“This mishna is disjointed.”
For a brief moment I thought I had lost my way and was back at the beginning of the Shabbat tractate with the description of hands reaching back and forth between a poor person in the public domain and a homeowner. Today’s Daf Yomi is focused on unusual methods for carrying objects, including carrying such objects behind oneself and on one’s head and foot. I am tempted to try and see how these methods of carrying would work, but I am fairly clumsy and just took a major fall on my way to get coffee this week and that was without any burden on my head, or foot or shoulder. Perhaps the way to carry something behind oneself is with a little red wagon which you pull behind you with your day’s shopping and supplies. I had an eccentric friend at the University of Edinburgh who did just that – she pulled her schoolbooks and day’s necessities everywhere in a little wagon. If you can get over the silliness of it, a wagon is probably more practical than an overstuffed tote bag that presses heavy against one’s shoulder.
The secret to being able to carry something in the public domain on Shabbat is to do it in an unusual way – perhaps juggling an item above one’s head in a constant motion of rhythm and aerodynamics. We are told today that all the usual ways of carrying objects – whether in one’s right hand or left hand, in one’s lap or on his shoulders are prohibited. This is because these are typical methods for carrying out labor in the holy tabernacle and all labors are derived from the ornate tent in the desert. If one wants to saunter through the public domain on Shabbat then he will need to be creative and carry an object in a “backhanded manner” or “with his foot, or with his mouth, or with his elbow, with his ear, or his hair.” Additional options include one’s belt, cloak, or shoe.
This Daf Yomi truly is truly disjoined. We are told that if one carries something on his head in the public domain on Shabbat he is liable because the people of Hotzal typically used this method to transport objects. But surely, they are in the minority and carrying objects on one’s head cannot be an ordinary practice for most people. We are presented with a contradictory perspective: “typical” is determined by the majority of the people, and as a result since most people do not carry burdens on their heads, such an action is exempt.
Today’s focus on unusual carrying brought me back to a cold night last November when I saw the Philip Glass production of Akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera. The production is punctuated with a team of jugglers who manage to keep multiple balls in the air, while Akhnaten ascends to the throne and becomes singularly focused on introducing a new religion based on the sun god Aten and building a city on the Nile in tribute. He is focused on embedding his monotheistic religion in Egyptian society while his country suffers from a lack of public policy and governance. He neglects his sovereign duties – he has a nation to run — and is ultimately dethroned and killed. He is the poster child for poor leadership and disregards the needs of the people he has been appointed to serve. His ascent to the throne does not end well. But while he has figuratively dropped the ball, the jugglers carry on.