Saturday, 30 March 2013

Eiruvin 22a, b

The beginning of Daf 22 analyzes the phrase, "as black as a raven".  We learn that this refers to: "in whom we find the words of Torah:" one who rises early to study Torah, one who learns Torah for the sake of learning, one who "blackens one's face like a raven", or deprives oneself for the sake of Torah study; one who is cruel to members of one's household.  Rava tells us that Rav Adda bar Mattana told his wife to feed the children from  wild growing plants when she asked him how she can find a way to feed the kids as he left to study Torah.  

Two more verses are thrown up for grabs: "And He repays them that hate Him to His face to destroy them" and "(you shall keep these mitzvot) which I commanded you today to do them" (Deut 7:10, 11).  The rabbis discuss G-d's punishments and rewards.

Looking at the verse, "(G-d is...) long-suffering", the rabbis suggest that this was written in a plural form rather than a singular form to remind us that G-d does not punish the wicked immediately nor does G-d reward the righteous right away.  Another lovely albeit self-serving  interpretation. We would all like to know why the wicked have long healthy lives, while others, the righteous, or "us", as most of us would believe, are not rewarded for our actions.

The remainder of 22a looks at cisterns, heads and bodies of cows, dwellings and huts, and carrying on Shabbat in the public domain in Jerusalem.  One interesting note is that Jerusalem's status as public/private domain questioned.  Because people are continually walking through Jerusalem, it is as if it is never truly 'walled'.  However, as we begin 22b, Eretz Yisrael as a legal site for carrying on Shabbat is debated.  In fact, Reish Lakish, Rav Abaye and Rav Dimi among others discuss the use of natural boundaries including the sea and the mountains as potential eiruvim and ultimately as faulty eruvim. 

The notion of boundaries is complex and quite arbitrary, even when great effort goes into defining their limitations.  The concept of space having a beginning and an end, even when we draw a red line in the sand, is amazingly theoretical.  What if one grain of sand is 'off'?  Who gets to decided where the line is drawn?  What if things change and the line loses its meaning; are we allowed to change the line? If so, why can't we change the line at other times?  Practically speaking we need to know which government is representing/taking care of/violating which communities of people.  But that is a difficult concept even from an international perspective.  

In Jewish thought, space is divided into categories and boundaries.  Different rules apply in different places.  But Jewish thought also categorizes in the realm of time, which offers even more challenging, imaginary demarcations.  When did the sun set?  No, really, EXACTLY when?  Why is the time listed on an 'official sunset calendar' more meaningful than my experience of that mark in time, or my friend's perspective?

Organizing social structure by both space and time is a multifaceted, overwhelming enterprise.  Our rabbis discussions in Gemara teach us that it can be done -- for better or for worse.  

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