נוֹטֵל אָדָם אֶת בְּנוֹ וְהָאֶבֶן בְּיָדוֹ
- Why is "הָאֶבֶן" translated (in both Koren/Sefaria and Schottenstein) as "a stone" rather than "the stone'?
- What specific stone does the Mishnah have in mind?
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The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai in the Gemoro Shabbos 142a on this mishna say:
You cannot infer from this mishna that the stone is negated and therefore it is permitted to move it. Rather, the mishna is referring to a baby who has longings for his father. It is permitted for the father to move the stone because if the father does not lift him with it, the baby might take ill.
Tosfos discusses when a stone needs to be shaken off an item in order for the item to be permitted to be carried on Shabbos and asks why we don't require the father to cause the stone to fall out of his child's hands? Why is it permitted to carry the child when he is carrying the stone?
Tosfos answers: If he makes him throw down the stone, the child will scream and cry.
With this background, one could conceive that the child would object to changing this stone for another because of the child's mental state occasioned by the longings for his father. So to some extent this stone is special and refers to the stone that the child is currently holding.
My idea above is informed by the fact that one method of dealing with separation anxiety is for the child to hold a “transitional object” which is defined as an item that provides comfort. (IMHO if the child is attached to the stone, it could function as a transitional object.)