You can’t have it all (Daf Yomi 38)

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”Such a split is impossible.”

Buried within the text of today’s Daf Yomi reading is a message that anyone who has lived a life knows too well: you can’t have it all. Life is about choices. Some people seemingly do have it all, and using the language of today’s Daf, can set up two eruvs in different directions and bounce between them on subsequent days. But even these extremely privileged people (who have homes in the Hamptons and were able to escape the worse of the COVID-19 crisis) have to make choices in their life (or at least I like to think so.)

The Daf Yomi text opens with an interesting scenario. If a festival is adjacent to Shabbat and occurs either on Friday or Sunday, can a person establish two eruvs? Can he establish one to the east and one to the west and alternate between them? Just like one must often make decisions in life between two different paths, we are told the Rabbis would not allow such a duality. One must either establish an eruv in one direction for both days, or establish no eruv at all.

The Rabbis expect a firm commitment to the chosen eruv, because one must take it to the designated spot and stay with it until the eve of the first day, and then return on the eve of the next day with the eruv in order to reestablish the spot. He needs to be all in with his chosen designation. Of course, if he is wealthy, he can hire an agent to walk the eruv to the chosen spot and stay with it until the magic time when the eruv takes effect.

We are told that one cannot necessarily have his cake and eat it too, because if he eats the eruv on the first day, it is not valid for the second day. Rabbi Eliezer, who often takes an opposite point of view is lenient on this issue and would consider an eruv valid on the second day, even if it were eaten on the first day. His logic considers that Shabbat and a Festival constitute “two distinct sanctities” and as such, what takes effect during the eve of the first day would apply throughout both days. He goes further in his argument and says that one can create two separate eruvs in two different directions. His opinion, however, is contradicted by those who say that an eruv would only be valid on the second day if the two holidays constituted one sanctity rather than two.

Rabbi Yehuda reminds us of the person who has to prod a donkey from the back and pull a camel from the front and is pushed in two opposite directions. This is repeated in the context of determining in which direction one should walk if he has established an eruv beyond his town limits, and perhaps with the complication of a festival day occurring on the edge of Shabbat. But it also represents for me, whose head is spinning from determining in which direction is permissible to walk through concentric circles, complications associated with making life choices.

It is often difficult to make important life decisions and can feel like one is pulled in two directions, with both choices offering promise of the path ahead in the best of circumstances. Sometimes the decision is between two less than optimal choices, but still a decision needs to be made. You can make pro and con lists and consider the consequences of each but in the end, even with all the evidence dissected, one must simply turn inward and trust his instinct. I am wired to never actually do this. I make the decision, but then look back and second guess myself and live in the world of regret. If only, if only, if only… It is the essence of being human to deliberate on what direction to follow – east or west, north or south – but ultimately, one must pick a path and follow it.

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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