“The laws of Shabbat…are like a mountain being held up by a thread” (Chagigah 10a). Shabbat is the pivot around which Jewish life revolves. Its laws are vast and detailed, and are applicable week in and week out. Yet beyond the mitzvah to “remember” and “guard” the Shabbat, we are told next to nothing about how to observe it. One little verse—“Do not light a fire in all your dwelling places on Shabbat” (Shemot 35:3)—and that is about all we are told.
A question I have often been asked by non-observant Jews runs as follows: Since cars were not yet invented when the Torah was given, how can one claim that Biblical law prohibits driving? While the answer to that question is relatively simple--it is just a modern application of the Biblical verse, “Do not light a fire in all your places on Shabbat”--the idea behind the question has much merit. Shabbat, as described in the Bible, has little resemblance to how it is observed in practice.
"Mei’emati korin et hashema b’arvit, from what time may one begin reciting the evening shema?" So begins the Talmud Bavli, the first volume of the Gemara and the page that will be studied by hundreds of thousands of Jews around the globe as they begin the 13th cycle of Daf Yomi on Friday. The hundreds of thousands who celebrated the completion of the 12th cycle highlight the enduring relevance of this ancient text, and its crucial role in Jewish continuity.
One of the cardinal principles of Judaism is the belief in the Divine origin of our Bible. While Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of human beings, his input into the wording of the Torah is minimal at best. In this regard, Moshe was not more than a recording secretary, faithfully transcribing the word of G-d.