June 25, 2020

Shabbat 99-100

Towards the end of today’s daf (Shabbat 99b) and continuing into tomorrow’s daf (100a) is a fascinating halachic discussion about what it means to be at rest which I believe has so much to teach us about our personal places of comfort and rest.

As a quick reminder, the laws of carrying on Shabbat are transgressed when one or more objects are lifted (‘akira’) from a state of rest, carried in one manner or another, and then set down (‘hanacha’) to rest. The question addressed by Rava (initially on Shabbat 5b and repeated on our daf) is how do we define a state of rest?

The first example addressed by Rava is the status of water which, as we know, is fluid and therefore moves even as in the case being discussed when sitting in a well or a hole. Yet, as Rava states, ‘it is obvious that water that sits on water (i.e. a top layer of water) is considered to be in its natural state of rest’ which is explained by Rambam (Shabbat 13:4) to mean that in such a situation, ‘the entire body of water is considered as if it is placed on the ground’. Thus, if a person takes water from a well or hole on Shabbat, then they have lifted it (‘akira’) from its state of rest and they are liable presuming that they then carry it and set it down elsewhere.

Reflecting on this halachic detail I believe there is much we can learn from here. In general, we think of ‘rest’ as ‘not moving’. However, what we learn from Rava is that a state of rest is actually about have a sense of rootedness and a feeling of being ‘at one with oneself’, and while meaningful movement may occur in that place – just like the movement that takes place in water – it is still where a person feels comfortable, at home, and therefore at rest.

Rava then continues to discuss the case of a nut floating in water and states that ‘[it is also obvious] that such a nut is not considered to be in a state of rest’. This is explained nicely by the Artscroll commentary which, basing itself on Rashi and the Netziv, explains that ‘a nut is not considered at one with the water. Thus, since it moves about upon the water, it is not considered in a state of rest and one who removes from from the water has not performed an ‘akira’’.

Here too we learn a profound lesson which is that when a person is somewhere where they feel out of place, where they are not ‘at one’ with that environment, and where the inner movement of their environment pulls them in directions that they cannot control, then they are not at rest.

Finally, Rava presents a third case: what is the law when a nut is in a container that is floating on the water? Is the law according to the nut which in this case is at rest? Or is the law according to the container which is not at rest? Here the Gemara offers no resolution and concludes its debate with the word ‘teyku’. However, as is his general position concerning debates that conclude with ‘teyku’, Rambam rules that such a person would not be liable – meaning that he regards such a nut as not being at rest.

What this tells us is that even when a person is physically not moving and seemingly in an environment where they at rest, if that environment is in a state of flux then so too are all those residing within it.

Like most people I have my places of rest where the inner movement of that environment is aligned with who I am and is therefore where I feel at one with myself.

Similarly, like most people I also have places where I don’t feel at rest where the inner movement of those environments conflict with who I am and therefore, when I am in those places, I don’t feel at one with myself.

However, I have to admit that there are times in our complex, tense and worrisome world that even when I am seemingly at rest in places where I should feel comfortable, the inner movement of our challenging global environment – which is currently in such a state of flux – means that I am not at rest.

And this is why I treasure Shabbat because, as Heschel so beautifully puts it, Shabbat ‘is the state wherein man lies still… and [when] the weary are at rest’ (The Sabbath p. 23), and so, by creating moments of rest on Shabbat, I draw strength to reflect on, cope with, and respond to our complex, tense and worrisome world for the other six days of the week.

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