Tze Ulmad Aharei Mot—K'doshim

Weekly Talmud Learning with Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz, director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School, JTS.

Talmud Shabbat 153a

Mishnah: "If the sun set on [a traveler] while on the road [and Shabbat began], he may give his purse to a non-Jew [for safekeeping]."

If I am traveling on Friday afternoon and am unable to reach my home before Shabbat begins, what am I to do with my burdens? I am not allowed to carry in a public domain on Shabbat, as we have seen previously. As far as the Talmud is concerned, carrying anything of value constitutes labor. So, should I lay my burdens down and lose all the valuables I was carrying when Shabbat began? Is this some kind of "punishment" for not having planned my trip more carefully? The Mishnah's answer is no. I do not have to give up my valuables just because I didn't expect the sun to set on me. The Mishnah recognizes our flawed human nature. Sometimes we fail to plan for the future, even for something as regular as the Friday evening sunset. We might be unexpectedly detained on our way. In any case, the Mishnah understands that circumstances such as these may require a creative solution.

The Mishnah suggests we look to a non-Jewish traveling companion in this case. In the late antique Middle East, people generally traveled together in caravans for protection from bandits, wild animals, and other dangers on the road. Continuing to travel in this case was a matter of life or death, and therefore was permitted. However, even though I have already "broken" Shabbat by continuing to travel after the sun has set, I should minimize my violation by handing my valuable possessions to my non-Jewish friend for safekeeping until after Shabbat.

In our current economy, many of us feel that the sun has suddenly set on us. We are in danger of losing our valuable possessions. In these times, let us all turn to our friends and family and strengthen the truly valuable bonds of our lives.

Questions

  1. What does this mishnah say about the Rabbinic attitude towards non-Jews?
  2. Is something being said here about the relationship between labor and value? What?