Waiting for the lights to come back on (Daf Yomi Eruvin 20)

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“The two courtyards are regarded as one.”

There are families that created ‘pods” during the coronavirus quarantine where they agreed to relax the social distancing rules among themselves. The pods are formed by two to three families that restrict their exposure to just each other. It is a risk to open up contact in this way but also allows for increased social contact and support at a time when the world seems upside down.

The families that join their courtyards together in today’s Daf Yomi reading are a form of pod. Rava says one is allowed to carry between courtyards owned by several families because with the existence of carefully placed boards, the two courtyards are regarded as one. Carrying on Shabbat in this conjoined courtyard is allowed as long as the residents of the courtyard come together to form an eruv.

We also learn in today’s reading that a well that contains water deep within the earth has special powers. If an eruv is created through the erection of boards around a well or cistern, it is allowable to draw the water and carry it away on Shabbat. We are posed with a riddle: what if a cistern runs dry? Is one allowed to carry between the erected boards on Shabbat? And what if it rains and the cistern is filled again with water? Is it now permissible to carry on Shabbat in the courtyard? Rabba affirms that it is permissible to continue carrying on Shabbat if a cistern runs dry and then is later filled with rainwater. But of course, this being the Talmud, there is a diversity of opinion on the matter.

We are introduced to a rare form of cow species today, that is very long in the body. Such an animal would need a long body because we examine cows who are standing inside a house but eating from a manger or trough that stands outside in a public domain. We are also presented with a camel whose head and most of its body is in a private domain, but its feet may reside outside. In both cases, it is acceptable to feed the animals as long as most of their body resides in the private domain. And of course, we should remember that elsewhere in the Talmud we were told that we must always feed our animals before ourselves and there is some leniency allowed in how we do it.

Our animals form part of our quarantine pods as we enter the sixth month of living with all the restrictions we have been presented with after the onset of the global pandemic. I lived through the months of March through June without venturing out at all and my only in-person contact was with my two Siamese cats. I started slowly reentering the world in July with great care and have added just a few friends to the pod of people I interact with in-person, but with masks and social distancing and outdoors dining.

I read an article recently that said life has changed forever for people over 60 years of age. It suggested that we have lived through a near-death experience and how we view the world will be forever transformed. I have known several people who died of the COVID-19 and one of my closest friends became very ill from it. I have lived with the fear that I would find myself on a respirator in a tent in Central Park during the peak months that the virus was present in New York City. And despite the incidence of positive cases in New York being very low at the moment, there is always the fear that it will come back. So, it makes sense to think of this as a near-death experience. But I have no intention of pulling back on my plans and forsaking travel as I become older. I am making the most of this period as one of introspection, but I do want to get on with things. I live each day with hope that a vaccine will be available soon and the lights of the world will be turned back on.

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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