Thursday, July 3, 2014


I am presently learning Masechet Eruvin in my daily Gemara (Talmud) learning. The discussions are about precision and possible conflicting purposes regarding various limits and the source of all that we have and know in our world, even the seeds we use to fulfill so many needs. I have always loved the notion that “EVERYTHING BEGAN WITH A SEED.” It’s so true and to that end, it is no surprise that the first order of the Talmud is called ZERAIM or seeds. For without the things that grow from seeds where and what would we be? Fair enough.

So, as I am trying not to get lost in the quagmire of details about what can be purchased with designated funds, what can be used to establish a Shabbat boundary and so much else, I find the most sparkling gems of insight to be discovered. Yes, to be sure there are clearly stated proverbial pearls of wisdom within the juxtaposition of how time, place and purpose come together to define the many conditions of our lives, whether we are concerned about the defined boundaries we may follow or the definition of what those boundaries are when we consider how we observe and mark the day of Shabbat and our Yom Tovim – our special days to be lived by following special conditions, boundaries if you will.

Allow me to cite just a few of these salient lessons. First of all, in so many, if not most cases, the Rabbis listened to each other and considered each other’s opinions and chain of tradition. This is yet another lesson about those we choose for our teachers and leaders (as discussed in an earlier post). Do we blindly follow what one person says or do we look at the consideration THAT person put into their development of their position? This is advice that just continually jumps off of the pages of the Gemara as I learn – to watch how your teacher and leader learns and figures things out.

Additionally much discussion is about correct attribution of opinions and rulings. Why? Because, as we saw with Beit Hillel, many of our Talmudic figures would in fact cite the teachings of another even if they did not support or agree with these opinions. Imagine that – not only listening, but repeating and handing over the opinion of someone with whom we disagree to another.

Giving the other the benefit of the doubt is also a recurring theme when discussing not crossing boundaries. There are many discussions about not approaching the end of the boundary of the Eruv that permits movement and carrying during Shabbat (and Yom Tov) and what one should do if they see someone doing so. The text teaches that if it is a Torah scholar, he is probably so lost in thought that he wandered to this area unaware and we should not interrupt his thought. If it was a normal citizen, he may have lost his donkey and might be looking for him. Imagine that -- instead of reprimanding another for an action that we might think is inappropriate, we are to imagine that he is not intending to commit the infraction we are thinking about.

I remember when our daughter Talie still lived at home and we would be driving about. People would cut us off, run lights causing us to come to a sudden stop, and commit other infractions in that tenuous traffic community of which we are all part. Needless to say, I would not be pleased and would say so – not so politely at that! Talie would constantly and calmly say “Maybe she is rushing to the hospital to have her baby.” When the second car would race by, Talie would, without skipping a beat, suggest that, “He might be the doctor that has to deliver the baby.” Until this day we laugh at Talie and her “Dan Lechaf Zechut” (giving the other the benefit of the doubt) code of behavior, but truly, she is on to something. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could do what the Rabbis of the Gemara suggest and Talie practices!

We are taught that the process of the text is as important, even perhaps more so than its content at times. In our modern times, we often speak of Musar – the code of Jewish teachings that remind us about the required BOUNDARIES of our behavior, which too often are forgotten. While some may look at Masechet Eruvin as being about not-so-important, outmoded and outdated realities, I find these jewels and lessons of wisdom that are encased in mundane instructions that inform daily life. Where better to find them!

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