Much of today’s daf (Eruvin 15a) addresses a disagreement between Abaye and Rava concerning a לחי (sidepost) found at the side of a מבוי (an alleyway coming off a public domain and leading to a residential area) which was not initially placed there to halachically function as a לחי. According to Abaye, הוי לחי – it is a [halachically] valid sidepost, while according to Rava, לא הוי לחי – it is not a [halachically] valid sidepost.
Significantly, underpinning this debate is a deeper disagreement between Abaye and Rava about the very nature of a לחי. For Abaye, a לחי operates as a partition (מחיצה) and thus he attributes physical properties to a לחי – such that even when placed unintentionally at the side of a מבוי, it achieves this purpose. However, according to Rava, a לחי operates as a symbolic reminder (היכר), and thus when placed unintentionally at the side of a מבוי, it does not achieve this goal.
While some debates between Sages were easily resolved, many of those between Abaye and Rava – who had been friends from childhood were, like this case, based on each perceiving a particular object or phenomenon in a particular way and subsequently exploring and defending the halachic corollary of that perspective. As a result, the debates between Abaye and Rava – which we call הוויות דאביי ורבא – are considered to be the ultimate model for deep, nuanced and principled halachic analysis.
At the bottom of Eruvin 15a – where this lengthy debate draws to a close – we are told that there was a balcony in the house of Bar Chavu that Abaye and Rava disagreed about כולי שנייהו – for all their years! In this case, the balcony rested on a pillar which the residents of the מבוי below relied upon as a לחי – notwithstanding the fact that its function was to support the balcony rather than to operate as a לחי. True to form, Abaye insisted that this was a halachically valid לחי, while Rava was of the opinion that it is not a halachically valid לחי.
Interestingly, while reviewing some of the commentaries on today’s daf, I came across a great question by Rabbi Moshe Mordechai HaLevi Shulzingerin his ‘Mishmar HaLevi’ who asked why Bar Chavu – knowing that Rava was of the opinion that this pillar was not a valid לחי – did not construct a further לחי so that carrying in this מבוי could be in accordance with both opinions?
Of course, there are many possible reasons why Bar Chavu did not do so. However, I suspect that one of them is because Bar Chavu took great joy from seeing and hearing Abaye and Rava – these colleagues and old friends – revisit this debate each time they passed his balcony.
Today – in the wider world and even in the Jewish world – we are loosing the art of debate which is best expressed by הוויות דאביי ורבא. Rather than being able to listen and to learn from each other while still maintaining a principled stance, we live in a cancel-culture age where arguments are quick, vicious, often personal, and all about ‘winning’. In fact, when two or more people do disagree and don’t lower themselves to such tactics, it is considered to be the exception, not the rule.
Given all this, perhaps one of the best things we can do for self-improvement in this month of Ellul is to ask ourselves how to take a leaf out of the book of Abaye and Rava and how to ensure that – if and when we disagree with others – this is done in the spirit of deep, nuanced and principled analysis, to the extent that if someone were to see or hear you disagree with another, this would not cause them tension or discomfort, but instead, like Bar Chavu, be a source of wisdom, hope and joy.