“And let them make me a Temple that I may dwell among them.”
I entered the Eruvin Tractate today with great hesitancy. I have read that it is the most difficult Tractate of the Talmud, and I found sections of the previous Shabbos Tractate very challenging. The Tractate starts without a lot of fanfare with a discussion on the configuration of courtyards and what is permissible on Shabbat. We appear to be in for many more discussions on carrying in the public domain on Shabbat.
Finding a kernel of something that I can relate to is the way I make sense of these difficult readings. I reread Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s introduction to the Koren Talmud Bavli and was reminded that this journey is about finding relevancy in the text to one’s life. Rabbi Steinsaltz said in the introduction: “Whatever is written herein refers only to me, is written for me and obligates me, first and foremost, the content is addressed to me.” This Tractate stretches through November 22nd – right before Thanksgiving – and I can’t imagine how I will find relevancy in almost four months of discussion on eruvs. But I will try through perseverance and support from my fellow Daf Yomers.
We learned previously that there are Torah laws and Rabbinic laws. It is a greater offense to violate a Torah law than a Rabbinic one. The Rabbinic laws can be more onerous because they are designed to put gates around the Torah laws. There are work-around solutions to the Rabbinic laws and sometimes as we found out in the Shabbos Tractate the Rabbis simply looked the other way because they had the awareness that no one would listen to them anyway. And so, we begin a new Tractate with laws, and retractions, and Rabbinic disagreements, and work-around solutions.
The Tractate starts with a discussion on private and public domains and solutions that allowed people to leave their homes on Shabbat carrying objects. We are provided with a description of an alleyway that is enclosed on three sides with courtyards opening to each. If the fourth side opens into a public domain, it is prohibited to carry objects into the courtyard on Shabbat. A solution is offered. A crossbeam can be placed horizontally over the public courtyard entrance. This appears to be a workable solution, as long as the crossbeam is no higher than twenty cubits. Rabbi Yehuda, however, says that the crossbeam solution works even at a height above twenty cubits.
But that is not the last of it. While Rabbi Yehuda may have determined that the height of the crossbeam may not matter, the width of the entrance of the doorway does. If the entrance is wider than ten cubits, one must diminish it. However, as always, there is a workaround. One can put two vertical posts on either side of the doorway and a horizontal beam at the top, and then enter while carrying objects with impunity. This in essence functions as a doorway to a private domain.
There is continuing disagreement with Rabbi Yehuda’s determination that the height of a doorway in an alleyway does not matter, and a reference to the Sukka Tractate. The matter is somewhat resolved when it is determined that the height restrictions of a Sukka are according to Torah law, while the alleyway restrictions are according to Rabbinic law. Rabbi Yehuda provides more evidence to support his opinion. He said that the Rabbis who disputed him based their analysis on the doorway of the inner sanctum of the Sanctuary or the Tabernacle (we are later told they are one and the same, but then, maybe not), while he considered the doorway of the Entrance Hall leading into the sanctuary. It is all very confusing but suffice it to say that if one erects two doorposts and a horizontal crossbeam above the public entrance of an alleyway, he is free to walk about on Shabbat carrying items on Shabbat.
Today’s reading is a difficult start to what I fear will be a very tough journey through measurements of courtyards, alleyways, doorposts, and crossbeams. The reference to the Tabernacle as a guidepost for determining the width and height of a permissible doorway opening is a reminder that our ancestors lived in the desert for 40 years, with no roof above them. They lived under the stars with the persistent hope that one day they would find their way home.
I feel extremely privileged to not only have a home of my own, but to enter into the reading of a new Tractate with thousands of fellow students who provide support and instruction through the virtual Yeshiva that resides on social media. It is through the reading of the same page of the Talmud at the same time as thousands of others that allows me to understand the importance of a spiritual home; we carry this home deep within us as we tackle the difficult text, just like we once carried the tabernacle through the desert.