Like the past few pages of Massechet Eruvin, today’s daf (Eruvin 88) spends much of its time discussing the rules of transferring water on Shabbat. However, while prior dapim concerned themselves with drawing water from springs or rivers for the purpose of drinking and other home uses, today’s daf focusses its attention on the practical question of pouring out sewage water on Shabbat.
Clearly, the Rabbis understood the need to pour out sewage, but they were concerned that this water-waste would flow beyond the courtyard of someone’s home. Given this, they taught that if someone has a courtyard larger than four amot where their waste water can be poured and will be absorbed, they may do so. If not, they must dig a sufficiently large cesspool into which they must pour their waste water so as to avoid its drainage beyond their domain.
However, the question was raised about what should be done during the rainy season when water is constantly flowing, to which we are taught that even during this period, someone with a large enough courtyard may pour out their waste water because while it is likely that this water will flow beyond their domain, their intention is that the waste-water be absorbed where it was poured.
What we learn from here is that when we need to get rid of unpleasant waste, we should do so responsibly and with a sensitivity to those around us. Moreover, even during the most torrential of rainy seasons, and notwithstanding the simple fact that at such times we cannot control the flow of water around our home, we should not wish for our waste to enter into the space of others.
Like the homes of the Mishnaic period, none of us live in a vacuum, which means that what we say and do affects others. In terms of our ‘waste’ (which could be interpreted in a variety of ways), we should be sensitive about where we place it. If necessary, we may need to construct a system to deal with what we pour out so that it doesn’t overflow, without invitation, onto the path of others. And even during the most torrential of rainy seasons, and notwithstanding it being somewhat inevitable, we should intend that it be absorbed where it was poured.
However, while all this applies to waste, the opposite applies to chessed which Rambam (in his Moreh Nevuchim III:53) notably defines as ‘overflow’, which means that whatever good we can do, we should hope – and seek – that it overflows onto others as well.