The rock on my back (Daf Yomi Eruvin 67)

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“And how large may the rock be and remain permitted.”

I am exhausted from trying to make sense of all the renunciations of property rights and the multiple combinations of Jewish and non-Jewish households that allow for carrying or not on Shabbat. My brain is significantly less nimble than Rav Hisda’s which caused Rav Sheshet to quiver in amazement as described in today’s Daf Yomi. This has been a difficult patch of readings that have made me reevaluate why I am reading about courtyards today rather than one of the novels that I have set aside for less hectic times.

We are told that in addition to Rav Hisda and Rav Sheshet, Rabbi Yohanan is one of the great minds of his generation. And how does he apply all his knowledge and brilliance? He analyzes the carrying of a rock from the sea. He does not try to solve world hunger or cure disease or analyze a spiritual dilemma, he literally has his head in a rock. And to be honest, that is the place today’s reading has brought me to – a hard-sided, dense, immovable rock.

Rabbi Yeuda tells us that if a rock is protruding from the sea that is ten handbreadths high and four handbreadths wide, one may not carry it to the sea or from the sea because it would involve carrying on Shabbat from a private domain to a karmelit which is prohibited. But because the rock is considered a private domain, one can carry on top of it and within it. We are told carrying on the rock is permitted if its measurements are two beit se’a (one beit se’a equals 576 meters).

We are told that if the rock is larger than two beit se’a, it is permitted to carry from the rock to the sea and back. Exceptions in the Talmud run rampant and this is a good example. We are told that the Rabbis are lenient so that people will not become confused and think that the rock is a proper private domain, spread out on its cool surface and carry whenever and whatever they want. The Rabbis allowed this exception in order to protect another Rabbinic law, which does not allow people from carrying in an enclosure that is greater than the measurement of two beit se’a.

We are told to not become too comfortable with the exception because it is not to be applied as a general rule and “no general conclusion may be inferred from this.” Carrying within the rock is common (in whose life?), while carrying back and forth from the rock to the sea is uncommon, and as a result, “the Sages permitted carrying in the less likely scenario in order to reinforce the decree against carrying within the rock, the more common situation.” 

Lately, I have felt like I am forever carrying a backpack that is weighted down by heavy rocks. My back hurts from working from home for seven months on my dining room table and sitting in a dining room chair that would meet no standards of ergonomics. I have walked around my small living room trying to figure out where to put a small desk but keep hesitating because I really do not have space for another piece of furniture. As it is, my work computer and monitor take up a good portion of my dining room table and I am essentially eating all my meals in my “office.” This is life in a one-bedroom apartment during the pandemic where space is limited, life is lived mostly inside and each object and piece of furniture take on heightened importance.

After seven months of going nowhere, ever, and living within the same four walls day in and day out, finding a rock in the middle of a sea somewhere – maybe the Mediterranean – and spending a day sitting in the open landscape where there is no pandemic or disease seems like heaven. Maybe after such a day I would be able to unload all those rocks from the pack that is weighing down my back. And breathe.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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