“One may bring a barrel of wine on Shabbat and cut off its top with a sword.”
We have literally, not figuratively, reached the bottom of the barrel with today’s Daf Yomi portion. We are presented with various scenarios of perforating holes in order to reach food or wine on Shabbat that are stored in barrels. The really not very exciting passage today (there are no sleeping or spitting Rabbis!) presents a view into how every last bit of food or wine was to be valued and extracted from its container. Many actions that might be prohibited otherwise, are permitted if the intention is to feed oneself or entertain visiting guests. And among all this barrel puncturing is a lesson in the end on humility.
The voice of the Mishna tells us that a person may break a barrel in order to extract figs or poke an opening to extract wine as long as the intention is not to create a vessel. If one aims to perforate a hole, and discovers it is too small to extract the red goodness within, he is best to remove the plug entirely and get what he needs. This act is permitted, and even more so if the intention is to entertain guests on Shabbat.
If one plans ahead and anticipates wanting to eat figs on Shabbat, but for some reason, does not remove them from their barrel, he can squash them together into a messy ring. It is then permissible to use a utensil to break the mess apart and to use the same utensil to break open the barrel. However, if the figs are separated he is out of luck and will need to wait until sundown to consume them because it is prohibited from using an utensil to open the barrel without the action of separating them (unless he comes up with another solution, such as removing the opening of the barrel to get to them.)
And all of those who store swords in their home and are wine purveyors are in luck on Shabbat. It is permissible to go down to your wine cellar and slice off the top of the barrel in order to extract wine for dinner guests. At least that is what Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said. Conservative and unyielding Rabbi Nehemya countered that no one is allowed to use any utensil for any purpose on Shabbat.
Rav and Shmuel enter the fray today with a discussion on if it is allowable to wrap oneself in a felt blanket on Shabbat in the public domain. They both agree that a soft felt is permitted and hard felt is prohibited but have differing opinions on a moderate grade of the fabric. Rav says no, while Shmuel does not see an issue with the practice. Rav argues that wearing the felt would be the equivalent of carrying a burden, while Shmuel does not share his perspective.
Rav is a great Rabbi. He was so well-known that everyone knew him as simply “Rav” and he was the rare perspn who carried a single moniker. One day he was chatting with a group of students when he suddenly felt claustrophobic in the small classroom and went outside into the courtyard to get some fresh air. His students hurried outside after him with a bundle of felt clothes that they offered as a makeshift cushion to sit on. We are told that he refused to sit on the felt garments out of deference to Rav Kahana and Rav Asi, who were also in the courtyard. They were Rav’s colleague and disciple.
Rav was a great sage and yet, humble enough to refuse to accept a small comfort that was not offered his colleagues. He exemplified humility in this story in a Daf Yomi reading that is replete with descriptions of opening a barrel in every way imaginable. I envision a small gesture by the great Rabbi, a wave of his hand or simple nod of his head, that communicated to his students that no one was more entitled than anyone else to special accommodations in this life. Sometimes there can be very great lessons in small gestures.