Benefiting from the actions of others (Daf Yomi Shabbos 122)

“To resolve the difficulty, emend the text.”

Today’s Daf Yomi extends the discussion on the role a non-Jew plays in allowing an observant Jew to benefit fortuitously from his actions. Although there has been some ambiguity lately in the concept of intention, today it is what matters most. In today’s Daf, a Jew can take advantage of the actions performed by a non-Jew only if there was no actual intention to help him out. The prevailing principle is that the action performed by the non-Jew has to be for his benefit. And the instructions go even further today — the non-Jew who performs an action cannot know the Jewish person who indirectly benefits; this would prevent a friend from helping someone out and as a result, enabling the violation of a Shabbat prohibition.

One of the actions under discussion is the lighting of a lamp. We are told a lamp can provide light for 100 people. If a non-Jew lights a lamp on Shabbat, a Jew who happens upon it can avail himself of its light. The same principle of fortuitously benefiting from someone else’s actions – holds true for allowing an animal to drink some water that a non-Jew already drew from a well for his own livestock.  If a non-Jew constructs a ramp for disembarking a ship on Shabbat, a Jewish fellow passenger can use it to leave the vessel as long as it was not erected for his convenience. We are told that Rabbi Gamliel tested this theory out on one of his journeys with a group of cronies and declared it okay to walk on the ramp.

On the other hand, although it is alright for one’s animal to drink from water that one comes upon that has already been drawn, there are restrictions on drinking from water oneself that has been supplied by a non-Jew on Shabbat because “even without stating the intention”  the amount of water available is finite unlike the candle that burns for all who can benefit from it.

Attending to an animal’s needs includes a return to the earlier discussion on items that have been set aside. We are also reminded of the requirement to feed one’s animals before oneself. We are told that one may allow his animal to feed from grass in the field on Shabbat because it is in the ground and does not need to be pulled. But there is an additional prohibition: he must lead the animal to the edge of the field and wait for him to go ahead and graze the grass on his own; he cannot lead him there directly.

Today’s reading provides additional scenarios where Jews may take advantage of benefits that were established for others. This includes a bathhouse in a town that in primarily non-Jewish. The bathhouse is heated on Shabbat for non-Jewish spa goers, and Jews can take advantage of the already heated hot water directly after Shabbat ends.  We are told that even Shmuel is accepting of fortuitous benefit; he turned his face toward a light that was kindled by a non-Jew when he visited the house of Avin Toran.

Today’s Daf Yomi focusses on the relationship between Jews and non-Jews over 1,500 years ago when like today they lived side-by-side in many towns. We learned in Shabbos 116 about the house of Abidan where people gathered in a type of salon from all works of life to discuss matters or religion, philosophy, medicine, and science. Shmuel was a liberal for his time and as in today’s reading, he had contact with non-Jews. He visited the house of Abidan, and most likely engaged in discussion with learned scholars of all persuasions. He set the example of one who gathered facts widely in order to further one’s knowledge. So many people today seek out sources of information that validate what they already know, rather than reading and thinking broadly. This has led to extreme divisiveness in the United States which has impacted the country’s response to the pandemic. Somehow, the response has become a political rather than public health matter.

I like to think of Shmuel, who was a man of science, as the Anthony Fauci of his day. His method for treating Rav’s digestive issues probably would not stand up to modern protocols, but he would have been working against a lot of misinformation and opportunist charlatans of his day. He would have gathered information from various medical sources and told us to simply do what is right and follow the science.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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