“Thought alone will be sufficient.”
Reading today’s Daf Yomi is like wandering through a dusty antique shop like the ones my family used to visit when I was growing up in Lambertville, New Jersey. We frequened the Golden Nugget flea market every Sunday morning. (And it is still there after surviving for fifty years,) There was an indoor pavilion with shops that sold all kinds of wares. The objects examined in today’s reading would fit right in. On display in today’s text is a broken-down oven with missing handles, a reed mat, a ceramic board, a pitcher, random stones that have a hidden purpose, a cloak, a shutter, a wine jug, a wooden barrel and a tin bucket. All of these items would presumably be put aside on Shabbat so that they can be ready for sale on Sunday.
In regard to the cloak, Rav is quoted as saying that it is prohibited to move its remnants on Shabbat if it has been torn apart. Abaye further explains that this is in reference to small rags that are not suited by a wealthy or poor man to be worn. In the case of shards that had fallen away from an old oven, Rabbi Meir says that they may be moved on Shabbat to a courtyard, while Rabbi Yehuda says the act is prohibited. The matter is not settled, and we are told that each Rabbi “follows his own line of reasoning.”
The discussion turns to the purity of the old oven that is on display in our imaginary antique shop. If an item is impure, then by extension it cannot be moved on Shabbat. We are told that if the oven is broken into pieces, it becomes impure. Rabbi Yehuda adds that an oven that is whole but is not operating can be considered broken, but pure. We are told that if this old stove is attached to the ground, it cannot become impure under the principle that anything attached to the ground is pure. If it is detached, such as the oven sitting in our antique shop, it is impure. There is a bit of a disagreement back and forth between Rabbi Yehuda and his chorus of Rabbis, and consideration of if the oven is impure upon its first or second lighting.
The Rabbis next examine the window shutter from our shop. Rabbi Eliezer says that when it is hanging from the window but not touching the ground, one can close it, but when it touches the ground, one may not. It is compared with a barrel which has a stone resting upon it; one can tip the barrel in order to remove the stone. However, Rabbi Yohanan clarifies that this is only allowable if one has forgotten that the stone is positioned upon the barrel; it is forbidden to perform the act if intention is involved. But even this is disputed by the Rabbis.
We return to the theme of intention. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi tells his students to go out and find some interesting stones and imagine that they are your resting place on Shabbat and “thought alone will be sufficient.” But the text tells us that in reality this did not happen, and the students had to actually arrange the stones in a formation in order to designate them as permissible seating on Shabbat. Rabbi Asi told them to rub the mortar off the stones in order to mark them for this purpose. The story is edited to include a stack of beams rather than stones, and a ship’s sounding pole.
Today’s reading is a celebration of objects. The fascination of antique shops resides in the story behind the random objects on display. The nutcrackers that are on the shelf next to an imitation deft pitcher, the Coca-Cola red and white tumblers, the Steiff teddy bear, the porcelain lamp, the tiny dollhouse chair, the blue glass salt and pepper shakers have a story to tell. And often in the corner is a mid-century oven that is of questionable functionality although the shop keeper hovers over you as you examine its knobs and says that it could work with a little extra care. There are so many stories to tell of the lives lived through these objects. And the Talmud provides a glimpse into what life was like 1,500 years ago through its discussion of vessels and tools and appliances and utensils.