“The doubt here does not result from the facts of the case themselves, but from conflicting testimonies and an inability to decide between them.”
Today’s Daf Yomi takes us on a treasure hunt for a lost key. It is an outing we can join while keeping proper social distance. Wear your mask throughout the exercise and wash your hands along the way. We have provided access to hand sanitizer stations in order to keep you safe.
We start our treasure hunt in a garden with a cupboard and are given some time to examine it thoroughly. The cupboard is a weathered particle-board cabinet that is bolted with a sturdy lock. Inside the cupboard is a loaf of bread that was placed there in order to create an eruv, which will allow one to extend carrying boundaries on Shabbat. We are told that the key is lost, and the mission of this hunt is to gain access to the bread inside. We can do that by finding the key within the city limits or through an alternative strategy. If we violate the eruv rules we will be disqualified. We need to open the cabinet and gain access to its contents without compromising the integrity of the valid eruv. We are also told that the eruv will be found to be invalid if we stray outside the city limits and that we must return back to the starting point by twilight. And we are now on our way.
We decide that the best option is to find the lost key. We head outside and cross through courtyards that have been cojoined in order to create an eruv that allows us to carry objects on Shabbat through them. But today’s mission is connected with the other kind of eruv that allows for extended boundaries. If we turn left, we will be heading toward a field, which is not the right direction. If we enter the field, the eruv becomes impermissible and we will be disqualified. We stay the course and cross the courtyards and walk up a stairway to a city rooftop. We are presented with a sweeping view of the city and for a moment, forget why we are there. It is to find the first clue, which is a utensil left on the roof. We pick up the utensil and carry it down to a courtyard. We have made progress, but still no key.
The thought crosses our mind that maybe the indeterminable utensil, which looks like it has a sharp edge, might be able to open the cupboard and access the eruv. We encounter Rabba and Rav Yosef who say that the cupboard itself is a utensil and there is no prohibition against dismantling a utensil on Shabbat. We think we are on to something, when Rabbi Eliezer appears and says that we will be disqualified if we attempt to dismantle the cupboard because it is a tent rather than a utensil and dismantling it would violate the prohibition against building on Shabbat.
We are now at a crossroads in our treasure hunt and since Rabbi Eliezer seems like he knows what he is talking about, and we don’t want to be disqualified by dismantling the cupboard and violating the eruv, we decide to press on with our journey through the city. Abaye appears and further confuses us with talk of a zav and impurity, which we are told holds a clue to finding the elusive key. He says that it really doesn’t matter if the object that we found on the rooftop is classified as a tent or a utensil. What matters is if it moves when it is shaken. And oh dear, this treasure hunt is becoming harder than we imagined and at this point, we are not closer to finding the key and are wondering if we should just give up and go home. The day is dragging on and we are becoming weary.
Rava reappears and hands us a knife as the next clue. He asks us to remember the lock itself and how it was constructed. We forgot to take a photo of it with our phone, but think it had a leather strap. If that is the case, maybe we should return to our starting point in the kitchen and simply cut off the strap. We wonder if we chose the wrong strategy and should concentrate on opening the cabinet rather than locating the key.
A strange unnamed man appears and seems to confirm this strategy by telling us that it is entirely permissible to use a knife to open the cabinet and remove the eruv. He warns us not to consider something larger, like a saw or blade or plow, because we will be disqualified. We are almost headed back to our starting point when Rabbi Eliezer reappears and offers another clue: a knife can only be used for the purpose of its ordinary use, which is to cut food. So, we are left to ponder if using it to cut open a lock, which is not an ordinary use, will disqualify us.
Suddenly a man appears who is prodding a donkey to move forward from behind and pulling a camel from the front. He is struggling with performing both tasks at the same time but is somehow managing to do so. He stops and tells us that the final clue is that he is a man “who is pulled in two opposite directions.” And he holds out his hand and hands us the key. In our search for the key we have come close to the border of the city but have not strayed outside its boundaries. We have felt pulled in opposite directions all day by the contradictory clues, but we now have the elusive key in our hands. We are certain it is the key that will open the cupboard. We need to hurry back to our starting point before nightfall. The sky is already starting to darken.
We make it back in time and open the cupboard with the key we were handed. And there it is. The eruv. A small unobtrusive loaf of bread that has taken us on this day-long journey. It is a journey we have been on since early January to find some meaning in each day’s Daf Yomi text and some days the route is more circuitous than others. And on most days, we are presented with conflicting opinions like the man who was pulled in opposite directions. I cannot say that I am even close to finding the key to the meaning of the Talmud even though I diligently read and analyze the text each day. In order to keep up I am reading too fast with the pressing knowledge that there is another day’s text to get through. And the treasure hunt continues.