ha'osim et kol melechet hakodesh)"
32.25.Ex. 36:4 "Each of them from his work (ish ish mimlachto)"
33.26.Ex. 36:5 "For the labor of the work (midei haavodah lamelacha)"
34.27.Ex. 36:6 "Shall not do more work (al yaasu od melacha)"
35.XEx. 36:7 "But the work had been enough (vehamelacha hayta dayam)"
36.28.Ex. 36:7 "To do all the work (lechol hamelacha laasot otah)"
37.29.Ex. 36:8 "Among those doing the work (be'osei hamelacha)"
38.30.Ex. 38:24 "That was used for the work (he'asui lamelacha)"
39.31.Ex. 38:24 "For all holy work (bechol melechet hakodesh)"
40.32.Ex. 39:43 "And Moshe saw the entire work (vayar Moshe et kol hamelacha)"
41.33.Ex. 40:33 "So Moshe completed the work (vayechal Moshe et hamelacha)"
42.XLev. 7:24 "May be put to any use" (ye'aseh lechol melacha)"
43.XLev. 11:32 "With which work is done (asher ye'aseh lechol melacha)"
44.XLev. 13:51 "For whatever purpose the leather has been fashioned (lechol asher ye'aseh ha'or limlacha)"
45.34.Lev. 16:29 "You shall not do any work (vechol melacha lo taasu)"
46.=Lev. 23:28 "You shall not do any work (vechol melacha lo taasu)"
47.35.Lev. 23:30 "Who will do work (asher taaseh kol melacha)"
48.36.Lev. 23:3 "You shall not do any work (kol melacha lo taasu)"
49.=Lev. 23:31 "You shall not do any work (kol melacha lo taasu)"
50.=Num. 29:7 "You shall not do any work (kol melacha lo taasu)"
51.XLev. 13:48 "In anything fashioned of leather (bechol melechet or)"
52.37.Lev. 23:7 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
53.=Lev. 23:8 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
54.=Lev. 23:21 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
55.=Lev. 23:25 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
56.=Lev. 23:35 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
57.=Lev. 23:36 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
58.=Num. 28:18 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
59.=Num. 28:25 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
60.=Num. 28:26 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
61.=Num. 29:1 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
62.=Num. 29:12 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
63.=Num. 29:35 "You shall do no laborious work (kol melechet avodah lo taasu)"
64.38.Num. 4:3 "To do work (laasot melacha)"
65.39.Deut. 16:8 "You shall not perform labor (lo taaseh melacha)"

We have seen that the puzzling Gemara is explained simply with the use of two basic rules. While forms of the word melacha can be found 65 times in the Torah, there is a pattern in which all relevant phrases using forms of the word melacha are found 39 times in the Torah, hinting vaguely to the 39 labors of Shabbat.


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Last revised: 6/9/02
Aishdas 2002