By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
“On six days, work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the L-rd; whoever performs any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.” (Sh’mot 35:2–3)
Shabbat and Ma’aserot
The beginning of our parashah, just like the last four parshiyot in the book of Sh’mot, mentions the mitzvah of Shabbat. It would seem that Shabbat belongs to the “lifestyle” part of the Torah, just like the name of the section of the Shulchan Aruch — Orach Chaim — that details its many laws. On the other hand, the mitzvot tied to the Land of Israel are found in the Yoreh De’ah section of the Shulchan Aruch. At face value, it would seem that these two types of mitzvot are unrelated.
However, these mitzvot are linked. As we know, it is forbidden to eat fruits and vegetables in Israel unless terumot and ma’aserot are first separated. In any case, if one’s intent is not to bring the produce into the house, it is permitted to partake of them without this separation. Eating produce in such a fashion is called achilat ara’i, literally “temporary eating,” or snacking. There are six things that can nullify the temporary nature of eating and obligates one to separate terumot and ma’aserot before eating the produce, even if it has not been brought into the home (Rambam, Hilchot Ma’aser 3:3). One of them is Shabbat. Why so? Rambam (Peirush HaMishnah Terumot 8:3) explains as follows:
“Before the Shabbat enters, everything becomes ready and prepared for eating and thus obligated in tithing, as G-d says: ‘And you shall call Shabbat a pleasure’ (Yeshayahu 58:13), and for this reason everything that one has is prepared to eat and drink from it on Shabbat.” Since we are commanded to enjoy Shabbat, everything that we have at home that can enhance this pleasure is actually considered prepared and earmarked for this end. This is why one cannot consider this type of eating “temporary eating.”
Snacking From Galilee to Judea
A related halachah is cited in the Mishnah: “If one brings produce from the Galilee to Judea, he may eat [of the produce] until he arrives at the place where he was going, and so too in returning. Rabbi Meir says, until he arrives at the place of stopping [shevita]” (Ma’aserot 2:3, Kapach ed.).
This Mishnah relates to someone who brings produce from one region with the intention to eat it in another region. The first opinion cited is that it is permitted to snack on such fruit without first separating terumot and ma’aserot until arriving at one’s intended destination. However, if midway the person decides to return and eat the fruit at one’s original location, it is permissible to snack on the fruit all the way back to that point. Rabbi Meir disagrees. He holds that if one decides to stay for Shabbat at a certain location in the middle of this journey, he is no longer considered “mid-trek.” The moment he arrives at the location where he will stay for Shabbat, any eating he does there is considered permanent (even if he arrives on Thursday, for example). For this reason one’s partaking of the produce cannot be called “snacking,” and even if Shabbat had not yet entered, he must separate terumot and ma’aserot before eating the produce (Radbaz, Hilchot Ma’aser 4:11). All opinions agree that one must separate terumot and ma’aserot before it is permitted to partake in this produce on Shabbat.
Sacred Pleasure Versus Desire
Why does Shabbat change the situation? How does a mundane act, performed to fulfill one’s desires (even if this is in a permitted fashion) on a weekday, turn into a positive, pure, and sacred pleasure? What is the secret here?
Before we attempt to answer this million-dollar question, we first need to debunk a myth. G-d does not want to prevent us from enjoying worldly pleasures. On the contrary; just as we will say in birkat ha’ilanot, the blessing for the trees, on Chodesh Nissan, G-d created “good creations and good trees [precisely] for the enjoyment of mankind!” If so, why do we have this misconception that enjoying worldly pleasures is a negative thing?
It seems that the answer lies in what the purpose of this enjoyment is. Often, the pursuit of pleasure is actually a futile attempt to fulfill a genuine need. Someone might be feeling empty and depressed since inside he feels that he is not fulfilling his purpose in life. So he eats a chocolate bar. While this is not an evil action, it would be hard to say that by doing so he is actually fulfilling his true need (unless he is a professional judge for international chocolate contests). Similarly, people might be drawn to other physical desires, such as illicit relations, since they lack genuine love; they believe they will find the love they seek by doing so. Engaging in forbidden relations will never meet their true need. This is a dangerous pleasure, since it masks the soul’s desperate cries of distress.
In contrast, if the pursuit of physical pleasure stems from a genuine desire to enjoy what G-d created for us, in a balanced and reasonable fashion, with an emphasis on the important things in life, Shabbat is the best time to do so. This is because Shabbat is the time of rest that gives us a taste of what is in store for us in the World to Come, where such pleasures are wonderful and sacred. We rejoice, and G-d, who loves each and every person like an only child, rejoices together with us. G-d created these pleasures to benefit mankind: “Call the Shabbat ‘delight,’ the L-rd’s holy day honored!” (Yeshayahu 58:13).
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. For additional information and inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.