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There are 39 forbidden melachot (types of work) on Shabat. I have posted on this blog about the traditional categories on this blog (the orders of bread, garments, leather and construction). This is a different categorization based on Maslow’s hierarchy of need which I have heard in a shiur by Rabbi David Levin-Kruss and found interesting.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs categorizes different needs of people and arranges them in a hierarchy. As long as the lower-level needs of a person are not met, that person is unhappy and not ready to care about the higher-level needs*. The lowest level is food and clothing, next comes safety, next belonging, next esteem (feeling valued) and finally self-actualization. In the shiur, it was proposed that the forbidden melachot on shabat are the things we need to do to take care of the lower levels. This is what we should do in the work week. With the lower levels taken care of and forbidden to dwell on on shabat, this leaves shabat free for us to reach the high levels, ideally the level of self-actualization.

I did not take too many notes, but let’s see if I can align the melachot and the hierarchy levels. Any mistakes are my own, not the Rabbi’s. The orders of bread, garments and leather quite clearly address the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. In the order of construction we have building, demolishing and striking the last blow which may refer to the level of safety. Maybe fire goes into there as well, or even to the lowest level of physical comfort (warmth in winter). Belonging is connected to communication, so that would make writing and erasing melachot of the third level. Also carrying, which is necessary when people get together in groups. Alternatively carrying could also go to the lowest level, as we need to carry our food and clothes home. So with the lower three levels forbidden to worry about on Shabat, we need to prepare everything beforehand. Which creates the secure feeling that all our basic needs are met. And so we have the day to reach for the other levels.

It’s not a perfect fit, but I found the idea insteresting and worth thinking about.

* I’m not a social scientist or psychologist, sorry if I’m grossly misrepresenting the theory.