“Any case where you have the ability to be lenient (with regard to an eiruv), be lenient.”
Today’s Daf Yomi portion is about the drama of being late and the generosity of treating others with leniency. The readings for weeks have been about the intricacies of abiding by all the rules of establishing an eruv so that one can move about on Shabbat. But what if someone forgets the time and gets stranded somewhere after dark, or has not gotten all the rules exactly right? And let’s face it, it takes a Rabbinic Compliance Officer to understand all the nuances of establishing an eruv.
A tale is related in today’s Daf Yomi of the daughter-in-law of Rabbi Oshaya. She went out to the bathhouse before Shabbat, which was beyond the Shabbat boundary. She lost track of time which might have been easy to do in the days before clocks hung on walls measuring our lives with tick-tocks. It might have been a time like this week when the days are becoming shorter and darker and colder, and all of a sudden, this young woman looked up and the sky was shaded a twilight gray.
We are told that when her mother-in-law realized that she was not yet home and was overcome with panic that the young woman might be stranded on the outskirts of town overnight, she established an eruv that extended the allowable boundaries for travel so that her daughter could come home on Shabbat Eve.
There is some debate on whether the eruv was legitimate and the conservative Rabbi Hiyya, who sounds like a bit of a curmudgeon, ruled that it was not. He was criticized by Rabbi Yishmael who asked why he was being so strict. He said that his famous father Rabbi Yosei had ruled that “any case where you have the ability to be lenient with regard to an eruv, be lenient.”
The debate on whether the eruv was allowable is where we need the Rabbinic Compliance Officer to help us interpret the rules. It depends om whether the eruv was established with the older or younger woman’s food and if the daughter-in-law was aware that it had been created for her benefit. We are told that Rav had previously ruled that “possession of the food must be conferred upon those who wish to be included in a joining of Shabbat boundaries.” In other words, the eruv is only legitimate if all parties that benefit from it are aware that is has been established.
And what about the young daughter-in-law who lost track of time? When she looked up at the sky, did she frantically realize her mistake and hurriedly throw her clothes on and run home past all the neighbors who watched her rush by from doorsteps and windows? Did she rush through the door of her home and into her mother-in-law’s arms shaking from the terror of being left out in the dark overnight? Did she have a moment of feeling the pure terror of having nowhere to go?
Did Rabbi Hiyya show up at the home of Rabbi Oshaya demanding an explanation of the transgression? Or did he stand down after Rabbi Yishmael questioned his stringency? And for what purpose would one be so strict?
It’s a true generosity of spirit when one can say, “no harm has been done, and we can overlook this lapse.” And sometimes, we need to open our hearts to those who disappoint us with their small transgressions and allow them to run all the way home.