The Mishna (Eruvin 6:9-10, 75a) in today’s daf examines the interrelationship of two courtyards, A & B, such that to reach courtyard B you must walk through courtyard A.
The problem arises when the residents of courtyard A arrange an Eruv, while the residents of courtyard B do not. This is because, by virtue of their right of passage through courtyard A, those living in courtyard B are – in some way – partial residents of courtyard A. Consequently, since they themselves did not arrange an Eruv, the residents of courtyard B restrict the Eruv of those living in courtyard A. According to this, the Gemara explains that, ‘the foot of a restricted person [of one place] restricts [other people in another place]’. However, the Sages disagree with this thesis and they argue that ‘the foot of a restricted person [of one place] does not restrict [other people in another place]’.
In terms of the application of this Mishna beyond the laws of Eruvin, I think it can be understood to be speaking about toxic or negative people who pass through our life on a regular or semi-regular basis. According to the first opinion, their passage through our life negatively impacts us, while according to the Sages, their passage through our life does not.
In theory, I would like to agree with the Sages that ‘the foot of a restricted person should not restrict other people’. However, in practice – and this is the codified halacha (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 378:2) –the first opinion is correct because, so often, toxic and negative people negatively affect those around them. But how can someone protect themselves from such an impact?
A close study of the laws of Eruvin offers two answers. Firstly, as the Mishna Brura (OC 378 note 11) explains, those living in courtyard A can tell those living in courtyard B that they do not have an automatic right of passage. Applying this to relationships, this means that it is possible to restrict the access you give to toxic and negative people in your life because, for reasons of self-preservation, you need to establish firmer boundaries.
However, citing the Responsa Chanoch Beit Yehuda No. 10, the Sha’arei Teshuva (OC 378) explains that ‘the foot of a restricted person [of one place] restricts [other people in another place]’ only applies if there is no other exit for the person – meaning that the only way for the residents of courtyard B to reach the public domain is by passing through courtyard A. Applying this to relationships, what this means is that to avoid the impact of toxic and negative people that often pass through our life, we need to make sure that they have access to other routes which help them reach their intended destination.
King David wrote how we should ‘turn from bad and do good’ (Tehillim 34:15), and in terms those around us who are negative or toxic, we need to do the same. ‘Turn from bad’ means to establish firmer boundaries, ‘and do good’ means to help them establish further pathways for self-liberation.