June 19, 2020

Shabbat 6

In today’s daf (Shabbat 6a) we are formally introduced to four different halachic areas which have significant implications to the prohibition of carrying on Shabbat: (i) Reshut HaYachid – private area (eg. partitioned space or private home); (ii) Reshut HaRabim – public area (eg. open plaza or public street), (iii) Karmelit – a semi public/private area (eg. raised platform or forest) & (iv) M’kom P’tur – an exempt area (eg. doorstep).

Significantly, the names used for three of these area (Reshut HaYachid, Reshut HaHaRabim & M’kom P’tur) demand little explanation. However, there is considerable debate about the meaning and origin of the name used for the fourth area known as a ‘Karmelit’.

According to the Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1:1) as cited by Tosfot, this term is drawn from the word ‘Karmel’ which is used in Vayikra 2:14 to describe grain that is neither completely fresh or completely dry. Alternatively, Rambam asserts that the word ‘Karmelit’ is a shortened version of the word ‘K’armelit’, literally ‘like a widow’, because a widow has been married but is currently unmarried. It should be clear that in both cases, a ‘Karmelit’ is presented as a kind of ‘in-between’ status.

However, Rashi takes a different approach. He explains that ‘Karmelit’ derives from the word ‘Karmilo’, found in Isaiah 10:18, to describe a ‘fertile forest’, and the reason why our Rabbis chose this term is because a fertile forest is not usually walked through by many passers by and nor is it viewed as an exclusively private area.

There are many of us who view the ‘in-between’ stages in our lives in the spirit of Tosfot’s explanation – they may be necessary but we are rarely at our best in those stages, while others look at our ‘in-between’ stages in the spirit of Rambam where our situation was not of our choosing and may often be the source of some sadness.

However, Rashi offers a different and refreshing perspective. Unlike our ‘in-between’ stages of life reminding us of what we may lack, he suggests that we see them as those when we can be most productive – like a fertile forest.

Ultimately, life takes us on many journeys, and while there are times when we understand where we are at, there are other times when we aren’t so sure. Still, as Rashi explains, even at the most ambiguous and in-between stages in our life, there is much possibility for growth.
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