“A pot belonging to partners is neither hot nor cold.”
I wish I could believe the voice of the Talmud when it tells us over and over that “it is not difficult.” I read each day diligently in order to find just one thing that I can grasp onto and find meaning. There are many days when I am on the verge of giving up, but then find that one thing in the last paragraph of the day’s text. Today, the one thing that resonated with me is the account of shared responsibility which can result in nobody doing anything. But it took a while to get there.
The comparison between a sukka and an alleyway continues from yesterday. Constructing and dwelling in a sukka is a mitzva according to Torah law, and as a result the rules surrounding it are stringent. The rules governing the alleyway were constructed by the Rabbis and there is room for some gray matter to nest among its doorways.
The discussion of an entrance in an alleyway that was started yesterday considers the unique position of a cornice, which we are told should be no higher than twenty cubits if it is to serve the mission of allowing one to carry out on Shabbat. There is some discussion back and forth about five cornices that were higher than twenty cubits and garnished the entrance of the Sanctuary. Rav settles the matter by saying that even if a crossbeam in a doorway of an alleyway has a cornice that is higher than twenty cubits, it is fit for its purpose.
The comparison between a sukka and an alleyway continues from the previous day with a discussion of private and public spaces. The voice of the Gemara inquires if a crossbeam in an alleyway is uneven and part of it is within twenty cubits off the ground and part is above twenty cubits, is it fit for its legal purpose. The Gemara asks the same question of the sukka; if it has an uneven roof and part is above twenty cubits and part is within the required measurement, is it fit? It is determined that the uneven beam above the doorway in the alley does not preclude it from serving its purpose, while in the case of the sukka, it is deemed unfit.
So, what is the difference? We are presented with two scenarios with similar construction but two different answers. The obvious answer is that the sukka is constructed according to the more stringent Torah law, while the alleyway beam is a construct of Rabbinic law. But there is more to this discussion than that. We are told that in the case of an enclosed sukka, a single person dwelling in the structure would notice the uneven roof and would not allow the portion of the roof below twenty cubits to be removed. In the case of the crossbeam in the alleyway, there are many people coming and going who would not look up and act to prevent the portion below twenty cubits to be removed.
The Gemara provides us with an explanation that has relevancy for how we live in our society today. We are told that “a pot belonging to partners is neither hot or cold” and “when responsibility falls upon more than one person, each relies on the other, and ultimately the task is not completed.” We all know what it is like when something needs to get done, but no one has the ultimate responsibility, and everyone assumes the task will be done by another. Or when we see an injustice carried out, but we are too busy or just too timid to get involved and assume, someone else will step up and do the right thing. Today’s portion is a reminder that if we all look to others to take action, nothing will ever get accomplished. Every day we have the opportunity to step up and do something great.