Today, after 157 days, we reach the final page of Shabbat, and with this, the final lines of this Massechet close with reference to the rabbinic decree against measuring on Shabbat as well as the exemption, as noted in the Mishna (Shabbat 24:5, 157a), that water may be measured on Shabbat for the sake of the mitzvah.
However, we are then told that Ulla observed Rabbah bar Rav Huna sitting in a tub of water on Shabbat where he was measuring the water. Seeing this, Ulla called out to Rabbah bar Rav Huna and questioned him – since it did not seem that Rabbah bar Rav Huna was measuring for the sake of a mitzvah. Rabbah bar Rav Huna responded to Ulla by explaining that he was not measuring for any particular purpose and was מתעסק בעלמא.
Of course, the word מתעסק is a familiar one to all those who have studied Massechet Shabbat, and within the laws of Shabbat it refers to the inadvertent performance of a (forbidden) melacha action performed while involved with other activities. Moreover, while the word בעלמא is often translated as ‘merely’, it also translates as ‘in the world’. According to this, Rabbah bar Rav Huna was so involved (מתעסק) with what he was doing in a tub of water that he was ‘in another world’ and was unaware that he was measuring on Shabbat.
Significantly, one of the Birkot HaTorah (blessings that we recite each morning on the privilege of studying Torah) – at least according to some liturgical traditions – concludes with the words לעסוק בדברי תורה – to be involved with the study of Torah, and equally significant is the fact that Torah is often compared to water (see for example Shemot 15:22 as explained in Bava Kamma 82a).
Like Rabbah bar Rav Huna, many of us have been so immersed and so involved (מתעסק) in learning and exploring the warm Torah waters of the world (עלמא) of Massechet Shabbat – which have carried us through an unprecedented time – that we didn’t notice ourselves measuring how close we were to its end – until today.
Personally, when I began Massechet Shabbat 157 days ago I was fearful that I would have the ability to swim safely in the deep waters of Massechet Shabbat. But as we reach our last page, I feel a sense of anguish as I step out from the healing waters – comparable to the oft-referenced spas and warm springs – of Massechet Shabbat, to the unfamiliar and daunting waters of Massechet Eruvin. Yet as I do so, like the person who bathes in a river on Shabbat who carries the water on their body having come out of the river, I still feel the water on Shabbat on my body and soul, while I know, as we say in the heartfelt words of the Hadran, that:
‘we shall return to you, Massechet Shabbat, and you shall return to us. Our thoughts are on you, Massechet Shabbat, and your thoughts are on us. We will not forget you, Massechet Shabbat, and you will not forget us – neither in this world (עלמא) – and nor in the next world (עלמא).’
(nb. please note that all my past daf yomi insights for Massechet Shabbat can be found at https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/daf-yomi/shabbat/)