“Whichever way you look at it, there is a difficulty.”
The discussion on carrying in a courtyard on Shabbat continues and continues and continues in today’s Daf Yomi reading. I have not looked ahead – mostly because I am terrified to do so – but wonder if there are days or months more ahead of discussions on courtyards and alleyways and signposts and crossbeams. The discussion of an elderly Rabbi who was once a renowned expert on the topic but has suffered from memory loss is the portion of the reading that most resonated with me today.
The great Rabbi HaNasi establishes the principle in today’s reading that it is permitted to carry in a courtyard on Shabbat if there are two upright boards on either side of a breach. If the courtyard opens in the public domain and the breach does not exceed ten cubits and there are upright boards on either side of the opening, it is permitted to carry ordinary items on Shabbat. I wonder if Rabbis made their reputation on such determinations. I imagine a group of Rabbi HaNasi’s followers standing before a breach placing boards this way and that way in order to determine the most optimal strategy for creating a safe place for carrying on Shabbat.
Rav Yosef questions the Rabbinic discussion on the status of side posts that are visible from outside. We are told that he had become ill and “forgotten his learning.” In fact, he questions an instruction that he had taught at one time. His student Abaye, who is one of the kindest scholars in the Talmud and appeared in yesterday’s text as a great conciliator, reminded Rav Yosef that he had once taught what he appears to have forgotten. It is a quiet moment in a dense text that takes me back to an earlier reading in Berakhot 8 where we were reminded to respect our elders who may have lost some of their intellectual capacity.
The passage in Berakhot 8 compares the broken pieces of the tablet that Moses smashed when he descended from Mt. Sinai and discovered his people worshiping the golden calf. The broken pieces were placed in the Holy Arc along with the intact tablets. Berakhot 8 compares these tablets with the elderly and includes one of the most moving passages in my Talmud readings so far in its reminder to respect those who may have declined intellectually: “An elder who forgot the Torah knowledge he once possessed is likened to these broken tablets.”
I lost a parent to the disease that Rav Yosef appears to have suffered from a few years ago. It was heartbreaking to witness the decline of my father from Alzheimer’s Disease who for the last few years of his life was here, but not here. He was a very wise soul like Rav Yosef and a mediator like Abaye, who retreated within himself in the end. But you could look into his hazel eyes and find a glimmer of the calm wisdom that defined him. Like the Rabbis who spent so much of their lives determining the best position of a beam in order to allow carrying on Shabbat, to look into my father’s eyes was to find a safe place.