“Why did he turn his face away?”
After writing about the dissenting friendship between Rav and Shmuel and how it serves as a model for people who can come together despite their differences, the relationship between these two takes on a bit of an edge in today’s Daf Yomi. The friendship still serves as an emblem of what is best in humanity and represents all the values in the Talmud that we have been reading about, but still, there is a drop of disdain in the simple turn of the head.
We are faced with a dilemma that is debated between Rav and Shmuel: what should one do if a wall that divides two courtyards collapses on Shabbat and a joint eruv has not been established? Rav says that one may only carry in the joint courtyard a distance of four cubits. He rejects the principle that allows carrying until the end of Shabbat if it was permitted at the beginning.
Rav’s teachings are repeated by his students through the telling of an actual event. He once visited Shmuel in his courtyard on Shabbat when a wall that divided the property from another fell. I can imagine the scene; the two scholars are sitting under the shade of an acacia trees in the courtyard lost in a debate on most likely the intricacies of an eruv and there is a boom. A wall has collapsed to the ground.
Shmuel seems to be of the type of person who does not panic but simply gets on with things and finds a solution. He asked one of his students who was absorbed in the discussion between the two sages to take a cloak and suspend it over the remnant of the fallen wall that had divided two courtyards and served as a partition. And very quietly, Rav turned his head away and said nothing. But the look on his face if you were able to catch a glimpse was probably one of judgement over what he perceived as a great transgression; carrying a cloak on Shabbat would be prohibited.
Shmuel is very observant of human nature and the moment was not lost on him. He made a bit of a joke which was not well received by Rav and asked if he would like to “take his belt and tie it to the cloak to secure the partition.” At this point, Rav was most likely flush with annoyance with his friend and remained quiet with his head turned in silence.
Shmuel was an ingenious person who was able to find solutions to life’s challenges. He lacked a cell phone and immediate access to builders on Shabbat who could reconstruct the wall (which would have been prohibited anyway) so that it would serve once again as a partition. But he erected a makeshift partition of sorts with a cloak. The Gemara questioned his motives and conjectured that he was really just trying to create a shield pf privacy from the neighboring courtyard. Perhaps there was concern that the people who resided on the other side of the collapsed wall would have been as judgmental as Rav.
We are told that Rav disagreed with Shmuel, but instead of voicing his disapproval he turned his head and kept silent because he was at Shmuel’s place. It would have been a great affront to his friend if he challenged him on his home turf. At the same time, he was concerned that if he did not somehow show his displeasure, people would have believed that he agreed with Shmuel’s position, which he found to be an anathema to his beliefs. He turned his head, quietly, but decisively.
We have all been there. We have visited friends or relatives who have views very different from our own. Sometimes, we are visiting out of familial obligation or loyalty to friends who we have known all our lives. But their views and perhaps their values are difficult to accept and we somehow feel trapped in their homes. We keep quiet out of respect for our host and maybe for the sake of a peaceful meal, or for our children, but inside we are bursting with resentment. We may not turn our heads, but we turn inside ourselves.
It is a conflict. How do you preserve decent relations with someone who thinks the pandemic that we are all living through is fake news and simply being exploited by the media and the almost 250,000 who lost their lives in the US died from seasonal flu? Do you turn your head silently and keep your mouth shut or do you state your perspective and hope to win someone over who is steadfast in their beliefs?
There is no easy answer to how we can live together among so much discord and divisiveness. But today, I do not think Rav has proven to be the ideal role model in his silence. When walls are falling around us and the facts are the facts, it is not always appropriate to turn our heads away. We need to find a way to speak up and challenge even those we love. And we can do it with love.