Eiruvin 36b: My Teacher, My Friend

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

The Daf Yomi thought is dedicated by the family of Dr. Solomon Burack, ob"m in observance of his Yahrzeit.  May his memory be for a blessing.

 

It is well accepted that enacting laws retroactively is most unfair, potentially throwing into chaos that which was done under past laws. However, an action we take today often sheds light on something we did yesterday.

While an eiruv techumim allows one to carry on Shabbat for an extra 2,000 amot (or cubits, a distance of approximately 1 km) outside of the city limits, the extra distance one can walk in one direction comes at the expense of the opposite direction. Hence, if one places an eiruv 2,000 amot to the east of the city, one may walk up to a total of 4,000 amot to the east, but one may not walk towards the west at all. If the eiruv is placed at 1,000 amot to the east of the city, one could walk 3,000 amot towards the east, and 1,000 amot towards the west. 

The Mishnah (Eiruvin 36b) discusses the case of one who can't predict in which direction he may want to walk on Shabbat. In such a case, one may place two eiruvei techumim before Shabbat, in two opposite directions. One then makes the following declaration: "If strangers will come from the east, my eiruv is to the west; if from the west, my eiruv is to the east...If a scholar comes from the east, my eiruv is to the east; if from the west, my eiruv is to the west; if they come from both directions, I will go to the place to which I want to go".  

What is most fascinating is the subsequent dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages. Rabbi Yehuda claims that, if one of the people coming near the city is one's teacher, one must use the eiruv to go greet the teacher, rendering the eiruv in the opposite direction invalid. Rabbi Yehuda is making a value judgment as to the importance of visiting one's teacher, and one's personal preference plays little role. This seems consistent with the importance that Jewish law places upon visiting one's teacher (even if not for formal learning). Doing such overrides other mitzvoth; for example, a student would be exempt from eating in asukkah on his travels to his teacher (the Talmud notes a specific mitzvah to visit one's teacher on the yamim tovim, perhaps a substitute for the mitzvah of "visiting G-d" in the Temple on the Shalosh Regalim). As the Talmud notes in a different context, "Your father brings you into this world and your teacher brings you to the world to come". It is thus a given, according to Rabbi Yehuda, that the eiruvmust be used to visit one's teacher.

The Sages disagree, recognizing that, "at times, it is more pleasant to be with one's friends than with one's teacher". Despite the importance of visiting one's teacher, the Sages understood that people at times prefer being in the company of their friends (for some, it's all the time...J). One can, the Sages assert, use one's eiruv to visit with whom one likes, enhancing one's own personal enjoyment of Shabbat. Fortunate are those for whom visiting their teacher is the same as being in the company of friends! 

It is well accepted that enacting laws retroactively is most unfair, potentially throwing into chaos rulings made under past laws. However, an action we take today often sheds light on something we did yesterday. While an eiruv techumim allows one to carry on Shabbat for an extra 2,000 amot (or cubits, adding up to a distance of approximately 1 km) outside of the city limits, the extra distance one can walk in one direction comes at the expense of the opposite direction. Hence, if one places an eiruv 2,000 amot to the east of the city, one may walk up to a total of 4,000 amot to the east, but one may not walk towards the west at all. If the eiruv is placed at 1,000 amot to the east of the city, one may walk 3,000 amot towards the east, and 1,000 amot towards the west. The Mishnah (Eiruvin 36b) discusses the case of one who can’t predict in which direction he may want to walk on Shabbat. In such a case, one may place two eiruvei techumim before Shabbat, in two opposite directions (one to the west and one to the east of the city, or one to the north and one to the south of the city). One must then make the following declaration: “If strangers will come from the east, my eiruv is to the west, if from the west, my eiruv is to the east…If a scholar comes from the east, my eiruv is to the east, if from the west, my eiruv is to the west; if they come from both directions, I will go to the place I want to go”. What is most fascinating about this is the subsequent dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages. Rabbi Yehuda claims that, if one of people coming near the city is one’s teacher, one must use the eiruv to go greet the teacher, rendering the eiruv in the opposite direction invalid. Rabbi Yehuda is making a value judgment as to the importance of visiting one’s teacher, and one’s personal preference plays little role. This seems consistent with the importance that Jewish law places upon visiting one’s teacher (even if not for formal learning). Doing this is so necessary that it overrides other mitzvoth; for example, a student would be exempt from eating in a sukkah on his travels to his teacher (the Talmud notes a specific mitzvah to visit one’s teacher on the yamim tovim, perhaps a substitute for the mitzvah of “visiting G-d” in the Temple on the Shalosh Regalim). As the Talmud notes in a different context, “Your father brings you into this world and your teacher brings you to the world to come”. It is thus a given, according to Rabbi Yehuda, that the eiruv must be used to visit one’s teacher. The Sages disagree, recognizing that, “at times, it is more pleasant to be with one’s friends than with one’s teacher”. Despite the importance of visiting one’s teacher, the Sages understood that people prefer being in the company of their friends at times (for some, it’s all the time… ☺). One can use one’s eiruv to visit with whom one would like, enhancing one’s own personal enjoyment of Shabbat. Fortunate are those for whom visiting their teacher is the same as being in the company of friends!