Eruvin 41-42

Shana Tova! In April of this year, while reflecting on the severe impact of the Coronavirus pandemic as well as the oft-used remark that “We are all in the same boat …”, Damian Barr wrote on his twitter feed that, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some of us are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

Within moments this tweet went viral, and soon after, Barbara Kelley produced this stunning illustration (see attached) to accompany an article in the Wall Street Journal in which Barr’s tweet was quoted. And why do I mention this? Because having learnt both yesterday and today’s daf (Eruvin 41-42), I’ve been pondering the possibilities and limitations of life on a boat.

The Mishna in yesterday’s daf (Eruvin 4:1, 41b) informs us of four Tana’im (Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva) who were on a boat which was in the port at the onset of Shabbat (and which thereby established the port as a symbolic place of residence for Shabbat).

However, during Shabbat the boat either deliberately sailed out to sea (Rashi), or was forced out to sea due to heavy winds (Rabbeinu Yehonatan), and as a result it travelled more than 2,000 amot (i.e. the limit of the ‘techum Shabbat’ that a person should travel during Shabbat if they had a fixed symbolic place of residence at the onset of Shabbat).

As the Mishna explains, both Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria believed that while the boat had gone beyond the ‘techum Shabbat’, it was permissible to move freely on the boat. However, both Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva took a stricter view and, once the boat moved beyond 2,000 amot from the port, they limited their movements to a 4-amot radius.

In today’s daf (Eruvin 42b) we are told that the halacha is in accordance with Rabban Gamliel [and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria], and we are then offered two justifications for this halachic position:

According to Rabbah, this is because, prior to the onset of Shabbat, the entire boat was determined to be a symbolic residence (such that free movement was possible on the boat as it is inside a residence on Shabbat).

However, according to Rabbi Zeira, the reason why it was permissible to move on the boat was because though – technically – a person would need to stay in a 4-amot radius, since the boat was constantly moving, so too is the location of the 4-amot radius (or alternatively, since the boat was constantly moving, the specific 4-amot radius where a person should technically remain can never be known).

In terms of the current Coronavirus pandemic, there are some people who have adapted to whatever boat they are in, and like Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria as explained by Rabbah, have found a way to feel at home and move freely within the confines of whatever physical space and limitations that they have.

There are others who, like Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria as explained by Rabbi Zeira, are still keeping moving during this pandemic, but in their case this is simply because everything is constantly moving and changing, and so all they feel they can do is to move with the times even though they are not in the slightest at peace with the current state of play.

And then there are those, like Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva, who are almost paralysed by the limitations that they are experiencing, and who have taken the decision to establish a very tight boundary around themselves which they are not crossing until things get a little more under control.

 

What we see from here is that it is not just that ‘we are not all in the same boat’, but also that our behaviour on whatever boat we are on may not be the same as the behaviour of other people on other boats.

And this is why we need to desperately pray to God to calm these stormy Coronavirus waters, while also doing all we can to be a voice of friendship, support and comfort to others who are struggling with their physical health, their mental health, their finances or simply their physical limitations in whatever boat they are currently in.