The theme throughout will be making explicit the laws of Shabbat. Implicit is the power of rabbinic interpretation to add to the biblical laws. A distinction is made between “d’rabbinan” (rabbinic) and “d’oryeita” (biblical) origin. But they both have the weight of law. This right to add levels of restriction is important because the biblical text can be quite vague, proscribing “work,” for example, but not defining it.
Or Mishnah begins in some ways oddly, by focusing on one kind of restriction: the transfer of objects between the public and the private domain. Carrying is allowed in the private (a home, for example) but forbidden in public. The Mishnah begins this important subject of the laws of Shabbat – one of the pillars of traditional Judaism, with a round-about statement: “THE CARRYINGS OUT OF THE SABBATH ARE TWO WHICH ARE FOUR WITHIN, AND TWO WHICH ARE FOUR WITHOUT.”
There is much explaining of this, with the example used of a poor man standing outside a rich man’s home on Shabbat who either hands or receives something. This involves an illegal transference from the private to the public domain. Who is liable? It depends.
The important point, though is the fact that there are 2 biblical breaks here (handing and receiving) to which the rabbis added 2 other restrictions on each (placing and carrying). The page goes on to explicate several other examples of “two which are four” – meaning rabbinic laws added to the biblical.
Two things stand out to me and will continue to be explored. One is the issue of boundaries and the crossing of them. The other is the tension of the biblical and rabbinic. The rabbis reserve the right, through deep analysis, to add.
As we’ll see, they do.