Daf Yomi Shabbos 90: On living in small measures

“Any amount is significant.”

After a couple days of grand drama, including Moses’ descent from Mt. Sinai and his smashing of the tablets when he witnessed his people exuberantly dancing around a golden calf, we return to a discussion of small measures. We travel from the grandiose vision of a mountain engulfing the Jewish people like a bathtub and Satan himself running around the world looking to take possession of the Torah, to a discussion of small measures.

We were previously provided with guidance on measurements for objects that are prohibited from being carried in the public domain on Shabbat. This included items as diverse as tax receipts, amulets and blue eye shadow. Today we are provided with a list of items that are prohibited regardless of their size or measurement.

We are told that the following items are prohibited from being carried in the public domain on Shabbat in any amount no matter how small: pepper, tar, perfume, metals, sacred scrolls that have become tattered from insect infestation, and accessories of idolatry as it is stated: “And there shall cleave nothing of the proscribed items to your hand since even the smallest amount is prohibited and must be burned, any amount is significant.”  This belies what we learned in Shabbos 83 which stipulated the size of prohibited idolatry.

Living locusts are prohibited from being carried out in the public domain on Shabbat in any amount. We can’t walk around with chirping locusts in our pockets on Shabbat, even if they are kosher. We are told in fact that the measure for carrying a locust dead or alive, kosher or not, is “any amount.” We are told that they can be used for medicinal purposes (which we learned in a previous Daf Yomis was permissible), or as a talisman to ward against evil. We are also presented with a quiet moment of a child playing with a locust and unraveling the mystery of even the smallest life as a reason for the prohibition.

Life these days feels like it is being lived in small measures. New York City remains in lock-down and now has 8pm curfews, which feels like one of the last places on earth that is still shuttered. The highlight of my day is one trip outside my apartment to a nearby Starbucks to pick up what feels like a dangerous latte (what if this is how I am exposed to the coronavirus?)

I miss living life in large measures but can’t imagine how I will ever return to feeling comfortable in the world again. One of the reasons I live in New York City is to have access to the Metropolitan Opera. I can’t imagine attending a performance right now with its intimate seating and crowds filing in and out of the winding staircase at Lincoln Center.

I have seen Anthony Minghella’s production of Madama Butterfly at the Met over a dozen times and each time I try to contain myself, but the tears always come in the final act when Butterfly kills herself. The emotion is heightened by the gorgeous starkness of Minghella’s production. After Madama Butterfly is abandoned by the opportunistic Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, her life becomes smaller and smaller as she spends days admiring her modest treasures in a safekeeping box and waiting for his return. And finally, Pinkerton returns only to claim the child she had with him. Butterfly’s life does not matter to Pinkerton who used her as a “pretend wife” when he was in town. I cry because Butterfly’s life did matter and now she is dead.

These days, it is possible to stream opera at the Met’s website. The Met has posted that it expects to resume live performances in December 2020. I am not sure I will be ready then, but I look forward to the day when I can sit before the large stage at the Met and live life large again. And next time, instead of running out at the end of the last act in order to avoid the departing crowds, I will stay in my seat for a few extra minutes and appreciate my life and the beauty surrounding me more than I ever have before.


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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