June 19, 2020

Shabbat 8


Today’s daf (Shabbat 8a) contains a fascinating debate between Rebbi and the Sages about the halachic status of a tree versus its branches.

The case in point concerns a tree that is in a Reshut HaYachid (private space) whose branches reach over into a Reshut HaRabim (public space), and the scenario being discussed is the halachic liability of someone who throws an object from the Reshut HaRabim which then lands onto the branch of the tree.

According to Rebbi, שדי נופו בתר עיקרו – “the branch adopts the [halachic] status of its trunk” and thus a person would be liable for transferring an object from one halachic space (Reshut HaRabim) to another (Reshut HaYachid). However the Sages disagree and assert that לא אמרינן שדי נופו בתר עיקרו, “we do not say that the branch adopts the [halachic] status of its trunk”. Consequently, they would view someone who throws an object from the Reshut HaRabim onto the branch of the tree as throwing within a Reshut HaRabim – and thus are not liable according to Torah law.

Of course, the relationship between trunk and branches lends itself to many different aggadic (non-halachic) interpretations, but perhaps one of the most recognizable comparisons is to view the trunk of a tree as the essence of a person, and the branches of a tree as their actions.

Naturally, there are those who insist on consistency and that every person’s actions must always reflect their essence. Yet, as I write this, there are people who usually spend Motzei Shabbat socialising with friends who are in isolation due to the Corona virus; tomorrow, children in Israel who usually would be in school will be at home, and there is a general sense that all of us are not quite living the way we are used to or the way we want to. Simply put, our actions (branches) aren’t quite reflective of our essence (trunk). But, as the Sages posit, this itself isn’t always such a bad thing.

Mark Twain once observed, ‘there are those who would misteach us that to stick in a rut is consistency and a virtue; and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency and a vice’ – and in doing so, he sought to teach us that sometimes, as part of a leap towards change, or response to challenge, we need to be inconsistent for the sake of a wider growth opportunity.

These times are such times. Shavua Tov, and may we look after ourselves and each other!

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