Question: When the Sages ruled not to take medicine on Shabbat, because you may come to grind it, although this is done in some circles, most of the time people do not grind their own medicine. Why would a ruling like this still exist? It would be more logical to decree something like this: Don’t use water unless your hot water tank is turned off, because you may accidentally use hot water. That seems much more common than pestle and mortar.
Obviously the the question does not only concern pills, but any time the Sages words are followed today. Thank you in advance for clarifying this concept.
Answer: According to many sources (Radvaz, Meshech Chochmah, Etc) all of the enactments of the Sages were already hinted to in some way in the Torah (through various expressions, letter shapes, letter crowns called togim, etc) and were supposed to be enacted at some point through history.
Only the Sages of the Talmud and earlier had the power to make the enactment, since they were keyed in to the written and oral Torah in such a way that they knew how, what and where it was was feasible (not too hard on people) to make such an enactment.
Those enactments remain binding even today (medicine on Shabbos) because even though there was a practical reason for the enactment, there was also a deeper idea which is often not readily apparent.
An example of this is 2nd day of Rosh Hashana, even in Israel. While the Talmud says that it was enacted due to witnesses coming to the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) too late in the day, the comments of the Zohar state that we needed a second (lighter) judgement on day 2 in order to merit a good, new year. Clearly, there is a deeper reason for the 2nd day which the Talmud didn’t reveal. This is true with most decrees of the Sages.
The question is, if they were hinted to in the Torah, why weren’t they just made to be like all Torah? Why wait till the Sages enact them? Rav Aharon Lopiansky discusses this (I believe its this one) and cites sources that say the Torah laws are those that every parent has for a child. However there are some laws that a parent can’t mandate, but a sensitive child should do (like buying the parent a gift for a birthday). The former are true for our relationship with G-d in the area of Torah laws and the latter is true of Rabbinic enactments.
All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg,
Meor Rutgers Jewish Xperience