Over the past few days of Daf Yomi we have encountered a series of debates between Rav and Shmuel, and we have also spent time considering the halachic status of two courtyards, each with independent Eruvin, where the boundary between them suddenly collapses on Shabbat. Beyond this, one of the issues mentioned in yesterday’s daf (Eruvin 93b) which I addressed in my commentary considered how we respond to opinions and interpretations with which we disagree, and finally, a theme that has regularly featured in Daf Yomi is the importance of respecting the authority of local religious leadership. And today’s daf (Eruvin 94a) tells us a story where all four of these strands come together.
We are told that Rav and Shmuel were once sitting together on Shabbat in a courtyard with its own Eruv, when suddenly, part of the wall between this and the neighbouring courtyard collapsed.
Shmuel – who rules that in such a situation the Eruv maintains its integrity – instructed the people to take a shawl in order to create a temporary curtain where the boundary had previously been, while Rav – who rules that in such a situation the Eruv has been compromised and therefore carrying is forbidden – turned his face to express displeasure towards Shmuel’s ruling (nb. it should be noted that Rav was also of the belief that such a temporary curtain was ineffective in rectifying the Eruv which he considered to have been compromised).
Seeing Rav’s reaction, Shmuel remarked to observers that if Rav has objections, they should ‘take his belt to help secure the shawl’ (which, while understood in a variety of ways by various commentaries, I understand to mean ‘if Rav has an opinion about this situation, I suggest that rather than he merely turn his face to express his displeasure, he should actually stand up and make a positive and constructive contribution to help with this situation’).
Yet the question arises as to why Shmuel felt the need to use the shawl to create a temporary curtain? This is because, according to him, the Eruv maintains its integrity in such a situation. To this, the Gemara answers that he didn’t do so for the sake of establishing an Eruv boundary. Instead, he did so for the sake of privacy because those sitting in each courtyard had previously felt that they were in a private setting, while now that the wall had collapsed, they were visible to others.
The question then turns to Rav because, as I wrote in my remarks to yesterday’s daf, ‘there are times when the reluctance to directly challenge another person or position out of the concern that this may upset or offend them can lead a person to be unnecessarily – and at times unhelpfully – ambiguous about things that they need to present with clarity’. Given this, the Gemara asks why Rav – who was of the opinion that the Eruv had been compromised – did not actually speak up?
To this we are told that this event occurred in Shmuel’s locale, and so it was felt to be improper for Rav to express his opinion and thereby undermine the local religious authority. Still, Rav did turn his face in displeasure, and the Gemara therefore raises the question as to why he did so given his concern for undermining Shmuel’s authority, to which the answer is given that Rav still felt the need to be ‘on record’ that he disagreed with Shmuel, and that his silence shouldn’t suggest that he no longer held that an Eruv is compromised in such a situation.
To my mind, this multi-layered story involving Jewish law, human dignity, community dynamics, professional respect, and the need to stay true to one’s principles is a powerful window to many of the challenges that communal and religious leaders face. Seen from one angle, we observe Shmuel doing all he can to create a temporary curtain to protect the dignity and privacy of the residents. While seen from another angle, we observe him catching a glimpse of Rav’s face who believed that Shmuel was halachically incorrect.
I previously explained that I understand Shmuel’s response to Rav of ‘take his belt to help secure the shawl’ to mean, ‘if Rav has an opinion about this situation, I suggest that rather than he merely turn his face to express his displeasure, he should actually stand up and make a positive and constructive contribution to help with this situation’. Perhaps we could claim that this was a specific comment to a specific moment. However, in the actions of Shmuel, and in the words that he shared with Rav, I hear the message of Rabbi Sacks zt’l who explains that:
‘Leadership is about being active, not passive, choosing a direction, not simply following the person in front of us. Leaders do not complain, they do not blame others, not do they wait for someone else to put it right. They act. They take responsibility. And they join with others, knowing that there are limits to what any individual can do. They engage and enlist those who feel, as they do, that there is something wrong that needs to be put right.’ (Lessons in Leadership p. 305).