Parshat Chayei Sara
24 Cheshvan 5766 / November 25-26, 2005
The Coming Week's Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
The Mishnah (49b) taught that a traveler can announce that he is establishing his place for Shabbat at a certain tree that is within 2000 amot (=cubits) to the city. This allows him to reach his home in the city even after Shabbat has begun. According to the Mishnah, this ruling is based on the principle that "a poor man can establish an eruv with his feet," meaning that he does not need to place food for two meals as an eruv if he establishes his place based on his physical presence there.
On this ruling, the Mishnah brings a disagreement between Rabbi Meir, who limits it to a poor person - but a rich person would need to make his eruv with food - and Rabbi Yehudah, who says that both rich and poor people can establish their eruv by walking to the spot. According to Rabbi Yehudah, making an eruv by using food is a leniency shown to the rich person, to save him the trouble of having to walk to the place of the eruv before Shabbat.
The argument between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah is analyzed by the Gemara on our daf (=page).
The Rashba explains that the use of the terms "rich" and "poor" is not to be understood literally. The traveler in the Mishnah is considered "poor" because he is on the road and likely does not have access to two meals worth of food. Anyone sitting at home would be considered "rich" as far as the case of the Mishnah is concerned. This explanation is essential in order to explain a case brought in the Gemara by Rabbi Yehudah to prove his position. The Memel and Gurion families from the village of Aroma were distributing dried figs and raisins to the poor during a famine year. The poor who lived in the neighboring villages of Shihin and Hananiah would walk to the edge of the tehum (=limits) in the late afternoon on Friday, so that they would be able to walk to Aroma on Shabbat morning. If we are to understand that the "poor" person under discussion was literally poor, this case would prove nothing – even Rabbi Meir agrees that poor people do not need to use food to establish their eruv. Apparently the poor people of Shihin and Hananiah who were coming from their homes were not considered poor, since they had some food at home, so their establishing their tehum by their physical presence supports Rabbi Yehudah's position that even the "rich" can establish the eruv in that way.
If two cities were close enough to one another that someone could establish an eruv and walk from one to the other, according to Rabbi Yehudah, a person who was heading from one city to the other on Friday afternoon – even if he was called back by his friend and did not reach it – can walk there on Shabbat, as he has established his eruv by walking. Nevertheless, other people in the city would not be allowed to walk there. Rabbi Meir rules that since he did not clearly state his intention to establish an eruv in that place, he falls into the proverbial "donkey-camel driver" situation (see 35a-b ) and is limited in both directions.
According to Maimonides, the explanation for this case is that the person was sent by the community to be their representative in establishing an eruv so that they would be able to walk to their neighboring city. Instead of placing food to create the eruv, he simply walked to the edge of the tehum (=limits). Such an eruv works for him, but the community cannot rely on their messenger's physical presence to create an eruv for them.
The Jerusalem Talmud has two explanations for this Mishnah, both of which suggest that the person involved was sent as a representative of the community to establish an eruv between the two cities, and it is his friend who called him back who has a different status than the rest of the city's inhabitants.
According to the first explanation, the messenger successful established the eruv for the entire city – except for the individual who called him back. So his friend can continue to walk the normal 2000 amot (=cubits) around the city, while the rest of the city can walk one way only – towards the neighboring city.
The second explanation understands the case to be when the messenger did not succeed in establishing the eruv for anyone. The city's inhabitants cannot walk to the next city, but the friend who was with him succeeded in establishing an eruv for himself by virtue of his presence, so he is allowed to walk to the next city.
The fifth chapter of Massechet Eruvin continues the discussion of eruvei tehumim. The focus of this chapter is how we establish the boundaries of the city in order to measure the 2000 amah (=cubit) tehum (=limits) that surrounds it.
The first Mishnah asks Kaitzad Me'abrin et He-Arim – "How do we include the protrusions of the city?" The Gemara explains that we draw straight lines running along the furthest-most dwelling-place on each side of the city, creating a rectangle around it. From here we will draw lines of 2000 amot from the city in each direction.
The interest of the Gemara focuses on the precise tradition of the language of the Mishnah. Specifically, the Gemara tries to clarify whether the word Me'abrin is written with an Ayin or an Alef.
With an Ayin, the source of the word Me'abrin would be Me'uberet – a pregnant woman - who has in her womb a fetus that is an addition to her. The Me'iri explains that we are similarly adding to the city beyond its established borders.
With an Alef, the source of the word Me'abrin would be evarim – limbs - like the limbs of a person that stretch beyond his body. According to the Arukh, we are similarly trying to add parts of the city that protrude beyond its center.
Establishing this tradition is so important to the Gemara, that Rabbi Yohanan is quoted as saying that he spent 18 days of growth studying with the great Rabbi Oshaya and he learned only one thing (or, perhaps, one thing in our Mishnah) – that Me'abrin was written with an alef.
The great Rabbi Oshaya is referred to in the Jerusalem Talmud as Rabbi Hoshaya Rabbah, one of the most important sages of the period between the Tannaim and Amoraim. His major work was in the area of collecting the words of the Tannaim in as faithful a fashion as possible, leading to the tradition that the only baraitot that could be relied upon were the ones that had been taught in the Bet Midrash of Rabbi Hoshaya and Rabbi Hiyya.
Rabbi Oshaya had many students, but the greatest of them was Rabbi Yohanan, who studied with him for many years. The comment in the Gemara that has Rabbi Yohanan studying with Rabbi Oshaya for 18 days must be referring to a very early stage in his career.
A fairly common occurrence in the Babylonian Talmud is a segue from the discussion of halakha to aggada. This daf (=page), in its entirety, is made up of a collection of homilies based on passages in Tanakh. As an example, the Gemara brings Rav Matanah's drasha (=exposition) on the passage (Bamidbar 21:18) U'mi-midbar Matanah – describing the Jewish People's travels through the desert to a place called Matanah on their way to the Land of Canaan. Rav Matanah explains this to mean that if a person behaves in a modest manner, that he allows himself to be like a desert for all to walk through, he will be rewarded with success in his studies.
To illustrate this homily further, the Gemara tells the story of Rava the son of Rav Yosef bar Hama who was estranged from his friend and teacher, Rav Yosef. The day before Yom Kippur he went to Rav Yosef to try and come to some reconciliation. As he arrived, he found Rav Yosef's servant preparing a drink for his master, and Rava offered to prepare the drink in his stead and bring it to Rav Yosef. Rav Yosef – who was blind – tasted the drink and immediately commented that it was diluted more than usual, just like Rava the son of Rav Yosef bar Hama used to prepare it. This allowed Rava the son of Rav Yosef bar Hama to introduce himself. Rav Yosef asked him to interpret the passage in Bamidbar 21:18 that listed the stops of the Children of Israel on their way to Israel. Based on word-play, making use of the root of each place-name, Rava the son of Rav Yosef bar Hama presented the following explanation:
U'mi-midbar Matanah – Modest behavior leads to the gift of Torah knowledge
U'mi-Matanah Nahaliel- Such Torah knowledge is a God-given inheritance
U'mi-Nahaliel Bamot – Such an inheritance raises up the person
U'mi-Bamot Ha-gai – Someone who becomes haughty from this experience will be brought down by God.
But if the person realizes his error and corrects him, he will be raised up again, as the passage in Isaiah 40:4 says "every valley will become uplifted".
In effect, Rav Yosef's request to interpret the passage offered an opening for Rava the son of Rav Yosef bar Hama to apologize.
The disagreement that led to their estrangement is described in the Gemara Nedarim 55a, when Rava sent a question to Rav Yosef. Unhappy with the answer that he received in response, he said that it was useless to him, as the original question still remained. Rav Yosef took offense, saying "if you don't need me, don't send me any more questions." From the apology that appears in our Gemara, clearly Rava came to recognize the folly of his arrogant behavior.
1. A circular city gets a square drawn around the circle
Regarding the last case, Rav Huna comments that the ruling will be different if the empty area between the two ends of the city is larger than 4000 amot (=cubits). In that case the entire city will not be "boxed off", as part of the empty space falls outside the 2000 amah limit beyond any part of the city.
The question raised by the Rishonim about Rav Huna's ruling is that we learned in the Mishnah that dwelling places extending beyond the normal city lines will cause the tehum (=boundary) to be extended, so that they should be included. Shouldn't that rule apply to the case of the bow-shaped city, as well?
The Ra'avad accepts this argument and rules that even in the case of the Mishnah we will not extend the boundaries of the city if the dwelling places beyond the city are not within 4000 amot of one-another. The Rashba explains that the extra dwelling places will naturally be spread out throughout the city and its environs, while the city shaped like a bow, will, by definition, continue to develop in that shape and direction.
When discussing "squaring off" the city for the purpose of establishing its boundaries by drawing straight lines along the houses at the edge of the city, the Gemara brings a Tosefta that teaches that these lines are to be drawn according to the natural directions of the world – north, south, east and west. These can be established by examining the constellations. The Great Bear (ursa maior) – referred to by the Gemara as Agalah, "wagon" - will always be seen in the north. In the south, the Gemara appears to referring to the constellation Scorpius. While the northern constellations are constant and will always be visible in the Northern Hemisphere, Scorpius can only be seen during the summer months, and it does not always appear due south. It is likely that for this reason the Gemara gives other suggestions for establishing the directions.
Rabbi Yossi suggests that the directions can be ascertained based on the rising and setting of the sun
His suggestion is based on the fact that the earth spins at an angle as it rotates around the sun. Therefore, the seasons are not equal to one another in the length of days and nights, or where the sun will rise and set. The dates mentioned by the Gemara are as follows:
Date Sunrise Sunset
September 23 Due East Due West
December 22 (shortest day) 27 55' SouthEast 27 55' SouthWest
March 21 Due East Due West
June 22 (longest day) 27 55' NorthEast 27 55'NorthWest
Rav Yossi's suggestion is to follow the sun on the equinox (September 23 and March 21) to learn the directions of east and west and on the solstice (December 22 and June 22) to learn the directions of north and south.
The Jerusalem Talmud also suggests making use of the rising and setting sun, but suggests a much simpler approach. If you track sunrise from the shortest day of the year to the longest day of the year, the place between those two angles is East. Similarly the place between the setting of the sun in summer and winter is West.
Rav Mesharshaya objects to the principles laid out in the Tosefta. The Meiri explains tht Rav Mesharshaya recognized that the sun never rises or sets at a precise north-east or south-west angle.
Shmuel presents his understanding of the seasons, based on a perfect 365.25 solar year. A more precise approach to this matter is that of Rav Adda, who believed that the solar year is slightly shorter than that. (See here for information on these opinions.)
Aside from drawing lines around the city that will be the basis for the 2000 amah (=cubit) boundary for tehum, the Mishnah on our daf (=page) presents the position of Rabbi Meir who believes that a karpaf (an additional enclosure outside the city) of about 70 amot should be drawn around the city, and measuring the 2000 amot should begin from there. The Hakhamim disagree, ruling that such a karpaf would only play a role if two cities are close enough that an additional area such as that could connect them, making them one city.
Rava in the Gemara explains that the source for the idea of adding an area outside the city that is considered part of the city for the purposes of tehum is the passage (Bamidbar 35:4-5) that discusses how the cities of the Levites were to be set up upon entering the Land of Israel. The passage instructs "from the wall of the city and outwards…and you should measure outside the city, to the east 2000 amot…"
From this we see that before the measurements begin, an area is added "outwards" beyond the walls of the city.
Although the amount that is to be added does not appear in the Torah, the Ra'avad explains that the Gemara assumes that we will add the area of a normal courtyard – that is, the hatzer (courtyard) of the Mishkan.
The Ritva understands that the Hakhamim in the Mishnah reject Rabbi Meir's interpretation of the passage entirely. They do not believe that anything can be learned from the Levite cities for our purposes. When they allow two cities that are nearby one-another to be considered joined for the purpose of tehum, it is based simply on the closeness of the cities, not on the passage in Bamidbar.
The Jerusalem Talmud, however, understands the disagreement between Rabbi Meir and the Hakhamim to be based on that biblical passage. According to Rabbi Meir, we learn from it that every city has an invisible addition around it. In arguing with him, the Hakhamim read the passage "from the wall of the city and outwards…" to mean that we measure from the wall of the city in normal cases. In a case where two cities are neighboring one-another, then we look "outwards" as well, by adding the additional karpafs to them.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.