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Vayakhel: The Lord of the Sabbath

Updated: Jun 20

Parashat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1–38:20) opens with a restatement of the holiness of the Shabbat,

“Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them,

“These are the words which HaShem has commanded, that you should do them. Six days shall work (מלאכה) be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of solemn rest to HaShem. Whoever does any work (melacha) on it shall be put to death.” Exodus 35:1-2

Rashi, R’ Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105 CE), comments,

“This was on the morning after Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from the mountain [with the second tablets].” Rashi, cited at [1]

The Torah emphasizes that one is not to perform מלאכה, (melacha, commonly translated as “work”) on the Shabbat. In modern society, there are many definitions of what “work” constitutes. What may be “work” for one, may be a pleasure to another. In fact, our understanding of the meaning of words derive from our own experience and everyday application. In popular (yet erroneous understanding), this is how the Bible is interpreted, which explains the overall “messiness” of religion.

Enter the Mishkan. It is an important principle of the Sages that every letter, every jot and tittle, of the Torah is immutable. Not only this, but even the arrangement of the passages in the Torah is critical to its understanding. So we must ask why these two passages are juxtaposed next to each other. After the reiteration of the importance of not performing any “melacha” (plural “melachot”) on Shabbat, the Torah transitions to the details of the construction of the Mishkan, Tabernacle. It describes the work in the creation of the Tabernacle by the word “melacha.” In doing so, the Torah provided us with its definition of “melacha/work.” The text says that HaShem blessed Betzalel with the ability to create, in all types of melachot,

‘”Moses said to the children of Israel, “Behold, HaShem has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship; and to make skillful works, to work in gold, in silver, in brass, in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all kinds of skillful workmanship (מלאכה, melacha).” Exodus 35:30-33

The Sages understood that the different categories of the construction of the Tabernacle defined the word melachah. The 39 Melachot, are stated in the Mishnah, Shabbat 7:2,

(1) Planting, (2) Plowing, (3) Reaping, (4) Gathering, (5) Threshing, (6) Winnowing, (7) Sorting, (8) Grinding, (9) Sifting, (10) Kneading, (11) Cooking, (12) Shearing, (13) Scouring, (14) Carding, (15) Dyeing, (16) Spinning, (17) Warping, (18) Threading, (19) Weaving, (20) Separating, (21) Tying, (22) Untying, (23) Sewing, (24) Tearing, (25) Trapping, (26) Slaughtering, (27) Skinning, (28) Preserving, (29) Sanding, (30) Scoring, (31) Cutting to a Size, (32) Writing, (33) Erasing, (34) Building, (35) Demolition, (36) Extinguishing, (37) Igniting, (38) Striking with a Hammer (39) Transferring (between domains)

Another place that helps define the word “melacha,” which is linked to the construction of the Tabernacle, is description of the Creation of the Universe. Recited every Shabbat evening during Kiddush, this passage from Genesis is read,

“The heavens and the earth were finished, and all their vast array. On the seventh day God finished His work (melacha) which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work (melacha) which he had made. God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work (melacha) which he had created and made.” Genesis 2:1-3

In essence, the English word for “work” is insufficient to describe the Hebrew word “melacha.” Perhaps melacha may be translated as an “act of creation.”

Yeshua and the Sabbath

The New Testament displays intimate knowledge of Shabbat halacha [2]. As numerous examples show, Yeshua and his students loved and observed the Shabbat [3], and it was his custom to go to the Synagogue on that day,

“He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He entered, as was his custom, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” Luke 4:16

However, the Gospels describe several controversies involving Yeshua healing on Shabbat. Interpreted through the lens of Christianity, this serves to reinforce the idea that the Sabbath was an oppressive aspect of the Torah. Nothing could be further from the truth. We will explore each incident through the viewpoint of Second Temple Era Judaism and discover that Yeshua did not break the Torah, he upheld it and brought healing to many in Israel, both physically and spiritually. As the Yaavetz, R’ Yaakov Emden (1697CE to 1776CE) wrote in Seder Olam Vezuta,

“…the Nazarene and his Apostles observed the Sabbath and circumcision as mentioned earlier, for they were born as Jews…It is therefore a habitual saying of mine (not as a hypocritical flatterer, God forbid, for I am of the faithful believers of Israel, and I know well that the remnant of Israel will not speak falsehood, nor will their mouths contain a deceitful tongue) that the Nazarene brought about a double kindness in the world. On the one hand, he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically, as mentioned earlier, and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. And on the other hand, he did much good for the Gentiles (provided they do not turn about his intent as they please, as some foolish ones have done because they did not fully understand the intent of the authors of the Gospels.” R’ Yaakov Emden, Seder Olam Vezuta, translated by R’ Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee [4]

Yeshua says in the Gospel of Matthew,

“Don’t think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the Torah, until all things are accomplished. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19

In fact, this passage is quoted in the Talmud, where R’ Gamliel refutes Replacement Theology,

“(A certain philosopher told R’ Gamliel,) “Since the day that you were exiled from your land the Law of Moses has been superseded and another book given (that is, the Gospel)…(R’ Gamliel said to him,) “Look at the end of the book, wherein it is written, “I came not to destroy the Law of Moses nor to add to the Law of Moses.” Shabbat 116b, Soncino Press Edition

We must interpret any Torah controversy in the New Testament through the lens of Matthew 5:17. Yeshua said that every letter, even to the details of the letters themselves, were in place until heaven and earth pass away. This also means that Yeshua holds the Shabbat with the highest level of sanctity. Let us now explore the Sabbath Controversies, point by point.

I. Picking Grain

Matthew 12:1-8 | Mark 2:23-28 | Luke 6:1-5

“At that time, Yeshua went on the Sabbath day through the grain fields. His disciples were hungry and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to him, “Behold, your disciples do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-2

The widespread, popular understanding of these passages is as follows:

  1. The Rabbis made up a bunch of man-made rules

  2. Jesus came to do away with these rules 

  3. The “Law” was too strict, Jesus came to free us from these rules. So now, we do not need Shabbat.

Both of these interpretations are erroneous. First, Yeshua takes the question of the Pharisees very seriously. Second, picking grain on the Shabbat does indeed meet the definition of “melacha,” and would be a violation of Shabbat. Yeshua acknowledges this, but then introduces a kal v’chomer (light and heavy) argument that the picking of the grain in this case was permitted. Kal v’chomer is a Jewish method of exegesis and argumentation whose structure is as follows, “If this logic applies in Case A, how much more should it apply in Case B.” [5] These arguments can be found in the Torah, in the words of Yeshua and in the letters of Paul. Yeshua does not dismiss the argument the Pharisees have brought, but rather answers as a trained Rabbi would. He says,

“Haven’t you read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him; how he entered into God’s house, and ate the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

The Torah says,

“You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, which if a man does, he shall live in them: I am HaShem.” Leviticus 18:5

The Sages derived from this verse that one may preserve life, even if it meant violating the Torah. This is principle is called פיקוח נפש, Pikuach Nefesh. There are limitations to pikuach nefesh, such as the commandments concerning idolatry, murder and sexual immorality. One may not violate these mitzvot, even on the pain of death. It is important to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15) by understanding that certain commandments may conflict and override each other.

In the example that Yeshua used, what would be more important? Saving David’s life and breaking the commandment that the Bread of the Presence may only be eaten by priests? Or keep the commandment of the holiness of the Bread, and allow David to die? Obviously saving life is more important. Yeshua says later in the chapter,

“Then Yeshua said to them, “I will ask you something: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm? To save a life, or to kill?” Luke 6:9

As pointed out by D. Thomas Lancaster in his book From Sabbath to Sabbath [6], There is a story told of the Alter Rebbe,

“Once, on Yom Kippur morning, the Alter Rebbe took off his tallis and kittel and went to the edge of the city. Once there, he cut some wood to make a fire in order to cook soup for a woman who had just given birth and had no one to help her. In a sichah the Rebbe added: “When the Alter Rebbe was asked why he did it himself and did not send an emissary, he replied that in a case of pikuach nefesh — a life-saving situation — the mitzvah is that the greatest Jew should do it.” To Love a Fellow Jew, Chapter 11, Seven Stories, R’ Nissan Dovid Dubov, cited at [7]

However does this situation appear to be a case of saving a life? The Gospels do not seem to imply that the disciples were starving. However, one strong argument that they were is found in Yeshua’s argument itself, in his example of David.

On this point, Yeshua finds an unlikely defender. The anti-missionary R’ Michael Skobac of Jews for Judaism stated the following,

“Jesus’s point is a point made in Talmudic literature, in the case of pikuach nefesh, to save your life, you can violate the laws of the Torah. So he doesn’t question whether or not his students are doing something wrong. He accepts the question that there is something wrong with picking grain on the Sabbath, which we would only know from the Talmud, from the Oral Law, and he gives them a Rabbinic answer to their question…” R’ Michael Skobac, A Rabbi Cross-Examines Christianity [8]

As the Talmud says, one may suspend the laws of Shabbat to preserve life (Yoma 85a). In the first century, halacha was being debated and there were disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai on how strict or lenient the commandments were to be applied. During the time of Yeshua, the school of Shammai was in dominance. Whereas those of the students of the school of Hillel were very humble, the Shammaites were very rigid to the point of violence and even murder. The disciples of Shammai once surrounded Hillel in the Temple in a threatening manner, completely reminiscent of these incidents in the Gospels. It is quite possible to conclude that many of the disputes Yeshua had with the Pharisees were from the faction of Shammai. The Talmud says,

“And on that day Hillel sat submissive before Shammai, like one of the disciples, and it was as grievous to Israel as the day when the [golden] calf was made.” Shabbat 17a, Soncino Press Edition

As society changes, the application of halacha is always in flux and in development. In the first century, many of the traditions described in the Talmud were in the process of crystallization. As example as pointed out by Xus Casal is as follows,

“The Gemara relates that Ulla happened to come to Pumbedita, and while there he saw rabbis shaking their cloaks to remove dust. He said: “The Rabbis are desecrating Shabbat.” Rav Yehuda said to the Rabbis whom Ulla criticized: “You may continue to shake your cloaks in his presence. We are not at all particular about this, and it is therefore permitted for us to shake the dust from our cloaks.” Shabbat 147a, [9]

If the disciples were not in danger of actually dying, but were seized with extreme hunger, this would be permitted as alleviation of suffering. In Yeshua’s view, compassion and helping those who suffer are indeed permitted on Shabbat. One may not truly rest on Shabbat if one is seriously suffering.  Yeshua then makes a powerful statement,

“He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

The Talmud makes this exact point that there are “exceptions” to the commandments of Shabbat, and echoes Yeshua’s famous words,

“R. Eleazar answered and said: If circumcision, which attaches to one only of the two hundred and forty-eight members of the human body, suspends the Sabbath, how much more shall [the saving of] the whole body suspend the Sabbath! R. Jose son of R. Judah said, “Only you shall keep My Sabbaths, one might assume under all circumstances, therefore the text reads: “Only” viz, allowing for exceptions. R. Jonathan b. Joseph said: For it is holy unto you; I.e., it (the Sabbath) is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.” Yoma 85b, Soncino Press Edition

There are exceptions to the Shabbat. It is incredible that R’ Eleazar used the exact example that Yeshua does in John 7,

“Yeshua answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel because of it. Moses has given you circumcision (not that it is of Moses, but of the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a boy. If a boy receives circumcision on the Sabbath, that the Torah of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me, because I made a man completely healthy on the Sabbath? Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” John 7:21-24

So in this case, it would suffice to say that picking the grain was acceptable in terms of halacha in order to save life. With this foundation, and understanding, we will approach the other controversies.

II. The Withered Hand

Matthew 12:9-14 | Mark 3:1-6 | Luke 6:6-11

“He departed there, and went into their synagogue. And behold there was a man with a withered hand. They asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” that they might accuse him. He said to them, “What man is there among you, who has one sheep, and if this one falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, won’t he grab on to it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.” Then he told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out; and it was restored whole, just like the other. But the Pharisees went out, and conspired against him, how they might destroy him.” Matthew 12:9-14

According to Midrash Tanchuma (Noach 5), when Adam was created, he was already circumcised. The foreskin, therefore, may be seen as a devolution of man in the physical realm, mirrored by mankind’s spiritual descent. Circumcision is thus an aspect of the original design, and “restores” a ‘member’ of a the male body. The Torah commands that the circumcision take place at a specific time,

“On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” Leviticus 12:3

The question arises, however, if the eighth day coincides with the Shabbat, does one postpone (or hasten) the circumcision, since the procedure involves ‘cutting’ which is prohibited on Shabbat? Which takes precedence? This question alone illustrates the absolute necessity for an Oral Torah. According to the Sages, the circumcision takes precedence. We may therefore conclude that since circumcision (which is the restoration of a smaller ‘member’),  how much more would it be permitted to restore a larger member on Shabbat?

Another angle to be noted is that Yeshua simply told the man to stretch forth his hand. He did not perform any of the 39 melachot. He simply told the man to stretch forth his hand, and he did so with emunah (faith). Yeshua’s restoration of the man’s hand is completely permitted.

Additionally, in this case, some “sought to accuse him,” and desired to “destroy him.” As mentioned above, this is very much in the character of the disciples of Shammai, who were filled with zealotry and over-corrected in a society under the shadow of the Roman Empire. This was pure baseless hatred, sinat chinam, which merited the destruction of the Temple. The Talmud laments the spiritual state of 1st Century Israel was so low that they regarded laws of ritual purity were more important than even murder (Yoma 23a). Yeshua sought to heal this spiritual wound of the people. It is for this reason that Yeshua stated earlier in the chapter,

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Matthew 12:7

III. An Infirm Woman

Luke 13:10-16

“He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath day. Behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and she was bent over, and could in no way straighten herself up. When Yeshua saw her, he called her, and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and immediately she stood up straight, and glorified God.” The ruler of the synagogue, being indignant because Yeshua had healed on the Sabbath, said to the multitude, “There are six days in which men ought to work. Therefore come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day!” Luke 13:10-14

Two thousand years ago, most people made their medicine at home, or went to a local apothecary (or in modern terms a ‘pharmacist/physician’). Large pharmaceutical companies did not yet exist. In this environment, the main concern with healing on the Shabbat involved the mixing of medicinal herbs into powders, i.e. with a mortar and pestle. Such mixing would be a violation of the Shabbat. In this case, again, Yeshua did not perform any prohibited melacha. While the details of the halacha on Shabbat are far beyond the scope of this article, there are categories of sick people on different scales [10-18],

  1. If one has a minor condition (Meychush BeAlma)

  2. If one has a sickness (Choleh Sh’ein Bo Sakana)

  3. If one is critically ill (Choleh She’yesh Bo Sakana)

The woman was suffering in pain for 18 years, unable to truly rest on Shabbat. Her condition would certainly merit the status of cholah sh’ein bo sakana, and probably cholah she’yesh bo sakana. Her condition certainly merited medical attention, even if on Shabbat. Yeshua then introduces a kal v’chomer argument,

“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you free his ox or his donkey from the stall on the Sabbath, and lead him away to water? Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound eighteen long years, be freed from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” Luke 13:15-16

According to the Torah, animals are to be allowed to rest on the Shabbat,

“… the seventh day is a Sabbath to HaShem your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your foreigner (ger) who is within your gates.” Exodus 20:10

Moreover, Exodus 23:5 says,

“If you see the donkey of him who hates you fallen down under his burden, don’t leave him, you shall surely help him with it.” Exodus 23:5

From this passage, the Sages derived the concept of tzar ba’alei chayim, the prevention of suffering to animals, (see Bava Metzia 32b). If it is allowed to free an animal to give it water on Shabbat, so it can truly rest and not suffer, how much more should this daughter of Avraham be freed? Isn’t a human worth much more than an animal?

IV. A Man with Edema

Luke 14:1-6

“It happened, when he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a Sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching him. Behold, a certain man who had dropsy was in front of him. Yeshua, answering, spoke to the Torah scholars and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”But they were silent. He took him, and healed him, and let him go. He answered them, “Which of you, if your son or an ox fell into a well, wouldn’t immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” They couldn’t answer him regarding these things.” Luke 14:1-6

Most translations refer to this condition  as “dropsy” which is an older term for edema, or swelling. This may have been generalized edema or organ specific. In this case, we do not know the cause of the swelling, which may be from a life-threatening disease, including cancer. The man would likely classify as choleh she’yesh bo sakana, someone with a critical illness. Notice the structure of Yeshua’s argument, and compare to the Tosefta,

“They remove debris for one whose life is in doubt on the Sabbath. And the one who is prompt in the matter, lo, this one is to be praised. And it is not necessary to get permission from a court. How so? If one fell into the ocean and cannot climb up, or if his ship is sinking into the sea, and he cannot climb up, they go down and pull him out of there. And it is not necessary to get permission from a court. If he fell into a pit and cannot get out, they let down a chain to him and climb down and pull him out of there. And it is not necessary to get permission from a court.” Tosefta, Shabbat 15:11-12, Translated by Jacob Neusner, Hendrickson Publishers, Volume I, pg. 417

Again, we have seen none of the 39 melachot being performed here, and Yeshua reiterates the importance of the alleviation of suffering on the Shabbat, as taking precedence – exactly in line with the logic permitting circumcision, saving of a life and alleviation of intense suffering.

V. The Paralytic

John 5:1-18

“After these things, there was a Jewish festival, and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the sheep gate, there is a pool, which is called in Hebrew, “Bethesda,” having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, or paralyzed…A certain man was there, who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Yeshua saw him lying there, and knew that he had been sick for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to be made well?…Arise, pick up your mat, and walk.” Immediately, the man was made well, and took up his mat and walked. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Judeans said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath. It is not lawful for you to carry the mat.” John 5:1-10

What we have written above should be sufficient to establish that the healing in this case was heter, permitted. However, there is an additional difficulty in this section. Yeshua tells the man to pick up his mat and walk, which raises questions as to whether it was permissible for the man to carry the mat on Shabbat. The technical details surrounding carrying on the Shabbat are beyond the scope of this article (and the author). We will however lightly touch on the subject.

The act of “carrying” is the least of the melachot, as there is no act of creation, or modification done to the object – it simply changes location. It is considered gruah, “an inferior labor” (Tosafot Shabbat 2a). It is also important to note that the verb “to carry” is an oversimplification. The issue is transferring objects between domains in Hebrew called מוציא מרשות לרשות, motzi m’reshut l’reshut, transferring from a domain to (another type of) domain, or is also called hotza’ah. The different categories of domains are as follows,

  1. Private Domain | Reshut HaYachid – Carrying is Permitted

  2. Public Domain | Reshut HaRabim – Carrying is only allowed for four amot

  3. Semi-Public Domain | Karmelit – Carrying is only allowed for four amot

  4. Exempt Domain | Makom Patur – Carrying is Permitted

The Ahavas Torah Center writes,

“… the transfer of an article from a private to a public domain is Biblically forbidden; transferring an article between a semi-public to a private or public domain is Rabbinically prohibited; transferring of an article between an exempt area and any other domain is permissible; carrying an article four amos (about 7 ft) is forbidden in a public or semi-public domain and permitted in a private domain or exempt area; and carrying inside a private domain or between private domains may be permissible. Ahavas Torah Center, Eruv [19]

The Torah tells us of a case where a man was transferring between domains,

“While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been declared what should be done to him. HaShem said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside of the camp.” Numbers 15:32-35

Jeremiah says,

“Thus says HaShem, ‘Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day holy, neither do any work: but make the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.” Jeremiah 17:21-22

The concern of transporting on the Shabbat is of Biblical origin. R’ Berel Wein writes,

“There are myriad halachic technicalities involved in these types of “work.” Many of these technicalities are of rabbinic origin, designed to protect the holiness and sacredness of the Shabat.” R’ Berel Wein, Eiruvin [20]

According to Jewish tradition, King Solomon implemented a solution to allow a large public domain to be considered “private.”

Pool of Bethesda – model in the Israel Museum Picture taken by Deror Avi on 18th August 2006.

This innovation was called an עירוב‎  Eiruv, which is a type of enclosure. This allows Torah observant Jews to carry books, house keys, and to push baby strollers on the Shabbat, etc. An entire tractate of the Talmud is dedicated to this subject, hence its name “Eiruvin.” According to the Radak, R’ David Kimchi, all of Jerusalem was an eiruv, as it was surrounded by the city walls. [21]

Therefore, in order for us to know for sure if this was a violation of Shabbat, we must ascertain what type of domain this was. If the location were within the city walls, then there would be no problem following the Radak. “Until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for the existence of this pool; therefore, scholars argued that the gospel was written later, probably by someone without first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, and that the “pool” had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance. In the 19th century, archaeologists discovered the remains of a pool fitting the description in John’s Gospel.” [22]

The Gospel of John describes the area,

“Now in Jerusalem by the sheep gate, there is a pool, which is called in Hebrew, “Bethesda,” having five porticos.” John 5:2

Xus Casal writes,

“The writer thought it relevant to tell us the exact location of the place in which this event occurred; near the sheep market, in the pool of Bethesda, which has five porches (Jn 5:2). Simply, and in few words: it was literally impossible for the sick man to break the Shabbat by carrying his mat, because the pool of Bethesda was surrounded by door frames (Tzurat haPetakhim), and this constitutes an Eiruv! The tradition of the Eiruv is so ancient that the sages are not sure where it comes from and they attribute it to Solomon.” Xus Casal, 13 [23]

So carrying within the pool area itself would not be a problem. However, If this location is indeed the correct one, at the time of the incident it would have been outside the walls of Jerusalem. The wall was built out in 40 CE by Agrippa II, which would have enclosed the area. However, this area may have been included within an eiruv, as it could easily be solved with a string or cable to seal off the area. So it is possible that this area would have been considered a private domain, or would have been connected to the larger Temple area private domain, and carrying was permitted. Xus continues to point out that the Gospel of John highlights the ignorance of those who oppose Yeshua. Therefore they may have been ignorant of the laws of the eiruv, or perhaps against the idea of an eiruv (if they were Sadducees and reject the Oral Torah).

There is a second possible solution: This was a Yom Tov (Holiday) Shabbat, and not the weekly Shabbat. The Gospel of John says that this day was a festival,

“After these things, there was a Jewish festival, and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem…it was the Sabbath on that day.” John 5:1

There are 7 special Festival Sabbaths throughout the year.

  1. Day 1 of Unleavened Bread

  2. Day 7 of Unleavened Bread

  3. Pentecost

  4. Rosh HaShanah

  5. Yom Kippur

  6. Day 1 of Sukkot

  7. Day 8 of Sukkot

While subject to many of the same restrictions, the laws surrounding the Yom Tov are more lenient, and transferring between domains on a Yom Tov is permitted. [24]

“But Yeshua answered them, “My Father is still working, so I am working, too.” John 5:17

As pointed out by Lancaster [24], the words of Yeshua here echo the Midrash,

“R. Pinchas said in R. Oshaya’s name: Although you read: BECAUSE THAT IN IT HE RESTED FROM ALL HIS WORK WHICH GOD CREATED TO MAKE, He rested from the work of [creating] His world, but not from the work of the wicked and the work of the righteous, for He works with the former and with the latter. He shows the former their essential character, and the latter their essential character. And how do we know that the punishment of the wicked is called work? Because it is said, “The Lord has opened His armory, and has brought forth the weapons of His indignation, for it is a work that the Lord God has to do (Jer. 50:25)”. And how do we know that the bestowing of reward upon the righteous is called work? Because it is said, “Oh how abundant is Your goodness, which You have laid up for them that fear You, which You have done for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of the sons of men (Ps. 31:20)!” Genesis Rabbah 11:10, Soncino Press Edition

VI. The Blind Man

John 9:1-41

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Yeshua answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him. I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva, anointed the blind man’s eyes with the mud.” John 9:1-6

As we have demonstrated up until this point, the healing episodes up until this point were permitted, and we have provided possible answers for the peripheral issues. John 9 is the most difficult to reconcile halachically. Yeshua’s mixing of the saliva and dirt to create mud definitely constitutes a melacha. Moreover, it does not seem to be a case of pikuach nefesh (saving a life), as the man was born blind from birth, and he was not at risk of death. So how would this be permitted halachically? The first thing we must realize is that while mixing the mud was a melacha, this was halachically permissible. First, it was permitted to perform circumcision to restore the body, so in this case, wouldn’t the eye be the same? It also shows that Yeshua wanted to demonstrate that the alleviation of suffering and the restoration of mankind is the very purpose of Shabbat itself. Yeshua demonstrated that compassion is more important than sacrifice. This understanding was the medicine that Israel needed in the first century.

The Gospel of John is written on the Sod (Secret) level. While the events in this Gospel actually happened, John is not arranged chronologically, and he specifically writes in a way to communicate a deep spiritual truth. With this in mind, why does Yeshua need to mix mud? Why simply say a word, and allow the man’s eyes to be healed? The Talmud speaks of the healing aspect of the spittle of a firstborn,

“There is a tradition that the spittle of the firstborn of a father is healing…” Bava Batra 126b, Soncino Press Edition

 It seems that this man is a symbol of Israel, who is called Adam, as the Shelah, R’ Yeshayahu Horowitz writes,

“Now Israel is essentially called adam, ‘you are adam’ because of the secret of the image and the supernal likeness of the Great Adam. However the offspring, the branch which is extended [from Adam] is called ben Adam [the son of Adam]…” R’ Yeshayahu Horowitz, The Generations of Adam, translated by Miles Krassen, Paulist Press, pg. 159

If the man was born blind, there was something essential that he was missing from birth. And as Adam was created from the earth,

“HaShem Elokim formed man from the dust of the ground…” Genesis 2:7

Perhaps this “additional mud” was needed to restore this man’s sight, in an echo of the creation of Adam. Therefore, the deeper level is that the man represents Israel, and by extension all of mankind as the eyes open to the Redemption via the process of healing. In Psalms it says,

“HaShem opens the eyes of the blind. HaShem raises up those who are bowed down. HaShem loves the righteous.” Psalm 146:8

One of the signs of the Messianic Era is the restoration of sight to the blind,

“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing; for waters will break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” Isaiah 35:5-6

The True Doctor

Yeshua healed the physically ill on Shabbat. Not only was it halachically permissible, it was a necessity, and failure to do so would have constituted sin. However, there was a deeper purpose to Yeshua healing on the Shabbat. According to the Talmud, the generation of the Second Temple was in dire need of spiritual healing. This generation regarded the ritual purity of vessels as more important than the shedding of blood. R’ Avraham Greenbaum writes,

“The true doctor is thus the Tzaddik, who is the doctor of the soul and who intervenes with his prayers on behalf of the sick.” R’ Avraham Greenbaum, Wings of the Sun, Chapter 9 [30]

Reb Noson, the disciple of Rebbe Nachman writes,

“The meaning is obvious. It is precisely because we are so crushed by our sickness – the sickness of the soul – that the Tzaddik, the faithful doctor, is forced to pour such priceless remedies over us, even though it would seem that virtually all of them will go to waste. Nevertheless, the sweet scent is absorbed, and in the fullness of time it may be that we will be able to let a drop penetrate our mouths and our inner being. Then there will be some hope for us to be healed, spiritually and physically… the more a person understands his own lowliness and his great distance from G-d, the more he should search for the greatest, most outstanding doctor for his soul and aim to draw close to the greatest possible Rabbi. For the lowlier the person, the greater the teacher he needs” Likutey Moharan 1, 30:2 cited in Wings of the Sun, Chapter 9 [30]

This is precisely why Yeshua says,

“Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mark 2:17

Moshe Mykoff writes,

“The etymological root of the word teshuvah – shuvah – “to return” has the same Hebrew letters as the word “Shabbat”(שבת). Shabbat and teshuvah – by any definition – are conceptually one.” 7th Heaven, Celebrating Shabbat with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Jewish Lights Publishing, pg. 123

The Shabbat is connected to the coming Redemption, and is a prototype of the coming day when there will be no more pain, suffering or sickness. And the Doctor of the Soul, our Righteous Mashiach, seeks to reverse our blindness and heal our paralysis, to enable us to remember and keep Shabbat, so that the world may experience a taste of the World to Come.



  1. Parsha in Depth: Vayakhel –

  2. For Example, the Sabbath walking distance limit in Acts 1:12, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.” The Talmud discusses this Sabbath limit, “R. Nahman stated in the name of Samuel: If a man was walking and did not know where the Sabbath limit ended he may walk a distance of two thousand moderate paces; and this constitutes for him the Sabbath limit.” (Eruvin 42a, Soncino Press Edition)

  3. Matthew 24:20, 28:1 | Mark 1:21, 6:2, 5:42, 16:1 | Luke 4:16, 4:31, 23:56 | Acts 1:12, 13:14, 42, 44, 15:21, 16:13, 17:12, 18:4. Luke 23:56 says: “It was the day of the Preparation, and the Sabbath was drawing near. The women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. They returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” Xus Casal cites R’ Lichtenstein and points out a fascinating idea in the words of Yeshua, “When his students asked him about the destruction of Jerusalem, Yeshua told them to “pray that your flight will not take place on Shabbat” (Mt 24:20). According to Hallakha, Jews are forbidden to carry things outside of their area during Shabbat (cf. Shabbat 73a), so if they flee on Shabbat they would run away empty-handed – and that’s the only logical reason for Yeshua’s advice (cf. Rabbi Lichtenstein’s commentary on Matthew). Interestingly, many Christians interpret that this verse refers to “a tribulation before the coming of Messiah”; if that were the case, the verse alone is proof enough that the observance of Shabbat is still expected among the followers of Yeshua.”

  4. Seder Olam Vezuta, R’ Yaakov Emden’s Views on Christianity, translated by R’ Harvey Falk

  5. Called argumentum a fortiori in Latin.

  6. D. Thomas Lancaster, From Sabbath to Sabbath, FFOZ Publishers, pg. 168

  7. To Love a Fellow Jew, Chapter 11, Seven Stories, R’ Nissan Dovid Dubov

  8. The transcription from the YouTube video is as follows: “In the book of Mark, chapter 2. And in Matthew chapter 12, there’s an interesting story where the rabbis ask Jesus, ‘Why do your followers pick grain on the Sabbath?’…Now if Jesus only believed in the written Torah, if Jesus only thought that the Five Books of Moses came from God, he would have said to the rabbis, “Where does it say in the Bible that you can’t pick grain on the Sabbath? It’s not said anywhere in the Bible.” If he didn’t believe in the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah amplifies the written Torah and teaches us that harvesting grain is something we are not allowed to do. So the fact is that Jesus never questions the rabbis’ concern. And he gives the rabbis a very Rabbinic answer. He says, “Do you know why my students are picking grain on the Sabbath? He says, ‘Don’t you know the story what happened to David, when King David’s men were very very hungry, they were starving, and there was no other food to eat. So they went into the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and they ate from the showbread, which you’re not normally supposed to eat. So Jesus’s point is a point made in Talmudic literature, in the case of pikuach nefesh, to save your life, you can violate the laws of the Torah. So he doesn’t question whether or not his students are doing something wrong. He accepts the question that there is something wrong with picking grain on the Sabbath, which we would only know from the Talmud, from the Oral Law, and he gives them a Rabbinic answer to their question…” –  R’ Michael Skobac, A Rabbi Cross-Examines Christianity, Jews for Judaism

  9. Shabbat 147a,

  10. Halachipedia, Medicine on Shabbat.

  11. All authorities agree, however, that if the individual is suffering from an intense headache to the extent that he is bedridden or cannot function properly, he is permitted to take aspirin (Mishna Berura 328:1). The rabbinical decree to refrain from taking medicine on Shabbat applies only to someone suffering from mere discomfort (Michush Bialma). Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Nishmat Avraham 1:164) and Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 34:16) rule that one who is suffering from a mild headache may take aspirin if this will avoid his developing a severe headache.

  12. One may ask why this rabbinical decree applies even if the person is experiencing mild discomfort. Does not Rav Akiva Eiger posit (in his commentary to Orach Chaim 307:5) that rabbinical decrees do not apply in cases of suffering? Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 34:note 7) explains that this decree to refrain from taking medicine on Shabbat was specifically instituted to apply in cases of (mild) suffering. Rav Neuwirth (cited in Nishmat Avraham 1:163) notes that this also applies to the rabbinically ordained fast days. Only if one is suffering significantly more than most people suffer on fast days may he break his fast.

  13. The Mishna (Shabbat 109b and 111a) presents the prohibition against taking medicine on Shabbat. The Gemara (Shabbat 53b) explains that Chazal prohibited us to take medicine on Shabbat lest one grind the medicine on Shabbat. Grinding (Tochen) is one of the thirty-nine categories of forbidden labor on Shabbat and is biblically prohibited. If one’s pain or discomfort is so great that one feels ill all over his body or if one must lay down in bed as a result of the pain, although the individual’s life is not in danger, one may take medicine to relieve his pain, for our Sages did not establish the edict regarding concern for grinding herbs in such a situation. This is certainly true regarding a life-threatening situation in which case anything necessary to heal the ill individual may be done.

  14. If one is not actually ill and is merely suffering from some aches and pains, such as a stomach ache or a cough, and continues to walk around like a healthy person (as usual), one may not take medication to relieve his symptoms. However, if one becomes so ill that his entire body is in pain or if one must lie down in a bed, one may take medicine to relieve his pain and discomfort. A child under the age of nine may take medicine on Shabbat.

  15. Regarding taking Tylenol and the like, we have already explained that if one is so ill that one must lie in bed as a result of his pain or discomfort, one may take medication as needed, for the enactment against “crushing herbs” which prohibits taking medicine on Shabbat does not apply to one who is truly ill. Thus, although one may not act leniently and take Tylenol to relieve the minor discomfort of a light headache and the like, if one is truly ill and suffers from fever and major aches and pains, one may take such medications in order to relieve the pain and reduce the fever (Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Part 3, page 368).



  18. Shabbat 108b, Hilchot Shabbat 31:21

  19. Ahavas Torah Center, Eruv

  20., cf.

  21. Translation and Radak commentary from Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg. Mikraoth Gedoloth: Jeremiah Vol. 1. Judaica Press, 1985 (2005 printing) p. 152.

  22., citing David Couchman, The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, Focus Pub, 2010 p. 1. James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and Archaeology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006. p. 560-566.


  24. Laws of Yom Tov,

  25. D. Thomas Lancaster, From Sabbath to Sabbath, FFOZ Publishers, pg. 180

  26. נענה רבי אלעזר ואמר: ומה מילה, שהיא אחד ממאתים וארבעים ושמונה איברים שבאדם ־ דוחה את השבת, קל וחומר לכל גופו ־ שדוחה את השבת. רבי יוסי ברבי יהודה אומר: (שמות לא) את שבתתי תשמרו יכול לכל ־ תלמוד לומר אך ־ חלק. רבי יונתן בן יוסף אומר: (שמות לא) כי קדש היא לכם ־ היא מסורה בידכם, ולא אתם מסורים בידה – יומא דף פה.ב

  27. Eruvin 6b: אמר רבי יוחנן ירושלים אילמלא דלתותיה ננעלות בלילה חייבין עליה משום רשות הרבים Rabbi Yochanan says: If not for its doors being closed at night, one would transgress for carrying in a public domain in Jerusalem. Once the doors were closed, Jerusalem had an “Eruv”.

  28. Sotah 41a, Rashi “Mikan V’Elach”: מכאן ואילך. לאחר שגמר כהן גדול לקרוא פרשה בברכותיה כל אחד מן הצבור מביא ספר תורה מביתו לעזרה דקסבר . אין עירוב והוצאה ליום הכפורים אי נמי ירושלים דלתותיה נעולות בלילה ומערבין את כולה After the High Priest finished reading publicly from the Torah, each one would go home and bring his private Sefer Torah to the Temple. Either the Gemara holds that there is no prohibition to carry on Yom Kippour or else Jerusalem’s doors were closed at night and they had an Eruv around all of it.

  29. Bava Metzia 53b, Tosafot Dinfol Mechitzot – דנפול מחיצות Tosafot quotes – and agrees with – the Gemara quoted in Eruvin, discussing how the slaughtering knives could have been carried to the Temple on Erev Pessach that was a Shabbat.


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