On retrieving a sacred scroll (Daf Yomi Eruvin 98)

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“Something in the air is not considered to be at rest.”

Today’s Daf Yomi reading is for all the klutzes among us who spend our lives trying to clean up messes resulting from dropping and spilling things. I sympathize with the poor guy who appears in today’s portion who after being cooped up for so long decided to head to the roof of his apartment building with a sacred scroll. He was sitting in the sun reading the text, absorbed in deciphering the words, and then all of a sudden, he dropped the book. This is certainly an “oh, what have I done” moment.

Did I mention that it was Shabbat when our hapless scholar dropped the scroll? Let’s call our scholar Shlomo (because I like the name). He watched it fall before him on the roof, which is considered a private domain. We are told that if the tip of the scroll falls less than ten handbreadths from Shlomo’s feet it remains in its current domain and our scholar is able to roll it back. However, if it falls further than ten handbreadths, it has entered another domain and may not be rescued in this way. An alternative approach is suggested: Shlomo can turn the text over so that the writing is facing downwards and wait until the conclusion of Shabbat to retrieve it.

Rabbis Yehuda and Shimon agree that as long as the scroll falls within the allowable distance, the rolling rescue is allowed; this holds true if the prohibitions that are being violated are Rabbinic rather than Torah law, in order to “enhance the character of Shabbat,” and such laws should not stand “as an impediment before the rescues of scared writings.” The two Rabbbis appear to want to outdo themselves in terms of their lenient rulings: “Rabbi Yehuda says: Even if the scroll is removed only a needle breadth from the ground, he rolls it back to himself; and Rabbi Shimon says: Even if the scroll is on the ground itself, he rolls it back to himself.” And let’s be clear – rolling is not carrying or throwing which are not allowed.

It is a different matter if the scroll dropped by Shlomo fell all the way to a sidewalk below. Regardless of the distance or the crossing between domains, Rabba said that it would be disgraceful to leave the scroll on the sidewalk where it could be trampled on by passers-by, and it must be rescued, even if it resulted in the violation of Rabbinic law. Abaye is taking a less lenient approach and says that if it fell beyond four cubits then it must remain where it is and turned so that the text faces the ground. We are told that although this is not an ideal situation, it is preferable to leaving the text exposed.

There is some complication on whether the sidewalk is considered an intermediate or public domain, but Shlomo may need to leave the scroll where it is for the duration of Shabbat and sit next to it on the sidewalk until he can freely move it. I imagine him crouched on the ground with his hand over the scroll protecting it from people who hurry by; they may glance his way for a moment and wonder why he is there, but then they quickly resume their journey to wherever they are going. And we are reminded that if Shlomo is so bereft with worry that he simply picked up the scroll and carried it away, he would be “violating a severe prohibition.” He would be equally liable if he threw the scroll from one domain to another. So, he may be stuck on the sidewalk until nightfall. I hope he has warm clothing because the days are getting colder.

I have had many Shlomo moments and feel like I am prone to more of them lately. Things drop from my hands at times as if they are animate objects that are trying to escape the confines of my palms. One moment I am on my way to complete a task with a glass or jar or bottle in my hand, and then my mind strays to some problem or issue and smash – there is glass everywhere and if I move too quickly, I cut my feet on the shards and have a bigger mess.

Lately, I have been preoccupied with thinking about how the millions of vaccines that the world needs to fend off the coronavirus will be distributed. This has resulted in my breaking of more than one glass. It is a major supply chain challenge to manufacture, track, and distribute enough dosages for the entire world. The vaccine that is currently showing the most promise will require two doses to be effective and must be stored in sub-zero temperatures. It has been a remarkable feat of science to be so close to having vaccines ready in such a short time and will take just as great a feat of logistics to disseminate them.

I am confident we can do it and get the vaccine out to the greater population. I am optimistic that one year from now we will all be saying “wow, we did it.” And we would have gotten there through the grit of dedicated scientists who have been working day and night since last January to develop a vaccine and logistical engineers who have developed a system that will track every dosage. They tread among the angels with their hard work and dedication. If they break a few glasses or drop a few books in the interim, it is not big deal. They are solving one of the most confounding problems of our time.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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