“A dog that is not in its place will not bark for seven years.”
I grew up in a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey, which my father would say was the perfect location because it was halfway between New York and Philadelphia. I always argued that I didn’t want to live in a small city sandwiched between two big ones, because it felt like being nowhere. And although my family was more focused on Philadelphia than New York for outings and city services, I dreamed from a young age of living in the Big Apple one day.
Today the Daf Yomi reading considers the relationship of small cities to large ones. We are told that a resident of a large city may walk through the entirety of a smaller one on Shabbat, but it is not necessarily the case the other way around. This is because the measure of two thousand cubits from a small city would not be enough to traverse the full length of the big city, while the residents of the later have many more cubits of allowable space allocated to them. There is a work-around for the resident of the smaller city. If he places his eruv in the large city, he is allowed to expand his moveable space (and perhaps his perspective.)
We are introduced to two towns today that appear to be at war with each other. We are told the town of Geder is situated at the top of a slope, while the town of Hamtan is at the bottom. The privileged who live at the top of the skyline with fabulous views are able to travel down, but their gated communities are closed to the people who live in the valley. The residents of Geder may have lived up in the rarified air, but they were not content enough to live and let be. We are told that they were quite aggressive and would assault the residents of Hamten. For this reason Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi attempted to shield the residents of Hamtan by issuing a decree in order to “protect the public welfare and prevent fighting.”
The logical Gemara asks what use such a decree would be to forbid the people of Hamtan from climbing up to the town of Geder, when in essence they are sitting ducks for when the Geder residents descend. The Gemara answers itself, as it often does, by stating that when the town folk of Geder descend they are no longer on their home turf and not nearly as brave. This is compared to a barking dark that is fearless at home and warns intruders away with its bark, but when it is in a new place it becomes timid and “remains silent.” Anyone who has had a dog can understand how brazen one’s pet can be at home, but how it shakes from fear when at the veterinarian’s office for an annual check-up.
New York City was once perceived as a city that had all the riches the people living high up on the hill of Geder enjoyed. And although New Yorkers are not violent by nature, they probably are seen as aggressive by those who live in gentler places, such as the suburbs that surround the city. When you live in New York for a long time, you learn to push your way through crowds and speak up for what you want and be weary of shysters who peddle worthless crap of one sort or another.
There was a time when I could travel anywhere in the world and when I said I was from New York garner instant respect. Even the French would become wide-eyed when I introduced myself and say how much they loved New York. It was a badge of honor that rescued me from being viewed as a naïve American. All I had to do was put on my New York accent just a little bit heavier than usual, and fuhgeddaboudit, there was an instant connection. But things have changed since the coronavirus swept through the city. Now I mostly get “I am so sorry you still live there.” Of course, I am not traveling anywhere.
For some reason, I am asked if the city and my neighborhood of Chelsea are safe. I am asked this so often that I wonder what people outside the city think it is like living here. I don’t have a backyard garden or home office or a quiet neighborhood to walk in where the leaves are starting to gently fall and gather on lawns in soft piles, but I still have the city, without the crowds, and that is something.