“The house retains the status of a house.”
I have been writing since the start of Tractate Eruvin about what it tells us about private and public spaces. But there is another space to consider, and that is the space within. It can feel empty because we do not feel good enough or loved enough or simply enough. In my case the space within has been filled with terror since the start of the pandemic. I have been ridden with fear that I will end up dying in a medical tent in the middle of Central Park, with my cats abandoned and no one to look after them.
Today’s very difficult Daf Yomi portion continues the technical discussion of the intricacies of establishing an eruv. The text considers if a house retains the status of a house if it is filled with hay, which brings to mind the image of hoarders who fill their home with salvaged items that are piled up in every room because they may not feel like they are enough. They may have some sort of hole inside that drives them to obsessively collect things to fill their homes.
The anonymous voice of the Gemara considers a scenario that is germane to a hoarding situation: if a house if filled with hay (or obsolete computer equipment or decades old magazines) which the owner has no intention of removing, “it is considered as though it were filled with indeterminate dirt and it is therefore nullified.” This is not the case if the owner intends to bring in one of those crews that deal lovingly but toughly with excessive clutter.
We are told that the divisive factor for Rabbi Yosei who established the ruling is “not the specific material in the house, but whether or not the owner intends to remove it.” The hay may be moved even on Shabbat, perhaps out of safety concerns for the homeowner, who may be suffering terrible allergies and respiratory issues from all that dust. There are also animals who need to be fed and we learned earlier that the feeding of animals is prioritized above all else.
So why do we fill our homes and lives with objects and material items that we do not really need? Granted, most of us are not hoarders, but many of us know what it is like to experience the urge to acquire something that seemingly for a moment will make us happy or fill some emptiness deep within. Since the onset of the pandemic most of my purchases have been online. I have established guardrails to monitor my spending by putting the item in the online basket and waiting a day to complete the purchase. I review the item online over the next day asking myself over and over if it is something that I really need, and more times than not end up canceling the purchase.
There are lots of items I no longer need, including a fall wardrobe and new shoes. I spend most of my days working in my apartment barefoot in casual clothes. At the start of the pandemic I obsessively purchased cleaning supplies. It was as if I was trying to keep the virus at bay through the purchase of anything with bleach and alcohol as primary ingredients. And of course, there was a time when I could not trust that there would be toilet paper available when I needed it and bought whatever I was able to obtain. The empty drugstore and supermarket shelves were terrifying.
I am beginning at this later stage in my life to make the connection between the purchase of things and the feeling of emptiness within and in the case of pandemic buying, pure terror of the virus. There may always be a hole within me, but I am learning to stay with it, and feel it, and resist the easy solution of buying something new to fill it.