“He is liable because his intention was realized.”
I struggle with the odd arrangement of the daily Daf Yomi text. Sometimes there is no order to where the chapters begin and end. There is a literary convention where a sentence may be carried from the end of one chapter to the beginning of another, as a form of moving the narrative forward and keeping the reader engaged. But the Talmud does not have any real narrative form or shape, and a sentence may be carried over from one day’s reading to the next, and then the discussion is abruptly dropped. In some cases, chapters divide one section from another with dangling sentences. Today we start abruptly a new chapter and the theme moves from the protracted discussion of carrying to a discussion of labor.
The first half of today’s reading continues the discussion on carrying. For a brief moment I thought I had throwing from one domain to another on Shabbat all figured out. All one needs is a dog who is well-trained, and you could go crazy with throwing all sorts of objects. We are told in today’s Daf Yomi that if one throws an object four cubits within the public domain and it is caught by a dog, he is exempt. Just like all the people who have adopted dogs while locked up from the coronavirus, I thought for a moment that one might adopt a dog to carry around objects from domain to domain on Shabbat. And of course, the dog is an vital companion during any time, but especially during a pandemic when so many of us are isolated.
But it is not so simple, despite the Rabbis who always remind us that “it is not difficult.” Once again, we are told that intention matters. In the case of a dog catching an object, one is only exempt if the dog comes and snatches the object away. But one is liable if he throws an object to a dog intentionally – perhaps a bone that he can gnaw on. We are told that “He is liable because his intention was realized.”
And then all of a sudden in the middle of the Daf, we enter a new chapter and a discussion on building. We are told that all building, no matter how small, is prohibited on Shabbat. This includes “one who chisels, or strikes with a hammer or with an adze, or one who drills a hole of any size.” An example is offered of a poor person who digs a hole in the floor of his house in order to safeguard the few coins he has. We are offered an odd juxtaposition for this: the hiding of coins is compared with needles that were used to sew the blue curtains in the Tabernacle that were stored away in holes. Abaye disputes this because such needles would rust and offers an alternate comparison of small-scale building: the construction of legs for a small stove. This is compared to a small measure of herbs that were cooked in the Tabernacle in order to create a dye for the curtains.
I live across from a building that is under renovation. In mid-March I watched the construction workers board up the windows and abandon the building. While they were gone, one of the plywood boards became undone and when there was any sort of wind it would flap back and forth. For months, I watched it snapping in the wind in some sort of Greek chorus that was commenting on life in lock-up. It mimicked the pacing of all of us confined people in our small apartments. And then this past Monday, three full months after the construction workers left, they came back. They are part of the rear window world I live in which offers limited variation of scenery from my twelfth-floor apartment. Once again, I watch them chiseling and striking with a hammer and drilling and sometimes there is a flash that shoots flames up into the city sky. Life is starting to return to the city, one hammer strike at a time.