Daf Yomi Shabbos 70: Under the Sheltering Sky

New York City Skyline, May 2020

“Six days you shall perform work, and on the seventh day it shall be holy to you, a Shabbat of rest to God.” 

Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion of intention with a parsing of what it means to unintentionally violate the prohibition of performing labor on Shabbat. The Rabbis discuss the difference between one who is unaware that the day is Shabbat and performs forbidden labor and one who is aware of the day but not that the labor he has performed is prohibited. The difference is reflected in the sin-offering (a form of religious ticketing?) that he is obligated to bring.

If one does not know it is Shabbat, his absence of awareness is confined to the one matter of forgetting the day and he is fined one sin-offering. If he knows it is indeed Shabbat but carries on with prohibited labor, he has transgressed multiple times and is required to offer multiple sin-offerings “in accordance with the number of matters of which he was unaware.”

Yesterday’s reading presented us with the story of a tired traveler who journeys through the desert and loses track of the day. Port and Kit Moresby’s journey through the Sahara Desert in Paul Bowles “The Sheltering Sky” comes to mind as they lose themselves in the hypnotic landscape. It is possible to become so exhausted by one’s journey that one can become delirious and forget the day of the week. Port eventually dies of typhoid and Kit must navigate the desert on her own. Port and Kit, two New Yorkers who considered themselves travelers rather than tourists, lost their concept of time and place when they shelter in an outpost of the French Legion and Kit desperately tries to nurse Port back to health. When he dies, she is left vulnerable in a strangle land.

When I visited Morocco a few years ago, I invoked Bowles’ portrayal of North Africa. I like to think I am more of a traveler than a tourist, but I know that spending a week here and a week there brings me no closer to the land I am visiting than the tourists who think Times Square represents New York. And lately, none of us are going anyway.

I have lived in New York through the crack epidemic when I would trip over strung out junkies on the streets of the East Village, the AIDs crisis when friends would waste away from a mysterious illness, September 11th when I worked at the World Trade Center, Hurricane Sandy when the city was thrust into the dark and now the pandemic lock-down.  I am sheltering in place in the city, rather than under the open sky. I know people who are sick, or have died, or have had close family members die. And when one is locked inside every day feels like the same. It is possible, like the desert travelers, to forget what day it is.

I have included a photo of the New York City sky that I took from my apartment last week. The clouds in the sky that evening were unlike anything I have ever observed in New York City.


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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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