The Mishna on 105b discusses the melacha of קורע (tearing).
The biblical prohibition applies to tearing something for constructive purposes, such as tearing threads in an imperfect garment to sow it up again correctly. (Tearing toilet paper might fit into this category but is a subject of its own.)
However, our Mishna tells us that if this is done out of anger, mourning for a relative, or for any destructive purpose, one is exempt, and has only transgressed a rabbinical transgression.
Our sugya debates the question of whether tearing something out of mourning or in anger is considered a constructive act or not.
Simply using our own logic, there seems to be logic on both sides – on the one hand, one is not making the torn item into anything that can be used for a constructive purpose as a result.
On the other hand, there might be a constructive result from the action itself, in that one fulfills one’s obligation to tear one’s clothes to mourn a relative, as well as one’s psychological need to grieve.
Similarly, tearing something out of anger might fulfil a constructive purpose, such as calming oneself down.
It appears from our Mishna that it is not considered constructive.
However, the Gemara brings a Beraita which is of the opinion that one is liable for such actions, indicating that they are halachically considered constructive.
The Gemara concludes that if one tears a garment for a relative that one is liable to tear for, the action is considered constructive because one has discharged his obligation by this action.
However, if one tears for a relative that one has no obligation to tear for, the action is not considered constructive, seeing as he has discharged no obligation by so doing.
The Gemara adds that the same applies to anyone that it is a mitzva, even if not an absolute obligation, to tear one’s clothes for, such as a חכם (scholar) or an איש כשר (righteous man)
How the above two are defined halachically requires further discussion of course.
The exclusion of a relative one is not obligated to tear for seems to make it clear that emotional therapeutic value is not enough to be considered a constructive act on its own, without actually fulfilling a mitzva.
However, we are still face with a contradiction between our Mishna and the Beraisa regarding tearing something in anger.
One would think that based on the law regards relatives, we have already settled the fact that tearing simply for emotional or therapeutic benefit is not considered a constructive action as far as liability on shabbos in concerned, and is still considered מקלקל.
Why then does the author of the Beraisa hold that one is indeed liable for this, in contrast to the author of the Mishna who holds that one is not?
At first, the Gemara tries to explain that this dispute is not actually based on whether it is מקלקל or not, but rather on whether one is liable for מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
The Mishna which exempts someone who tears out of anger is not doing so because of מקלקל, but rather because it reflects the view of Rabbi Shimon who holds that one is exempt for מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא , a melacha done for a constructive purpose but for one other than its usual purpose as derived from the Mishkan, the classic example being digging a hole because he wants the dust, rather than the hole itself( see Shabbos 73b.)
Here he has no need for the torn garment itself, but rather for the emotional relief or indulgence of his anger he feels from tearing it, making it classic מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
According to this suggestion, The Beraisa which says that one is liable for this simply reflects the view of Rabbi Yehuda that one is liable for מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא.
(We should note at this point that should this suggestion be accepted, we would have a סתם משנה (anonymous Mishna) that is in accordance with Rabbi Shimon, which all things being equal, would be a very strong reason for the poskim to rule like him- but that’s for another time!)
The issue with this suggestion is that it totally ignores the exemption of מקלקל, which certainly seems to apply
i. based on logical analysis
ii. based on the previous conclusion that emotional benefit is not considered a constructive purpose regarding melacha
iii. Based on the wording of the Mishna which seems to base the exemption on מקלקל explicitly. ( one would then have to say that מקלקל mentioned in the Mishna is a totally new exemption, not the reason for the previous too exemptions and others like it, which while not illegal, certainly doesn’t seem to be the simple reading of the Mishna.)
The Gemara rejects this suggestion based on the fact that Rabbi Yehuda himself does not disagree with the exemption of מקלקל, which clearly seems to apply here.
It then suggests that perhaps the Beraisa that says one is liable for tearing something out of anger actually holds that tearing out of anger is constructive, in that it appeases his יצר (inclination).
This is a full 180 degree turn in which the Gemara acknowledges that at least according to the Beraisa, emotional therapeutic benefit might actually be considered constructive regarding melacha (it is possible to learn that even our Mishna would acknowledge that but exempts it due to מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא , but once we have found an acceptable way to reconcile the two views without reference to this debate, particularly as the Mishna does seem to given the reason for the exemption as מקלקל, it seems more likely that the Mishna would disagree simply on the point as to whether emotional benefit is constructive, and holds that it is not, which is reflected by the fact that its exempts one who tears out of mourning as well.)
The Gemara doesn’t seem so bothered by the suggestion that emotional benefit might be considered constructive in general ( to the point that we would then need to explain the difference between the emotional benefit of indulging or discharging one’s anger which one is liable for and that of fulfilling one’s need to grieve which is exempt even according to the Beraisa in the absence of a mitzva.)
Yet it rejects that suggestion that tearing out of anger might be constructive flat out for a different reason- indulging one’s anger is NEVER constructive .
It brings the very strong statement of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri that a person who tears or breaks something out of anger is considered like one who has worshipped idols -The way of the יצר הרע (evil inclination) is first to make you indulge your anger by destroying something and then to make you do other sins.
Rav Avin goes further and interprets the verse “לא יהיה בך אל זר “ (“there shall not be in you a strange god” -Tehillim 81/10) as referring to the evil inclination within everyone.
Indulging one’s evil inclination in the hope that it will go away afterwards is not viewed as a constructive action, rather as a catastrophic form of מקלקל.
This concept in also seen regarding the inclination for sexual relations.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 107a) relates how David heMelech requested a test from Hashem, so he could also be regarded on par with the אבות (the three forefathers), and mentioned in the first blessing of the עמידה (silent standing prayer.)
It relates that Hashem agreed to this, and even warned him that the test would involve a woman.
David haMelech though that he would indulge his sexual drive in a permitted way that day by sleeping with all his wives, so by the time the test came, it would be worn out.
However, this was of no help. And he failed the test of Batsheva miserably.
The Gemara explains that he forgot the simply rule that אבר קטן יש באדם משביעו רעב
מרעיבו צמא ( a man has a small organ, if he starves it, it is satisfied, but if he indulges it, it is hungry.)
Hence engaging in too much sexual indulgence, even in a permitted way, is not constructive at all, and rather than getting tired of it eventually, simply leads to a person being addicted and chronically obsessed with it.
Now to return to our sugya- so under what circumstances could tearing something in anger be considered constructive and liable, as per the ruling of the Beraita?
The Gemara concludes with something that could seem very shocking in our modern, liberal world: performing certain actions that appear to be out of anger in order to instill fear in the members of one’s household, not out of uncontrolled anger indulgence, are indeed constructive and one would be liable for them on shabbos.
The Gemara gives some examples, but we will have to leave that to further discussion- please don’t copy any of those actions without getting suitable practical rabbinic AND legal advice!
(p.s. Another unresolved issue regarding מקלקל is seeing that injuring a person is basically always destructive (as well as being a prohibition outright,) how could one ever be liable for wounding a person on shabbos, something we know from various places that one is certainly liable for? The discussion on 106a resolved around this.
Our long-standing discussion about whether a שבות דשבות על ידי ישראל is permitted or not might also find some precedent in our Mishna, as it does indeed seem to be a case of both מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופא and מקלקל, which according to Rabbi Shimon should actually be a שבות דשבות! Lots to say on this, but its late…)
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.