MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on the commentary “Meaning in Mitzvot” on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which is serialized on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash, www.vbm-torah.org
Our parsha relates that the Jews in the desert were so enthusiastic to help provide for the Mishkan and its contents that Moshe soon had to announce that people should stop bringing their workmanship to the encampment of the Leviim, where the Mishkan was located. “And the call was broadcast in the camp, saying, no man or woman should do any more workmanship for the sanctified donations; then the people stopped bringing.” (Shemot 36:6.)
Such carrying is permissible only through eiruv chatzerot, a “mingling of courtyards” in which several adjoining properties are symbolically combined into one via joint ownership of a Shabbat meal. (SA OC 366.)
However, the decree came with its own solution with the exact opposite message, one of fellowship. By the simple expedient of putting food for one meal in a central location and making each household a partner in the meal and the room, the entire courtyard or even an entire city is turned into a single domain! Recognizing the threat of alienation gives us the impetus to create brotherhood.
War Rabbis:Rav Hai Gaon Why was this decree instituted specifically in the time of King Shlomo? Rav Hai Gaon gives a profound answer to this question.
The mishna tells us that an army camp is exempt from the requirement to make an eiruv. (End of first chapter of Eiruvin.) Rav Hai Gaon observes that when Shlomo’s kingdom was established, “he had peace from all sides around”. (Melakhim I 5:5.) Until this time, the Jewish people considered themselves to be in an ongoing state of war - as if the entire nation were considered a single army camp. (Cited by Semag, beginning of Hilkhot Eiruvin, and Bach OC 366.)
An army camp has its own kind of fellowship, but it is a kind much different than that of the city. In wartime, there is virtually no privacy, and no stability. A truly private domain barely exists. It is no wonder that there was then no need to create an “eiruv”.
Finally, in the time of Shlomo, the Jewish people had a sense of security, and this gave them a sense of privacy. The verse just mentioned says that Shlomo had peace from all sides; the very next verse elaborates that “Yehuda and Yisrael sat securely, each man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan [in the far north] unto Beer Sheva [in the far south] all the days of Shlomo.”
When each person is conscious of his own privacy, his own property and his own place, then there is a certain degree of alienation, and a need for special steps to create community and fellowship. According to Rav Hai Gaon, this is the historical background to the institution of “eiruv”.
But peace and prosperity not only create the need for fellowship, they also create the greatest opportunity for ideal fellowship. It is true that adversity gives people an urgent sense of community and common purpose, motivating them to give up their privacy and work together for the collective good. But ironically, this very lack of privacy can constitute a barrier to true community. In order to open up to others, we require a certain personal space, a modicum of privacy and modesty.
We could say that prior to the time of Shlomo, a true sense of “eiruv”, of mingling of distinct domains, was not only unnecessary but was also impossible. It was only through the security of “each man under his vine and under his fig tree” that each person attained a willingness to truly welcome his neighbors into his private space.
Rabbi Meir is in the process of writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. He is also directing the Jewish Business Response Forum at the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev. The forum aims to help business people run their firms according to Torah, by obtaining prompt, relevant responses to their questions.