“An individual who performs a transgression is liable, two people who perform a transgression are exempt.”
Today’s Daf Yomi if difficult. The discussion continues on what can be carried in the public domain, with a twist today on liability if two people are involved. We are presented with different scenarios, and contradictory opinions of what allows an action to be exempt. Hidden within the text, which is dry as dust, is a message about working in teams and sharing one another’s burden. Our resident Zav also returns to test a new set of situations that could lead to impurity.
We are told that if two people carry a round cake of figs into the public domain on Shabbat that is too heavy for one person to carry on his own, they are both liable. However, if in fact the wheel of fig cake could be carried by one person alone, but two people engage in the act, they are both exempt. The principle is established that if “an individual who performs a transgression is liable, two people who perform a transgression are exempt.”
In an odd argument we are also told that if two people perform a part of a transgression, where each may lift an object from one domain to another – perhaps in a tag team approach – they are both exempt from a sin-offering. The text says, “since two of them violated this prohibition together, they are both exempt.” Of course, just when I thought I had it figured out, the text takes us in another direction and tells us that if an act is performed by two people, and one is capable and one is not, then the person who is capable of performing the act alone is liable because “his efforts are inadequate to perform the task.”
We are also told that a person who commits a transgression on the advice of the court or perhaps a lawyer, is exempt from a sin-offering because the circumstances were beyond his control. And to be honest, an individual would have needed legal advice, or at least Rabbinical advice, to keep all this straight on what is allowed and not allowed to be carried on Shabbat in the public domain. Of course, there is always a dissenting opinion and Rabbi Shimon claims that regardless of the court’s decision, an individual guilty of a transgression is just plain guilty and should be fined a sin-offering. His action is not intentional, but he still transgressed (and perhaps he needs better counsel.)
Our resident Zav Zachary has decided to take another gig with the Rabbis to test different scenarios that can result in impurity. The Rabbis ask him to lie across a vessel (perhaps a large planter) to determine if it becomes impure. And the determination is made that it does. They then ask our Zav to sit on a bed and they place some garments beneath it. They determine the garments become impure. They note the experience and evidence that they reached their determination because a bed cannot rest on three legs and as result, must place its full weight on the garments. Rav Zevid asks the Rabbis to note his disagreement with their determination because he believes the garments maintain their purity.
Next up for our Zav is a ride upon an animal – perhaps a large dog, perhaps a Doberman Pincher. The rabbis decide a garment placed beneath our canine subject remains pure because he does not necessarily need to put his full weight upon it and can stand on three legs. Our Zav is asked to engage in other activities, such as laying across benches, until he tells the Rabbis once again that he has had enough of their experiments.
There is a message embedded in today’s meandering text. I do not think it’s that if two people commit a crime together, they are not liable for their transgression. But one could potentially read the text that way. Instead, I like to think there is a more positive message that progress can be made when we act together. One man alone may not be able to move a broken-down car from the middle of a highway, or impact social change. But two men pushing together can move that dilapidated car to the curb so that the traffic stalled behind it can move forward.
I learned a lesson in working as a team a few years ago when I volunteered at a food bank. It was an instructive experience to work on a food-packing assembly line. I was at the front of the line and prepared the bags that would then travel to the next person and the next who would fill them with food. If I stopped for even a moment to catch my breath or to daydream about something in the way that I often do, everyone on the line behind me would be standing idly-by waiting. It was a constant motion of opening a bag, pushing it down, opening a bag, pushing it down. The day I spent there, which left me exhausted, was a lesson in understanding the rhythm and flow of working as a team.