Torah Riddles #237

Question: Why does the Ra”n (Beitza 17a “umiha”) hold that if one needs 2 figs to save one’s life and he must pick them off the tree on shabbos and he has a branch with 2 figs or a branch with 3 figs in front of him but he cuts down the branch with 3 figs on shabbos, he transgressed a Torah level prohibition (arguing on the R’I and Rashba who say it’s rabbinic) because adding to the measure is a Torah level issue, and though he cut only one branch but it had the 3rd unneeded fig then he sinned and yet if one steals a sack of 100 dollar bills why did he transgress the prohibition of stealing once and not 100 times?


A. To transgress a Torah prohibition of Shabbos one has to perform a “meleches machsheves” which is “an act of craftsmanship ” meaning it has to be done with intent, knowing what you are doing, the act was done for the same purpose as done in the Mishkan, in its normal way, constructive, and will cause a permanent result.

B. 2 out of 3 figs were allowed to be picked for the sake of saving the sick person’s life but the branch with the two figs should have been cut off so that there would not have been any prohibition.

C. One is liable for the act of stealing, for example the Ketzos 348:2 proves from a Rashi in the first chapter of Bava Metzia that you are only liable for stealing someone else’s pet who walked into your property if you close your gate so that the animal cannot get out because you did an act which stole it from the owner.

Answer: By stealing because the act is the prohibition then only one act of taking the bag of cash is liable not the hundred bills that’s in the bag.(though you have to pay all hundred back but G-d only counts it as one sin.) But since on Shabbos it’s not only the act but it’s meleches machsheves and though you did only one act of cutting down the branch but with the intent of getting 3 figs when you only need 2 to save the guy’s life so he is liable for that 3rd fig not needed.