Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva: If G-d honors the
Shabbat, then He should not blow winds on it, He should not
cause rain to fall on it, He should not cause the grass to
grow on it! Replied Rabbi Akiva: If two people
live in one courtyard, unless they both contribute to an eiruv,
would they be permitted to carry in the yard? But if one person
lives in a courtyard, he has free reign in the entire yard.
The same is true of G-d: since there is no other authority
besides Him, since the entire world is His, He has free reign
in the entire world.
Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 11:6
On the face of it, Rabbi Akivas reply does not seem
to truly answer the Roman emperors question. While it
is true that a person is permitted to move things from place
to place within a private domain on Shabbat, regarding
all the other forms of forbidden labor, there is no difference
between such a domain or some other place. For example, it
is no less a violation of the Shabbat to water a garden than
it is to water an open field. So if G-ds causing
rain to fall might be regarded as a violation of Shabbat,
why would the fact that the entire world is His exclusive
domain make this activity any more permissible
On Shabbat, it is forbidden to transfer an object from a
private domain to a public domain
or vice versa. A private domain is an enclosed
area, such as a home, a fenced yard, etc.; a public
domain is an open public thoroughfare, such as a street
The laws of Shabbat also define another category: areas that
are technically a private domain but whose function
resembles that of a public domain. For example,
an enclosed courtyard shared by several homes, or the lobby
and hallways of an apartment building. Here, too, it is forbidden
(by rabbinical ordinance) to transfer articles between domains.
It is such a domain that Rabbi Akiva is referring to when
he speaks of two people living in one courtyard.
There is, however, a procedure which makes it permissible
to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor down the hall on
Shabbat, or to take along a house key or baby carriage on
a stroll to the park. This procedure, whose detailed laws
take up an entire tractate in the Talmud, is called the eiruv.
How is an eiruv made? First of all, if the area is
not already enclosed, it must be physically defined as a singular
entity; a thin wire running along the tops of poles will transform
a street, a neighborhood, even an entire city, into a halachically
private domain. Then, something must be done to
deal with its resemblance to a public domain.
This is achieved by taking a loaf of bread, designating it
as the common property of all the residents of the enclosed
area, and keeping it in one of the homes or apartments. Because
they all have a (potential) meal awaiting them in one place,
the residents of this domain are now legally considered
a single household. Hence the halachic term eiruv,
which means combining or intermixing:
the various sub-domains in this physically enclosed area have
been integrated into a single private province.
What exactly is an eiruv? Is it a legal gimmick formulated
by some ingenious Talmudic lawyer? Are we outsmarting
G-d? If the divine law intended that we should not
carry from domain to domain, why are we devising ways of getting
off on a technicality?
But the eiruv is no mere loophole. Not only does Torah
law sanction its use, but it declares that It is a mitzvah
to pursue [the arrangement of] both a courtyard eiruv
and one for the street. Indeed, on a deeper level, the effecting of an
eiruv relates to the very essence and function of Shabbat.
For six days shall work be done, commands the
Torah, but the seventh day shall be to you a holy day,
a sabbath of rest to G-d. But what, exactly, constitutes work? The Hebrew word
employed by the Torah, melachah, actually means creative
work. Thus, writing a single word is a melachah,
while dragging a heavy sofa from one end of the room to the
other is not. Specifically, the Talmud
enumerates 39 categories of creative work that
are forbidden on Shabbat, such as sowing, baking,
tanning hides, weaving, writing,
building, igniting a fire, and the
This is in keeping with the function that the Torah attributes
to Shabbat: It is an eternal sign between Me and the
children of Israel, that in six days G-d made the heavens
and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and He was
refreshed. Obviously, G-d did not sweat and toil to create
the world, and the rest and refreshment
He experienced on the seventh day were not relief from exertion.
Rather, for six days G-d created, and on the seventh day He
ceased to create. So when we attest to G-ds creation
of the universe by emulating His work/rest cycle in our own
lives, the work we cease from on the seventh day
of the week is defined not by the degree of physical effort
it extracts from us, but by its creativity: for six days we
engage in creative involvement with the world, laboring to
transform it into a home for G-d, while Shabbat is a day of disengagement
from the material and cessation of all physically transformative
This difference between Shabbat and the other days of the
week is expressed not only in what we do or do not do on Shabbat,
but also in the way we do the things that we do.
A prime example is the manner in which we regard physical
pleasure on Shabbat. During the week, we seek to remake our
physical drives and resources into a Sanctuary
that serves and expresses the divine. For example, when we
eat, we do so with the intention of utilizing the energy we
derive from the food to serve G-d. In this way, the material
substance of the food and the physical act of eating are transformed
into the energy expended in helping the needy, into the fervor
of prayer, into the acumen of the mind studying the divine
wisdom in Torah. Transformed, that is, into an instrument
of the divine will. Eating for no purpose other than for
the sake of physical pleasure is not a constructivemuch
less a holyact. Instead of sublimating the material,
it has the very opposite effect: it sinks the person deeper
into the morass of self, even further distancing him, and
the material environment he occupies, from their divine purpose
Such is our approach to material life for the first six days
of the week. On Shabbat, however, pleasure for the sake of
pleasure is a mitzvah, a fulfillment of G-ds will. There
is no need for the physical to be developed and transformed
into something that serves a higher purpose. Deriving
pleasure from the material world is itself an act of holiness,
a way of experiencing and bringing to light the divine nature
of G-ds creation.
In other words, during the week, we struggle to change
the world: to divest it of its corporeality and direct it
toward a higher goal. But on Shabbat we cease from the effort
to transform the material reality; instead, we relate to the
world as it is, to the divine essence implicit in our existence.
What happens on Shabbat to effect this drastic change in
how we relate to the world? To understand this, we must again
look at the nature of G-ds work and rest
in the seven days of creation.
Projection and Withdrawal
likens G-ds rest on Shabbat to what an artist
experiences upon the completion of a work of art. While he
labors, the artists prowess and vitality are invested
in his work; he may actually feel drained of the energy that
is flowing from his own soul into his creation. But when
he completes his work, this tremendous projection of mind
and talent ceases; he now experiences the return
of his creative powers and their re-inclusion into his own
The same may be applied to G-d: for six days of the week
(every week, for creation is an ongoing cycle of divine
involvement with our existence to grant it being and life)
G-d projects His creative powers into our existence. On Shabbat,
G-d ceases this outward flow, withdrawing back into Himself.
This concept is alluded to by the Hebrew word vayinafash
(and He was refreshed) in the verse quoted above
(in six days G-d made the heavens and the earth, and
the seventh day He rested and He was refreshed). Vayinafash
literally means and His soul returned to him.
There is, however, an important difference between G-ds
withdrawal and that of our hypothetical artist. When the artist
pulls back his creative powers, he leaves the completed work
behindhis creation is now an entity wholly separate
from himself, no longer dependent upon his involvement. When
G-d withdraws, He takes His work back with Him. For while
the artists work is the result of his projection, G-ds
work is the projection itself. G-d does not take pre-existing
paints and canvas, and work His creative energy upon them;
what we experience as reality is G-ds creative
In other words, when the Torah tells us that G-d said,
Let there be light, and there was light,
this does not mean that G-ds words caused something
elsethe thing we call lightto come into being.
It means that what we experience as light is actually the
divine words Let there be light. By describing
creation as G-ds speech, the Torah is giving
us its definition of reality. Speech is the projection of
ones ideas outside of oneself (as opposed to thought,
which is a wholly internal articulation). What is the world?
The world is G-d speakingG-ds continuous outward
projection of His creative powers.
At least, thats what the world is for six days a week.
On Shabbat, G-d withdraws this projection back into an uncommunicating
self. The world is no longer divine speech but divine thought.
It is no longer an existence outside of G-d.
This is why the world is holier on Shabbat. Were
G-ds work to be left behind when He withdraws
His creative energies, then the very opposite would be truethe
world would now be further removed from G-d. But Shabbat
is not G-ds withdrawal from creation, but G-ds
withdrawal of creation. Shabbat is a holy
day because, on Shabbat, the created existence is re-absorbed
in its divine source.
Hence the different ways in which we relate to reality in
the course of the week. For the first six days of the week,
we labor to change the world into a home for
G-d. True, the world is not an existence separate from
G-d, and it is certainly not independent of Himall it
is is His spoken words. Nevertheless, G-d relates to the created existence
as an outward projection of His creative powers, and
this is what allows it to perceive itself as something outside
of the divine reality. So for six days we struggle to divest
the world of the illusion and delusion of selfhood. We seek
to demonstrate how things do not exist for their own sake,
but to serve a higher truth.
On Shabbat, however, G-d ceases to speak the world. He now
thinks it, relating to it as something that is
wholly absorbed within His reality. In our own lives, our
focus shifts accordingly: instead of seeking to change the
world, we seek to reveal how the world, as it is, is one with
Transfer and Transformation
In light of the above, we can understand the deeper significance
of the melachah of transferring things between private
and public domains.
At first glance, the melachah of transferring
from domain to domain on Shabbatthe last on the
Talmuds listhardly seems to qualify as a melachah.
The other 38 categories of work are all tangibly creative
endeavors: activities which visibly change something in a
constructive manner. But the change effected by transferring
an object from domain to domain is far more subtleall
that one has changed is the things place. Or, to put
it another way, there has been no actual change in the thing,
only a change in the things potentialits potential
use, originally private, has now been made public (or vice
For this reason, our sages refer to transferring
as a weak melachah.
Nevertheless, the very first laws to be discussed in the Talmudic
tractate Shabbat are the laws which define the various
domains and the prohibition of transferring objects
between them. For in truth, the prohibition to transfer from
domain to domain lies at the very heart of what Shabbat is
When we look at the world during the first six days of the
week, we see two distinct domains. On the one
hand, there are the objects and resources which we have enlisted
to serve G-d, thereby transforming them into a home
for HimHis own private domain where everything
submits to His singular reality. On the other hand, we have
the street, the world out therea
public, diverse and pluralistic domain which regards
itself as separate, or even independent, from its divine source.
Six days a week, it is indeed our duty to transfer
from domain to domain. We strive to bring things from
the public domain into that sacred corner of our
lives that is consecrated as G-ds private realm (e.g.,
a coin given to charity, a piece of animal hide made into
a pair of tefillin). We also seek to take from this
private domain out into the street,
to instill its holiness into the still public
areas of the material existence (e.g., running a business
in accordance with the ethics of Torah).
On Shabbat, however, there is only one reality: creation
as the private domain of G-d. And the entire point of Shabbat
is to express this truth in our daily lives. Any attempt to
transform realityeven for the sake of serving G-dis
a violation of Shabbat, for it means that one is dealing with
the world as if it were something outside of G-d.
In other words, all of the 39 melachot are,
in essence, a form of the prohibition to transfer from
domain to domain on Shabbat. By doing creative work
on Shabbat, a person perpetuates the lie of a public
world on this divinely private day.
On a deeper level, it is the law of the eiruv, rather
than the laws pertaining to truly public domains, which expresses
the essence of Shabbat. For even during the six workdays of
the week, there is no such thing as a truly public domainonly
a private domain which presents a public face
and appearance. Ultimately, there is no corner of the universe
that is outside of the exclusive province of G-donly
areas in which the surface reality obscures this truth. Thus
it can be said that our world is comparable to the essentially-private-but-seemingly-public
courtyard in which it is forbidden to carry things
about on Shabbat without an eiruv.
This explains Rabbi Akivas reply to Turnus Rufus. Of
course G-d observes the weekly day of rest: on Shabbat He
ceases to speak the world, thereby altering the very nature
of reality. But while we inhabit a multi-occupant courtyard
which has the appearance of a public domain, and
in which it is therefore forbidden to transfer
on Shabbat, G-d is the exclusive occupant of His courtyard.
From His perspective, there is no such thing as a public
domain, or even a public-seeming domain.
So for Him, effecting changes within our world does
not violate the Shabbat. Everything He moves about
in our world is a movement within His exclusive domain; any
change wrought by Him in our world on Shabbat
is neither a transformation nor a transfer,
since the entirety of existence is now wholly absorbed within
His all-inclusive reality.
Effecting the Eiruv
The ultimate function of Shabbat is to establish an eiruv
in our multi-occupant courtyard: to integrate
the diverse forces and realities of our world as a singular,
harmonious expression of the divine truth; to make the exclusivity
of G-ds ownership as real in our lives as
it is from G-ds own perspective.
Our present-day experience of Shabbat is only a taste
of the era of Moshiachthe day that is wholly Shabbat
and rest for life everlasting.
Each Shabbat, we assume a mode of being that reveals the innate
privacy of G-ds world. But this is mostly
a reality manifest only in our individual lives and communities;
the world without still shows a face of plurality and disconnection
from its source. For while it is Shabbat in the weekly cycle,
we are still in the six workday millennia of history.
With the advent of the seventh millennium, The world
will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover
the sea, readily perceiving itself as wholly submerged
within the divine reality.
Based on the Rebbes talks on Av 20, 5722 (August
20, 1962) and on other occasions
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 395.
. Talmud, Shabbat 73a.
. I.e., the 39 types of constructive work that were
employed in the construction of the Sanctuary
(mishkan), which the Torah describes immediately
following its commandment not to perform work on Shabbat.
. That is, the work of making a Sanctuary
for G-d so that He may dwell in our world (Exodus
25:8, as per Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16, and Tanya, ch.
36); see note 4 above.
. Torah Ohr, Beshalach 65c.
. See Rashis commentary on verse.
. See Havdalah in issue #29 of Week In
. See Tosafot on Talmud, Shabbat 96b and Eruvin
. This is the deeper significance of the Hebrew
term chillul Shabbat, desecration of the Shabbat.
The root challal (to desecrate) also
means void or hollow: by doing work
on Shabbat, one injects a bubble of emptiness into G-ds
private domain, creatingin the realm of his own perception
and behavioran area that is devoid of G-ds all-pervading
. Shabbat addendum to Grace After Meals.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XI, p. 68 ff.