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Shabbos 116


QUESTION: Raban Shimon ben Gamliel says that the paragraph of "Va'yehi bi'Neso'a" serves as a separation between two incidents of calamity involving the Jewish people. If we look at the verses prior to the passage of "Va'yehi bi'Neso'a," we find no clear mention of any calamity. If we look at the verses that follow the passage, we find *two* incidents of calamity with no separation between them -- the incident of the complainers (Mis'onenim), and the incident of the lust for meat (Kivros ha'Ta'avah). What calamities, then, is the passage of "Va'yehi bi'Neso'a" separating?


(a) RASHI explains that the Jewish people were already complaining for meat when they left Har Sinai; the calamity of Kivros ha'Ta'avah occurred as they left Har Sinai. Thus, when the verse before the passage of "Va'yehi bi'Neso'a" says that "they traveled *from the mountain of Hashem* for three days," it is referring to the calamity of Kivros ha'Ta'avah, during which the Bnei Yisrael "traveled away from Hashem," i.e. rebelled.

The RAMBAN (Bamidbar 10:35) explains that Rashi means that even though the Torah describes the incident of Kivros ha'Ta'avah later, it does not mean that the incident took place then. Rather, the Torah is going back and explaining that which it merely alluded to earlier.

(b) TOSFOS (DH Purani'os) says that the calamity at Har Sinai (before the passage of "Va'yehi bi'Neso'a") refers to what the Midrash describes: the Jewish people ran away from Har Sinai hastily, the way a child runs when he is let out of school. Although this was improper conduct on the part of the Jewish people, what exactly was the calamity (= punishment for their actions) involved? The RAMBAN (ibid.) explains that perhaps the Jewish people would have arrived at the border of the land of Israel immediately after leaving Har Sinai. Instead, it took them three days to get there, which was considered a punishment for their hasty departure.

Why is there no break between the next two calamities? Perhaps Tosfos understood that only the Erev Rav (or the "Am," as the Torah calls them in the Parsha of Kivros ha'Ta'avah) were involved in the incident of Kivros ha'Ta'avah, while the first two sins involved all of the Jewish people ("Bnei Yisrael"). Therefore, there is only a need to separate between the first two calamities.

(c) The RAMBAN (ibid.) explains that the Gemara does not mean that it is separating between *two* calamities. Rather, the passage of "Va'yehi bi'Neso'a" serves to interrupt between *three* calamities, so that there should not be three calamities in a row, which would make a "Chazakah" of calamities.


The Mishnah (115a) states that we do not read Kesuvim on Shabbos because of "Bitul Beis ha'Midrash." The Gemara cites another reason from Rebbi Nechemyah, who said that we do not read Kesuvim on Shabbos as a safeguard to prevent people from reading business contracts on Shabbos.

The ROGATCHOVER GA'ON uses this Gemara to explain an enigmatic change in the text of Birkas ha'Mazon on Shabbos. During the week, we say "Magdil Yeshu'os Malko," a verse from Tehilim (18:51). On Shabbos, though, we say, "*Migdol* Yeshu'os Malko," from Shmuel II (22:51). Why is that? The reason for this change, explains the Rogatchover Ga'on, is the rule that our Gemara expresses that one may not learn Kesuvim on Shabbos. Since "Magdil" is from Kesuvim (Tehilim), we replace it with "Migdol" (from a parallel verse in Nevi'im), since learning from Nevi'im is permissible on Shabbos (see Mishnah 115a and Rashi there)!

[Even though there are many other verses from Kesuvim in our Shabbos prayers, we are allowed to recite them because there is no other choice, since they do not have a closely matching verse in Nevi'im. Since they are part of our daily prayers, it is permitted to recite such quotes from Kesuvim. However, in Birkas ha'Mazon we change "Magdil" to "Migdol" in order to remind us of the prohibition against learning Kesuvim, when *not* praying, on Shabbos. (M. Kornfeld)]

(The TORAH TEMIMAH proposes, somewhat tongue in cheek, an interesting hypothesis to explain the change in Birkas ha'Mazon. The change in the text may stem from a misreading of an abbreviation in the early printings of Birkas ha'Mazon. In the margin next to the word "Magdil," the following appeared in parentheses: "Migdol, SB " (the Hebrew letters "Shin" and "Beis"), which meant that instead of Magdil, the word "Migdol" appears in Shmuel Beis (SB). Later, printers who copied from the original printings misinterpreted the abbreviation to mean that "Migdol" is recited on Shabbos (which can also be abbreviated as SB).

OPINIONS: According to Rebbi Nechemyah, it is prohibited to read Kesuvim on Shabbos as a precaution to prevent people from mistakenly thinking that it is permitted to read their contracts and other non-sacred documents on Shabbos, which is prohibited. Is it permitted to read personal letters on Shabbos?
(a) RASHI (DH Shetarei Hedyotos) says that friendly letters are also included in the prohibition against reading contracts. (b) The RI, cited by TOSFOS (DH v'Kol sh'Ken), permits reading personal letters on Shabbos, on the basis that their content might involve some urgent matter of Piku'ach Nefesh. Even if a person knows what is written in the letter and knows that there is no matter of Piku'ach Nefesh contained therein, RABEINU TAM permits reading such letters on the basis that the information contained in the letters is not necessary and therefore it is not comparable to reading contract.

(c) The ROSH (23:1) is inclined to prohibit reading personal letters in order to prevent people from reading their contracts as well. Although his reasoning differs from that of Rashi (a), his ruling is the same.

HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 307:13) includes personal letters in the category of contracts which are prohibited to read on Shabbos, and thus a person is not allowed to read a personal letter if he knows that all it contains is friendly chatter, because of the enactment against reading contracts. In OC 307:14, the Shulchan Aruch is lenient like Tosfos (b) and permits reading a new letter that one has not yet read, because it might contain matters of Piku'ach Nefesh or other urgent matters which require immediate attention.

(The BE'ER HA'GOLAH understands the Shulchan Aruch in 307:13 to be ruling like Rashi (b). The Mishnah Berurah, however, understands that the Shulchan Aruch is ruling like the Rosh (c). This may depend on whether the phrase "and letters of friendly regards" is to be read as a third type of document contained in the category of "Shetarei Hedyotos" (like Rashi) or as a totally new category of document (like the Rosh). However, as mentioned above, l'Halachah it does not seem to make any difference. -Y. Shaw)

RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN zt'l (Igros Moshe OC 4:72) writes that if a friendly letter contains Divrei Torah, then it is certainly permitted to read it on Shabbos.

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