“The wall is considered nonexistent.”
The daily readings from Tractate Eruvin have been mostly about establishing eruvs through conjoining of courtyards among neighbors and trusting one another enough to renounce one’s courtyard rights. If one neighbor forgets to either establish an eruv or renounce his rights in favor of another, his neighbors will be impacted on Shabbat. The readings have included themes about trust and living in a community where the actions of one person can impact others.
Neighbors who live close together in high-rise apartment buildings like where I reside, live separate lives and interact mostly in hallways where they give each other a quick hello and disappear behind their doors. It is a world where doors are much like the courtyard walls that are discussed in today’s Daf Yomi text. We are told that if residents of one courtyard somehow hoist food to the top of a dividing wall (and the specifics of how they get it there are not discussed), they may eat on top of the wall. Their neighbors may do the same, and perhaps together they can enjoy a meal while they are sitting on top of the wall and looking down on the comings and goings beneath them.
I imagine as they are sitting up high that there is a quiet breeze in the air and the light is slowly dimming to a soft gray sky. We are told that because these neighbors have raised their food up “the wall is considered nonexistent and its domain is viewed as part of the two courtyards.” It is a meaningful symbol of how neighbors can climb above their barriers and come together.
This communal sharing of a meal on top of a wall is the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan who said that the residents of the two courtyards can “raise food from the courtyard to the top of the wall and eat it there, and they may lower food from the wall to the courtyard.” But this wonderful image of eating up high is spoiled by the inevitable dissenting Rabbinic opinion that said: “to ascend, yes, it is permitted, but to raise food from the courtyard to the top of the wall no, it is not permitted.” In other words, the Rabbis said you can get your daily exercise by climbing the wall, but you cannot take a moment there to enjoy a snack in the dimming light.
We are provided with a practical solution in the case of two courtyards where one is on higher ground than the other. Accordingly, the wall that separates these courtyards may be level with the ground on one side, but ten handbreadths high on the other. In this case, the neighbors can use the side of the wall that is level with the ground. We are told that this is because “the wall can be used more conveniently by the residents of the higher courtyard.” The general principle is that the wall can be used by the party who would find it most convenient.
Walls in the most basic sense represent boundaries. In a city the walls may not be apparent as in the suburbs where there are literally walled-off communities, but they exist, nonetheless. This has never been more evident than today in New York City where Governor Cuomo has introduced a three-color tiering system in order to target the neighborhoods that have the highest rate of positive COVID tests. Governor Cuomo has called this a “microcluster strategy” in an attempt to tamp down the virus transmission rates without shutting down the entire city.
If you live in a red zone neighborhood your life is severely restricted, with schools and nonessential businesses shuttered. And not surprisingly, these neighborhoods are denser than the ones that are in green status, and like the Hassidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn, have been less willing to abide by certain restrictions, including the size of certain gatherings. I wrote a few days ago about a Hassidic wedding in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that was shut down by the city after rumors circulated that 10,000 guests were expected to attend.
During the worst of the pandemic in the Spring in New York City, and for just a few minutes each evening, it felt like despite the fact that we were all stuck at home, that the walls had come down. Every night at 7pm during the months of April through June, people cheered for healthcare workers by hooting and banging on pots from their balconies, and rooftops and window perches. The walls had come down each night for just a few minutes as we all praised the angels who showed up on the front lines of the pandemic crisis to care for the sick and dying.
I don’t remember when the cheering actually stopped. It became fainter each night with just a few tenacious souls showing up to bang the drums for the frontline workers. And then quietly, it stopped.