Substance over Form (Eruvin 49)

Robbert –

The daf today talks again a bit about making an eruv chatzerot. This the eruv that is required to allow a person to carry in a courtyard that is shared with other people. One of the requirements of making a proper eruv chatzerot is that all the houses that are adjacent to the courtyard deposit some food in one of the houses, creating a legal fiction that they all live in the same house. Incidentally, this is also the source of the use of the word eruv – which means merger or mixture. By choosing one house as their domicile, the inhabitants merge their respective domains and the courtyard becomes one fictional domain. As a result, there is no longer more than one house in the courtyard and the prohibition on carrying (which pertains to public spaces) goes away. Of course it is a bit (a lot!) more complicated than that & I hope that Gideon can forgive me for summarizing it like this, but for the purposes of this blog, I think this is about right.

In the beginning of the daf, the Gemara discussed an interesting point. What happens if one of the neighbors deposits food (in keeping with the formalities of making an eruv) but does not allow any of the others to eat from it? In such a case, Rav Yehuda says in name of Shemu’el, no eruv has been made, as the fictional meals of the neighbors have not merged. The neighbor that has set himself apart prevents that. There is another opinion that holds that this is no problem, but this is not accepted.

The opinion of Rav Yehuda seems to make perfect sense – if the point is to have a common meal, no one should be able to separate themselves from the rest as in that case there is no common meal. Yet it seems like an important point is being made: the neighbor that has deposited the food has complied with all the formalities of making an eruv. Even more: his reluctance to share food with others will make no difference. The food that is used for the eruv will in practice not be eaten – it is symbolic only. The only thing that ruins the eruv is the exclusionary intention of one of the participants.

In my mind, the point that the Gemara is making here is about substance over form. To make an eruv (and we should find some time, soon, to talk about what that really means!) it is not enough to go through the motions. Your inner intentions have to correspond with the implied goal of what it means to make an eruv. Of course, it is in the end of day only Gd that can know these intentions, so absent any indication to the contrary we have to assume that a person that complies with the formal requirements also means it. But each of us has an obligation to make sure that when we do something, we are sincere. Otherwise way may end up making our own actions pointless and tripping up other people that rely on us.

I find this an important and comforting thought as we enter Yom Kippur this evening. Important, because it is too easy to stand in a kittel and fast, but not feel anything. If you do that, it means nothing. But also comforting, as too often a ritual-heavy religion like ours feels exactly like just going to the motions only. Knowing that we are also there to make a connection, to make things count, helps to get me going.

I wish you gmar chatima tova. May you and all you hold dear be inscribed in in book of life. Look forward to continue our discussions on the daf into the next year.


Joel

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