Eruvin 78

Today’s daf (Eruvin 78b) continues its discussion of walls that divide courtyards, and how the access provided by a ladder to a tall window in such a wall can – along with the sharing of an Eruv Chatzeirot – enable the two courtyards to combine. With this in mind, Rav Yosef to Rabbah asks עשאו לאילן סולם מהו – what is the status of a tree which has been made into a ladder?
Specifically, what is being discussed here is a tree that has grown alongside the dividing wall of two courtyards which has been pruned and sculpted to form a ladder – and the question posed by Rav Yosef is whether such a ‘tree-ladder’ may provide the symbolic connection to the window to enable the two courtyards to combine.
In terms of why this would be problematic, this is because the rabbis decreed against climbing on trees on Shabbat for fear that branches be broken or leaves be ripped or fruit be picked. At the same time, as explained earlier in Massechet Eruvin (33a), an Eruv Techumin may be placed in a tree on Shabbat because a tree may be accessed (i.e. the rabbinic decree doesn’t apply) in Bein Hashmashot (twilight) – which is when the Eruv must be accessible. Still, as the Gemara proceeds to explain, in this instance we are discussing the theoretical access to the tree for the entire Shabbat period which should surely make its use forbidden. Yet notwithstanding this objection, the codified halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 372:15) permits such as ‘tree-ladder’ – while various commentaries (see Dirshu commentary on Mishna Brura ibid.) debate the halachic rationale for doing so.
However, I would like to add a further layer to this commentary by reflecting on the notion of family as being both a tree and a ladder – as prompted by a special family event last night when around 50 members of my wider family (including first, second & third cousins) gathered on zoom to (re)connect.
While some members of the family remain in very regular contact, this was an opportunity for some members to reconnect having not having seen or spoken with each other for some years, and during the session, my uncle presented a comprehensive family tree which he produced during the recent lockdown period – concluding with the quote that ‘Family: Like branches on a tree we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.’
Yet, aside from being like a tree, family is also like a ladder – or at least, like the person who holds onto the bottom of a shaky ladder as someone else ascends its rungs – because families provide both the support and confidence to their members to take the steps up whatever ladder of success they choose to climb.
Of course, there is no such thing as ‘the’ perfect family. Yet, as Rabbi Sacks so beautifully observes in ‘Celebrating Life’ (p. 101), it is from the family that we learn to live: ‘Families are not ideal worlds. They are significant precisely because they are real worlds with people we know and trust. Working out our tensions with them, we learn how to resolve tensions with society. They are where we count, where we make a difference, where we first find that others are there for us and we must be there for them. And, yes, they have their share of pain. It is the pain of life lived in relationship. Without it we could not learn to love.’