Gateway Activities and Limited Angels - Shabbat 12
While many alternatives are offered, the interesting debate is what language one should speak in such a setting – Hebrew or Aramaic? Rabbi Eleazar would sometimes use one, and sometimes the other. And the Talmud asks, “didn’t Rabbi Judah say you should not ask for your needs in Aramaic, and Rabbi Johanan said the angels don’t even understand Aramaic?” A very intriguing glimpse into rabbinic theology and “angeology:” while one may speak to God or to the Shekhina [divine presence] in any language, the angels only speak the divine language of Hebrew! Fortunately for this case, the Shekhina is assumed to be supporting the ill, so Aramaic is understandable by the kingdom of Heaven. Who knew one would need a translator?
The restriction on reading by lamplight, however, remains – if two are studying different subjects by the same light, they each might accidentally tip the lamp, so they should not unless they study the same scroll. An open fire is impermissible even for ten people, because any one could forget and stir the fire. And Rabbi Ishmael b. Elisha assumed he could read without tilting, but when the moment arrived he was about to do it and celebrates the sages for predicting his inclination (though some say he did tilt and promised a sacrifice when the Temple was rebuilt). The point for the Talmud here is that one should avoid activities that lead to violations – just as some speak of “gateway drugs” that lead to harder drugs, the rabbis are concerned about “gateway activities” that would lead to Shabbat violations, which might then lead to rampant violations of law, ethics, and morality. From our perspective, however, not all gateways go to the same dark place – some lead to freedom of choice.
Rabbi Adam Chalom