The Mishna in today’s daf (4:7, 49b) describes someone who is travelling on Friday afternoon and who, notwithstanding their best efforts, is unable to make it home for Shabbat. However, as I explained with reference to an earlier Mishna (Eruvin 4:4, 45a), dispensation is given to a traveller to designate a symbolic residence for themselves for Shabbat which can be up to 2,000 amot from where they are presently located and which would then allow them to travel a further 2,000 amot without having physically visited this place before Shabbat, and without having placed an Eruv in that location before Shabbat.
However, as the Mishna in today’s daf explains, since we are dealing with measurable distances – both in terms of where the traveller is coming from and how far the traveller wishes to proceed further from that symbolic residence, the question of specificity arises. Thus we are told that if someone says, ‘Let my [symbolic Shabbat] residence under a [particular] tree’, this is insufficiently specific as the area under a tree may be very large, whereas if they say, ‘Let my [symbolic Shabbat] residence be the trunk of a [particular] tree’, then this is effective (nb. this issue is discussed in further detail in the subsequent Gemara).
Applying this to our lives, just as a symbolic-Shabbat-residence-setting requires specificity, so too does goal-setting requires specificity, and especially as we are about to enter Yom Kippur and ponder how far we have come in the past year as well as how far we wish to progress in the coming year, it is important that we try and be specific in terms of the personal goals we set for ourselves for the coming year.
At the same time, reflecting – today, this Erev Yom Kippur – on the imagery of someone finding respite under a tree, I am also reminded of the stirring story of Yona that we will be reading tomorrow afternoon, where Yona sought shade, comfort and personal respite under a tree. As we know, G-d then caused this tree to wither and Yona then mourned the loss of this tree. In response, G-d told Yona, ‘you took pity on the Kikayon (tree)… shall I not take pity upon Nineveh..?’
What this story teaches us is that far too many of us become so caught up in our personal wants and needs, that we forget to concern ourselves with the needs of others and with the broader responsibilities that we have been assigned by G-d.
So as we prepare to enter Yom Kippur, we should set our sights, as individuals, on what our personal goals should be for the coming year, while also making sure we recognise our duties and responsibilities to others; we should pray for ourselves and for others; we should reflect on what we’ve gone through this year – as well as what others have experienced; and we should ask and beg G-d to show compassion and to bring healing – both to the world at large and also to ourselves for the coming year.