Climbing out of the pit (Daf Yomi Eruvin 34)

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“This pit, where is it situated?”

Today’s continued arcane and almost inscrutable discussion of eruvs takes us on the path of a deep, dark pit. It is difficult to read about these pits on the nineteenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, which left a pit of another kind in downtown Manhattan. It was a pit in the earth of such unfathomable size that there are almost no words that can express how catastrophic the event was at the time, and still is for all of us who lived through it.

In today’s reading we are told that one can create an eruv in a pit, regardless of its size. We are told that it is a private domain and a private domain, like the destroyed World Trade Center towers, “ascends to the sky.” It matters where one stands in determining if the eruv is viable. If he stands outside the pit he is in the public domain and the pit is in the private one, and accordingly the eruv is not valid. But if he climbs down into the pit and enters the dark earth, then the eruv is permitted because there is no traversing of domains.

We are told a story about Rav Nahman who did not allow the overtaking of his study hall by solders to interrupt his student’s studies. An army arrived at the Rav’s study hall and took over the quarters. The students were pushed out of their room. The Rav moved his classroom outside and told his students to create seats through the compressing of reeds in the marshes. His colleague Rami bar Haman warned that this is only allowable if the reed has been pulled away from the ground. The Rav clarifies that he is referring to a soft reed that is easily bendable. Like the resolution on September 11th, 2001 that the city would rebuild, Rav Nahman, in this small manner, found a path to continued learning regardless of whatever obstacles were placed in his way by the army.

We are told that if one puts an eruv in a cupboard and locks it, and the key is lost, the eruv is valid even if it cannot be accessed. A distinction is made between a key lost in a city or one in the country where it might have been tossed in a field. The eruv continues to be valid if the key was lost within the walls of the city, for there is an assumption that it has established an eruv through the joining of courtyards. This is not the case if it has been lost in a field.

I have thought of my life since September 11, 2001 as before and after the event. I stood at the foot of the towers after I was evacuated from the building where I worked that was directly adjacent and connected through an underground tunnel, like conjoined courtyards. I stood at the foot of the towers and watched what I thought were birds at the time falling from the windows while ash and glass fell to my feet. My memory is of the events unfolding in total silence, because I remember what I saw (it wasn’t birds falling from the sides of the building), but not what I heard. It is strange that my sense of sound was so muffled as I stood in shock for a good thirty minutes before I found the wherewithal to start walking home and get away from the sight. My lesson learned is to push past the shock if I ever find myself in such a situation again and get away from the scene. I was in such shock that I just stood there for too long and it was only when I overheard someone say “what would happen if the towers fell” that I started moving. I was about ten blocks away when the first tower fell.

What was lost on that day was a sense of safety and security. My entire company was in shock and we lost several people who were standing on the ground that day and were killed by falling debris. The company arranged for counseling sessions with a woman who had worked with Israeli victims of terrorism. Israel had experienced a series of terrorist events against soft targets at the time, like restaurants and cafes, and all of a sudden, I understood what it meant to not feel safe on my home turf. I asked the counselor how Israelis live with the constant threat of terrorism and she said, “Israelis are different from Americans. They are more cynical.”

I believe Americans, or at least those who were directly exposed to the events of September 11th lost their innocence on that day and indeed became more cynical. Downtown Manhattan was cordoned off and I lived at the northern edge of the section that was closed to everyone except residents. I woke up on September 12th without a workplace to return to and with fear of what would be an explosion of terrorism on the streets on New York. There was a line of National Guard outside my window with machine guns. I had never seen such military force before on my street and in my neighborhood.

Despite what I lived through on that day, and through the darkness created in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and now, the destruction that COVID-19 has brought to this city’s economy, I remain steadfast in my loyalty to this city. It is like there is an eternal key to the city embedded in my heart, like the one we read about in today’s Daf Yomi. I may be one of the last people standing, but despite all the conjecture if living in such a dense city is viable during a pandemic, New York City is my home and I am here to stay.

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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