To date, much of Massechet Eruvin has been focussed on explaining ‘how’ to construct various forms of Eruvin, while far less attention has been given to consider ‘why’ an Eruv should be constructed – and especially why a communal Eruv Techumin should be established. Yet embedded in the Mishna in today’s daf (Eruvin 8:1, 82a) is a clear statement concerning why a person may wish to use, and why a community should wish to establish, an Eruv Techumin.
We are taught that when a communal Eruv Techumin has been established, the individual doing so should declare: ‘Let this be for all people of my town – for all those who will go to a house of mourning or to a wedding banquet’, and though some poskim discuss the broader usages of Eruv Techumin, it is clear from here that comforting the mourner and bringing joy to the newly married (who, especially in prior generations, did not spend much time with each other prior to getting married and therefore approached their marriage day with a mix of great excitement and a great sense of doubt and anxiousness) are considered to be part of the core functions of a communal Eruv Techumin.
As numerous commentaries point out, it is of significance that the ‘house of mourning’ is mentioned prior to ‘wedding banquet’, and this leads them to reference Kohelet 7:2 which states how ‘it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting’.
However, as Rabbi Raphael Immanuel Riki (1688-1743) observes in his ‘Aderet Eliyahu’, while this principle is generally true, it is strange that attending a house of mourning is referenced at all since public expressions of mourning are avoided on Shabbat. Consequently, in this context while discussing Eruv Techumin, surely it would have been more appropriate to first mention a wedding banquet and only then mention a house of mourning? He answers by stating that we learn from this Mishna how, even on Shabbat, the principle of ‘it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting’ still applies.
On first glance, what we learn from here is that communal Eruv Techumin are primarily intended for the community to function as a community, so its members can perform acts of gemilut chasadim and be there for one another when facing difficulty and loss or when celebrating important life cycle events.
But if we pause to consider the concept of Eruv Techumin, we will realise that this is an incomplete explanation because if there is a need for an Eruv Techumin to reach the home of someone, then that someone isn’t living in the heart of the community. Instead, they are living at the periphery or outside of the community.
Understood this way, what we learn from our Mishna is that communal Eruv Techumin are intended for the community to function as a community, so its members can perform acts of gemilut chasadim and be there, during bad times and good, not just for one another, but also for those at the periphery and beyond the boundaries of their community.