The Mishnah discusses the case where a gentile lit a candle on Shabbos. If he lit it for himself, the Jew may sit in that illuminated area and benefit from the light. However, if the gentile lit the light for the sake of the Jew, the Jew may not benefit from the light.
There is a variance among the Rishonim in explaining the reason why it is prohibited for a Jew to benefit from labor which a gentile performed (on his own) on Shabbos for the sake of the Jew. Tosafos ( ד”ה ואם ) and Rambam (6:18) explain that if a Jew would be allowed to have this labor done for him, we are concerned that the Jew would then give outright instructions to the gentile to do the labor for him. Rashi and Ran (Beitza 24b) write that it is simply prohibited for the Jew to benefit from labor done for him on Shabbos.
Ritva writes that according to the understanding of Rambam and Tosafos, it might seem that we have arranged a rabbinic precaution (not to benefit from labor done by a gentile) to safeguard another rabbinic injunction (lest we come to give instructions to a gentile outright). This seems to be in violation of the general rule that we do not establish גזירה לגזירה . Nevertheless, the correct explanation is that this is simply a one-staged enactment. The sages set into motion protective measures to ensure that the Shabbos remain special. In order to set it aside and different from the other days of the week, it was necessary to disallow benefiting from the labor performed by a gentile, either when he does it for us by himself without being asked, or whether he does it when asked to do so. These guidelines are all part of the same approach to preserve the sanctity of Shabbos.
Daf Yomi Digest
“Preserving the sanctity of Shabbos – through speech”
Commetary on Shabbos 122a
It’s been a particularly cold and icy winter here in Southwest Idaho. Fortunately, it’s warmed up some lately to near normal temperatures for this time of year, but in the past two weeks, lows have been in the single digits and into negative numbers while highs never got anywhere near above freezing. Ice on the roads and sidewalks has been particularly hazardous, and I know of many people, including several in my family, who have fallen and become injured.
But most winters, it’s just the typical matter of shoveling snow off the driveway and sidewalks and being cautious when driving to and from work. I was remembering a typical “snow shoveling” winter of a few years ago that was like the one I just described while reading the above-quoted commentary. It was on a Sunday morning (before I went back to church) and I had some time on my hands. I had finished shoveling the snow off of my own drive and sidewalks, but on Sunday, it can be a chore for some of my “church-going” neighbors to shovel and get ready to go to services. So I decided to just keep going and to clear the driveways and sidewalks of a couple of other houses near me. I know one neighbor in particular whose family goes to church early and generally has a full day of it. I shoveled off their drive and walk while they were gone.
One of the things about me doing such things is that I don’t like to be noticed (kind of hard when you’re standing in the middle of someone’s driveway with a big, orange snow shovel, I must admit). But I thought I’d gotten away with it. I thought no one would figure out it was me. That is, until my neighbor came over later that afternoon to say “thanks.” He was appreciative because Sunday is indeed a very busy day for him and he didn’t know when he’d be able to get around to shoveling his snow. It was a big help.
I don’t say all this to make myself sound like a big deal, though, but I do have a point. Be patient.
Now imagine my neighbor is an Orthodox Jew and all this is happening on Saturday instead of Sunday. Further imagine that my neighborhood is within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue (it’s not, but let’s pretend). Now let’s say I know my neighbor and his family are Jewish and I know that they walk to shul on Saturday morning. They’ve probably already left for services and I know they won’t be shoveling snow on Shabbos. As a Christian, it would be a nice thing for me to help them out and shovel their driveway and sidewalk.
But will they see it that way? Sure, they didn’t ask me to do it for them (which would be forbidden), but technically, they can’t benefit from my labor if I did it to benefit them. Could they even walk on the sidewalk and the driveway I shoveled for them upon their return from shul? Frankly, I don’t know, but in my eagerness to be “a good Christian neighbor,” I may have actually caused more of a problem than a help.
Why am I saying all this?
Last week, I wrote a large number of “meditations” that addressed how Jews who are Messianic may view a life of halachah in relation to their discipleship under Messiah Yeshua, Christ Jesus. It’s a controversial topic, certainly for Christians and even for a number of Jewish people, but it’s one that needs to be discussed. In reading the commentary on Shabbos 122a just a few days ago, I started to wonder how “Christian generosity” and Jewish observance of Shabbos could unexpectedly collide, producing undesirable results. Granted, the Christian in my imagination was just trying to be a good neighbor and lend a hand, but especially an Orthodox Jewish neighbor might have a fundamentally different way of looking at such “help.” This is what happens when we don’t understand each other.
Granted, in this day and age, people who live in the suburbs next to each other or across the street from each other, don’t get to be friends or acquaintances the way we did when I was a child. Often people don’t even wave “hi” to each other when they are both out in their front yard or passing each other on the street.
But if part of being a Christian is loving your neighbor as yourself, and chances are you know a little bit about yourself, how can you be sensitive to your neighbor’s needs if you don’t know what those needs they are. Snow on a driveway and a sidewalk may seem to tell you want your neighbor requires, but you can’t really go by superficial appearances. Who is your neighbor? How can you help him?
If you, as a Christian, have a Jewish neighbor, and you want to be a good neighbor, it might help if you got to know him a little bit. However, we Christians have other Jewish “neighbors” who may not live near us, but who are connected because our “salvation comes from the Jews.” (John 4:22). Whether your Jewish neighbor is someone who lives near you or, in a more expansive sense, is your ”neighbor” because he is a child of God like you, how can you become aware of his needs, and of Israel’s needs, if you don’t know what those needs are?
Addressing my last question, Boaz Michael recently posted a new blog article called Three Kinds of Churches pt.2. It includes a section called “Churches that align with Israel” and the description of such churches (and Christian people) may well be part of the answer we need.
Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.
-Pirkei Avot 2:5
Adapting Hillel’s famous statement, we also can’t be a good neighbor, until he have stood in his place, or perhaps just started a conversation with him.