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Extricate the Intricate

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Extricate the Intricate

The gemara[1] tells us that the 39 melachos necessary for the construction of the Mishkan are those that are forbidden on Shabbos. This is indicated by the juxtaposition of the prohibition to do work on Shabbos with the section concerning the construction of the Mishkan.[2]


The Baal Haturim[3] points out that if we count the words from the beginning of Parshas Vayakhel, which discusses Shabbos, until the word השבת,[4] we come to 39! Additionally, because the word לעשת is spelled without a ו, it spells (9) ל, תשע (gematria of 30). That is 30 and 9 which is 39, alluding to the 39 melachos. This is what we cannot do on Shabbos but can do (לעשת) on the six days of the week (The letter ו which is missing in the word לעשת has a gematria of 6.).


Essentially, the 39 melachos are 39 curses.[5] The 39 are broken up into four parts starting with סידורא דפת, the labors that constitute the order of making bread.[6] Putting so much effort in order to eat bread originates from the curse caused by Adam as it says לחם בזעת אפיך תאכל,[7] by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.


If we calculate the curses that arose because of the sin of Adam including those of the snake, Adam, Chava and the ground, we come to the number[8] 39![9] In fact, לט (gematria 39) means a curse as in the Targum Onkolos on ארור which is ליט.[10] On Shabbos we don’t perform these 39 as it is bracha, the opposite of klalla, curse, like it says ויברך אלה-ים את יום השביעי, Hashem blessed the seventh day.[11]


Adam’s sin occurred prior to Shabbos. However, Shabbos wasn’t affected by the sin as the light that shone (Ohr Haganuz) prior to his sin continued until after Shabbos.[12] So on Shabbos we don’t perform the 39 melachos, klallos, curses, as it is a day of bracha!


Due to the sin of Adam, which caused the 39 melachos, good and evil became intermingled.[13] Through the 39 melachos, we raise the sparks that got mixed in evil.[14] Shabbos, on the other hand, is מעין עולם הבא,[15] a semblance of the world to come—a day that is above and beyond. It is like Adam before the sin,[16] which is shown by the fact that we don’t perform the 39 melachos.

[1] Shabbos 49b, See Shabbos 70a.

[2] Rashi s.v. k’neged to Shabbos 49b.

[3] Shemos 35:1, s.v. la’asos.

[4] Shemos 35:3.

[5] Shomer Emunim Drush Habitachon, chapter 2. See Noam Elimelech, Devarim, s.v. od b’pasuk.

[6] Shabbos 74b. This consists of the actions necessary in producing the lechem hapanim in the Mishkan.

[7] Breishis 3:19.

[8] If Adam would not have sinned there would be no need to work for clothing, food, etc. Consequently, there would not be 39 melachos.

[9] The Tikunai Zohar (Tikun 48) says that the snake, Adam and Chava each received ten curses while the ground received nine.

[10] As in Devarim 27:15.

[11] Breishis 2:3.

[12] Breishis Rabba 11:2. We don’t say “goodnight” on Shabbos (rather we say Good Shabbos) since Shabbos is entirely light. The gemara tells us (Moed Katan 24a) that there is no observance of mourning on Shabbos. This is because during the week, the conduct of Hashem is through a malach whereas on Shabbos it is through Hashem himself, and it says in regard to Hashem chedvah bimkomo, delight is in His place (Divrei Hayamim 1, 16:27).

[13] Nefesh Hachaim 1:6, See Derech Hashem 2:4. Before the sin of Adam, there was no subjectivity. This is just as 1 and 1 is 2 which is not bad or good rather it is just a fact. So, the snake had to come from the outside because there was no evil on the inside of Adam. Evil became part of Adam only after the sin. As a result, we need the death experience, since evil is part of us. Through Techias Hamasim, we come back with purity and holiness.

[14] See Likutai Torah, Behar.

[15] Brachos 57b. Shabbos is 1/60th of olam haba. This is what is meant in יום שכלו שבת ומנוחה לחיי העולמים, the day which will be completely a Shabbos and rest day for eternal life which alludes to the next world after the final redemption (in Birchas Hamazon).

[16] The Ramban (Devarim 30:6) tells us that in the days of Moshiach, the choice of goodwill be natural. It will be like Adam before the sin (see also the Maharal in Derech Chaim 4:18, Netzach Yisrael 46 and Daas Tevunos 40 and 44. See also Shabbos 151b).

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