Counting the days (Daf Yomi Eruvin 58)

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Not less and not more.”

After days and days of discussing what should be measured, today’s Daf Yomi discusses the how. We are told first and foremost, that one must only trust the measurement of Shabbat limits to an expert surveyor. One must accept his strategy for measuring, even if he manipulates the order of things by extending limits in one place and reducing them in another. These Rabbinic surveyors were laying claim to spiritual space for the purpose of establishing Shabbat limits, while utilizing methods similar to those that were used to delineate jurisdictional boundaries.

We are told that the proper surveyance tool for measuring Shabbat limits is a rope fifty cubits long and “not less and not more.” This is because a short rope will be stretched in order to accommodate the required distance to be measured, while a longer rope will sag. The Rabbis discuss what the ideal measuring rope should be made of, with a suggestion that a nargila plant should be used, which is a “palm tree with one fibrous vine.”

We are provided with instructions for measuring canyons, hills and mountains. If one cannot span a surface because it has become too wide, he should follow his common sense and go to a narrower place. He should then look for a spot that aligns with where he left off and continue the measurement. The measurement which is completed using one’s eye is an approximation at best.

If one attempts to measure a canyon that curves around a city on more than one side, “he pierces and ascends, pierces and descends” until he is able to conclude his measurement “bit by bit.” If one needs to pierce a canyon or hill, two people are required to hold the two ends of the measuring rope. The text is specific enough to dictate how they should hold the rope, which is level with one’s heart.

The discussion of how one measures spiritual boundaries associated with Shabbat limits made me consider how I measure my days. For instance, how many days has my city been entirely shut down and then partially shut down since the worse of the pandemic? It has been approximately 200 days. How many more days will we live our lives under the dark cloud of this global pandemic? I estimate at least another 200 days, provided we have a vaccine by the end of the year, and a method for distributing it to everyone. And how many vaccines will be required globally? If the world population is currently 7.8 billion, I estimate that we would need to vaccinate about 5 billion people. Is that even possible?

How do we take measure of what our lives will be like from now on? Will we be changed forever? Will we ever be able to count the hours it takes to get from here to somewhere else in an airplane? (7 hours from New York to London, 12 hours from New York to Israel, 18 hours from New York to Thailand.) Will we be able to count subway stops on our way to work in the morning? (23rd Street, 34th Street, 42nd Street, 50th Street.)

I track the New York City COVID-19 positivity test rate daily and am watching it go slowly up city-wide. As of October 2nd, it was 1.7%, which is still low compared to most of the United States, but there are almost a dozen neighborhoods in the outer boroughs that are significantly higher. And how many days will it take for hot spots of disease to spill over to community spread? I fear we will return to what we experienced during the spring months when the virus was floating around the city, businesses were entirely shut down, Central Park became a temporary hospital, and the ambulances were piercing the air all day and all night with their cries of urgency.

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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