Eruvin 20

We were previously taught in the Mishna (Eruvin 2:2, 17b) about the enclosure created by affixing four right-angled posts around a public well to enable pilgrims to feed their animals as they journeyed to and from Jerusalem, and as the Mishna explained, this enclosure had to be sufficiently large to enable the head and most of the body (ראשה ורובה) of a cow to fit inside.
Today’s daf (Eruvin 20a-b) explores this halachic requirement of ראשה ורובה – ‘the head and most of the body’ – and it begins its analysis by drawing a parallel between the laws of feeding animals from a public well on Shabbat, with the laws of people drinking from a public well on Shabbat where we are taught further on in the Massechet (Mishna Eruvin 10:6, 99a) that, ‘a person may not stand in a public domain (רשות הרבים) and drink in a private domain (רשות היחיד)’ or vice versa, ‘unless he brings his head and most of his [body] (ראשו ורובו) into the place (i.e. domain) where he is drinking’.
Interestingly, this measure of ‘ראשו ורובו’ is used widely in the Mishna and Gemara, with further examples being Mishna Sukkah (2:7, 28a) where, at least according to Beit Hillel, if someone’s head and most of their body (ראשו ורובו) is inside a sukkah – while the table from which they are eating is outside – then they are considered to have eating in the sukkah, and Mishna Pesachim (8:3, 89a) where the determinant of which child from a family first reached Jerusalem is based on whoever’s head and most of their body (ראשו ורובו) first entered the city.
However, though the ראשו ורובו requirement is undoubtedly used in all these cases as a physical determinant of boundary crossing, or as a halachic requirement for establishing presence within a physical space or enclosure, I believe that ראשו ורובו is – in fact – a requirement for each and every one of us.
In our fast-paced lives, many of us take pride in being able to multitask, and though there are those of us who ‘struggle to juggle’, there are many people who are able to work on many different things at one. Yet, as numerous studies show, just because people can multitask does not necessarily mean that multitasking is good for efficiency, or for producing the best quality results, or for maintaining good mental health. Moreover, the temptation to multitask can often mean that we dilute the attention we give to those we love such that we are not fully present for them.
This, coupled with the attention we give to our handheld devices, can often generate what has been called “absent presence” – a phenomenon, often associated with the use of smartphone technology – where someone is physically ‘present’ and possibly even engaged in conversation, yet is also ‘absent’ as they are engaged in a parallel activity or conversation.
For many of us, the expectation that we only do one thing at a time is likely too great a stretch. However, what is reasonable is that of the important things that we do, ראשו ורובו – i.e. our full headspace and much of our body – should be present.
For example, when we are talking with a relative, child or friend – either in person or even on the phone – it is important that our full headspace and much of our body is with them. And why? Because if we are doing many things while talking to them, if we are ‘absent present’, we may not hear the verbal clues that they are telling us that something is amiss, and they may not share what they want to tell us because we are distracted and seem disinterested.
Similarly, on a spiritual level, if we allow ourselves to be perpetually distracted by many things, we will fail to hear the messages God is always sending us. As Rabbi Sacks explains, ‘God is the music of all that lives, but there are times when all we hear is noise. The true religious challenge is to ignore the noise and focus on the music’ (Celebrating Life p. 75).
And how do we do this? By being fully present, and by making sure that whatever important thing we do – our full headspace and much of our body is with us.