Today’s daf (Eruvin 66) explores two possible halachic models relating to the establishment of an Eruv by Jewish tenants who are renting property owned by a non-Jew. According to one model, שוכר במערב דמי – ‘renting is similar to making an Eruv’, while the other model suggests that שוכר כמבטל רשות דמי – ‘renting is similar to renouncing rights to a domain’.
Though the Gemara itself is interested in comparing these models in order to understand a number of technical issues such as ‘when’ an Eruv may be established (according to the first model, it can only be done on prior to Shabbat, while according to the second model, it can be done on Shabbat), and ‘how’ one may lease (e.g. with something that is worth less than a peruta), these two models also point to a wider understanding of what it means to rent.
According to the first model of שוכר כמערב דמי (‘renting is similar to making an Eruv’), those who rent can play a role in the construction of a collective tenant population which is mutually beneficial, while according to the second model of שוכר כמבטל רשות דמי (‘renting is similar to renouncing rights to a domain’), those who rent may relinquish certain rights to other tenants for the benefit of all tenants.
While all this may sound abstract, I believe that these two models neatly dovetail with two different phrases found in Parshat Bereishit which we will be reading this Shabbat.
In terms of the former approach which emphasizes our mission to create and build, we are told by God to ‘fill the land and conquer it’ (Bereishit 1:28), while in terms of the second approach which emphasizes how we need to be prepared to hold back our yearning for construction for the sake of other inhabitants, we are told that we should ‘work and guard the earth’ (Bereishit 2:15).
Undoubtedly, remarkable things can be achieved through the constructive process of building cities and building societies. At the same time, no less and possibly even more remarkable things can also be achieved through the relinquishing of our so-called rights towards those other human, animal and plant populations with whom we share tenancy on this planet. As David Attenborough has so compellingly demonstrated in ‘A Life On Our Planet’, we cannot afford to wait, but ‘if we act now, we can yet put it right’.