Eruvin 25

Today’s daf (Eruvin 25a) makes reference to various acts used to halachically ‘shotgun’ (i.e. claim rights and acquire) an ownerless field (i.e. what is known as a קנין חזקה), with the general rule of thumb being that an action performed by someone to improve a field enables someone to acquire the field.  

With this in mind we are told of a case where someone threw a turnip into a pre-existing opening in the ground this ownerless field. As the Ritva points out, a turnip was used to make this point because turnip’s grow nicely even if only part of the turnip is submerged in the ground, and also because turnip’s grow quickly and their growth is clear to see.

Naturally one would presume that an act such as this – which is clearly an addition to the field – would be sufficient for someone to acquire an ownerless field. However, the Gemara then informs us that if a second person then came along and dug in the ground a bit – seemingly around the area around the turnip – the second person acquires the field.

Trying to make sense of this conclusion, various commentaries explain that while the turnip was an ‘addition to the field’, its presence alone did not immediately improve the field itself, whereas the individual who dug into the ground made a direct and immediate ‘improvement to the field’ and consequently met the halachic criteria to acquire the field.

For some people what we learn from this debate solely relates to the halachic criteria for a קנין חזקה. However, I believe that there is much in this debate which can also teach us how improve – and how to take better possession of – our lives.

As we know, quite often we make additions to our lives which – in time – may grow into something substantive. Of course, such additions are to be commended. Still, oftentimes those particular additions are only chosen because – like the turnip – they are easily be thrown into pre-existing gaps in our lives. Moreover, at least a partial reason as to why we chose to add those particular features to our lives is because – like the turnip – they can be seen and admired by others.

But as we see from this Gemara, if we really want to make improvements to our lives, we need to look beyond our pre-existing gaps and, instead, create space for what we truly need. Furthermore, we need to consider the changes we can make not only on the surface of our lives, but primarily those that can be made under the surface of our lives. And most significantly, rather than throwing opportunities into our lives which can be done at a distance, we need to get down on the ground, dig a bit and get our hands dirty, and be up close and personal with ourselves.

And the moment we get our hands dirty with the rich soil that is the soul of our lives – is the moment we are already making an improvement to our lives.