March 1, 2022

Chagigah 20

What happens if someone plans to travel to a particular destination and, given their excess luggage, they hire donkey drivers or workers to bring the rest of their luggage as well as other items including parcels of food or earthenware jugs of wine containing food or drink that is טהור (i.e. with a ‘pure’ spiritual status) to the destination – with the problem being that those hired drivers or workers are not cautious about the laws of maintaining the ‘pure’ spiritual status of food and drink?
The answer offered by the Beraita in today’s daf (Chagigah 20b) is that as long as the hired drivers/workers know that the owner is nearby, we don’t presume that the items will have been either accidentally or deliberately tampered with. However, if the owner instructs the hired drivers/workers to ‘go on ahead and I will join you later’, it is then impossible to guarantee the pure status of the items once the distance between the hired workers and the owner is so great that the owner is unable to visibly see the hired workers.
Based on all this, the Gemara concludes that as long as the owner might possibly meet up with the hired drivers/workers at some point on their journey, even if he does so via a circuitous route, then we can continue to presume that the items retain their pure status, whereas if there is no chance that he will meet up with them, this status is then no longer secure.
Considering this teaching further, I believe that it captures a deep lesson not only about brief journeys undertaken by pure food and drink, but more importantly, about the life journey undertaken by our soul. We testify every morning to God that ‘the soul You placed within me is pure’ and though, as Rav Shimon Schwab stresses in his insights on the siddur, that ‘the neshamah remains pure despite the aveiros (sins) that its human personality may do’, our soul nevertheless testifies to the choices we make along this journey called life that may not always be right, or ideal, or pure.
So how do we ensure that we make the right choices? By maintaining our belief that God continues to keep us in His sight, and by remembering that, at some point on our journey, we will again meet with the ultimate owner of our soul.
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