Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 12 September 2020 / 23 Elul 5780

Eruvin 30-36 and 37-43

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
Library Library Library

Don’t Lean on Me

“If a person put his eruv (of food for eruv techumim to allow walking an additional two thousand amahs outside the city on Shabbat) above ten tefachim, his eruv is not valid, but below ten tefachim, his eruv is valid.”

By deductive reasoning, the gemara states that the mishna is speaking about a tree in the reshut harabim (public domain), and yet the part of it above ten tefachim is considered a reshut hayachid (private domain) by the nature of its dimensions. Another detail: The person making the eruv techumim has intent to “acquire his place of rest for Shabbat” on the part of the tree below ten tefachim. (See Rashi for a detailed explanation of how this makes the eruv valid below ten tefachim and invalid above that height.)

If the tree was in the reshut hayachid, however, the gemara says that both below and above would be valid for the eruv. There is a question raised on the use of a tree for an eruv. “One may not use a tree on Shabbat” is the objection raised in our sugya. The answer given is that since the relevant time period for the eruv to take effect is on Friday afternoon between sunset and total nightfall — a time which is not yet clearly Shabbat — our Rabbis did not decree a prohibition against using a tree during that time period.

A point raised by the Rishonim is why removing the new eruv from the tree is considered “using the tree”? If anything, when the eruv is on the tree it is using the tree, and when he removes it from the tree he is no longer using the tree! The main prohibition against using a tree on Shabbat or Yom Tov was enacted for the case of a person who is using the tree by climbing it, because of a concern that he might break off a branch of the tree while climbing it. One answer provided to explain the use of the tree in the case of an eruv is that if a person would be allowed to remove the eruv from the tree on Shabbat, he might also lean on the tree — an act which is a clear forbidden use of the tree. (Ritva, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 336:1 and Mishna Berura s.k. 12)

Invariably, when I see this halacha of not using a tree on Shabbat and not removing anything from it, I am reminded of a story I heard involving one of the gedolei hador of the previous generation, Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, zatzal, lovingly known as “the Steipler.” (1899-1985) What follows is the version of the story that was told to me in 1978 when I went to him for a beracha and for a few questions at the same time. When I reached his house, some family members and students warmly greeted me and explained that all communication from me to him needed to be in writing since he was deaf. Besides getting a beracha from him, it was an extremely inspiring experience just seeing him and being in his presence. Before I left, I asked one of the people in his house if he was always deaf — I couldn’t imagine his being able to become such a great Torah scholar and tzaddik without being able to hear any voices or sounds from the outside world.

I was told (to the best of my understanding at the time and the best of my memory now) the following: The Steipler was forced into the Russian army as a soldier in the field. Despite this situation, of course he was extremely careful to eat only kosher food and observe all mitzvahs, down to the last detail and beyond. On one Shabbat winter day he was on guard duty outside. The day started off warm and he removed his heavy outer coat and extra warming garments for his neck and head. While he was occupied at his post, a Russian soldier came along and hung his articles of winter clothing on the branches of a tree. Then the weather turned extremely cold, and became colder each minute. He had ruled that it was not permitted to remove anything from a tree on Shabbat except in the event of a life-threatening situation. The Steipler was certainly more than willing to suffer the pain of the frost and determined that his life was not in danger. He reassessed this conclusion as time went on, and he did not touch his winter garb until after Shabbat. He survived, but unfortunately the cumulative effect of the cold that day damaged his hearing.

  • Eruvin 32b

Eliyahu: Both a Prophet and a Torah Scholar

“Seven halachas were taught at the beginning of Shabbat in Sura in front of Rav Chisda. At the end of Shabbat, the same teacher said these same seven halachas in Pumbedita in front of Rabbah.”

Who could this mystery teacher possibly be? Sura and Pumpedita were cities in Bavel that were too far from each other to travel by foot on Shabbat! At first, our gemara proposes that the teacher must have been Eliyahu Hanavi — Elijah the Prophet — since no human could cover this distance by foot on Shabbat. And in the context of the sugya, this would prove that there is no prohibition of techumim above ten tefachim on Shabbat. However, another possibility is suggested by the gemara, one which would negate proof of the halacha under discussion. “Maybe it was Yosef ‘the demon’.” (From Rashi it seems this was the name of a person who did not observe Shabbat and therefore was able to travel by some means from Sura to Pumpedita on Shabbat.)

The commentaries ask how the gemara could have suggested that it was Eliyahu Hanavi. We learn elsewhere in Shas that we cannot rely on the word of a prophet to learn halacha, even to be reminded of a halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai.

To answer this question, we need to distinguish between something said by a prophet as a prophecy that was taught to him by Hashem, as opposed to his own halachic ruling that he arrived at based on Torah sources, wisdom and logic. Something said by a prophet as prophecy cannot be accepted as halacha since “The Torah is not in Heaven.” However, when any Torah scholar, even a prophet, teaches a halacha based on sources and Torah reasoning, it may be accepted. When our gemara suggested that the teacher in both cities was Eliyahu Hanavi, it meant that Eliyahu Hanavi was teaching these seven halachic rulings that he arrived at based on his Torah wisdom as a great scholar, and they were not rulings that he was relaying as prophetic teachings. (Maharitz Chiyut, Tosefot Yom Tov and others, one of whom also suggests that our gemara may be the source for the custom of singing “Eliyahu Hanavi, Eliyahu Hatishbi…Eliyahu Hagiladi” at the conclusion of Shabbat.)

  • Eruvin 43b

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