Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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25 Teves 5766 - January 25, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Eruvin: In Praise of Positive Innovations, Not Chumras

As we celebrated the completion of maseches Eruvin in the Daf Yomi, we reflected on how people see the laws that it discusses: as a big "chumrah," a "burden" placed upon our Shabbos observance by Chazal. A specific example is that the rabbonim prohibited us from carrying from one private domain to another private domain, even though as far as the Torah was originally concerned, this was freely permitted. The only related Torah-based prohibition is to carry from a public domain (reshus horabbim) to a private domain (reshus hayochid) or vice versa.

This social distance from the Torah prohibition was actually instituted by Shlomo Hamelech, that is, very early in our history and almost a thousand years before the time of the Mishnah. It is one of the earliest decrees.

In fact a posuk praises Shlomo Hamelech for enacting this innovation: Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: When Shlomo Hamelech enacted (tikein) eruvin and netillas yodayim, a Heavenly Voice went out and said, "My son, if your heart is wise, it gladdens my heart" (Mishlei 23:15). And it also says, "My son is wise and [therefore] my heart is gladdened and I can answer those who attack me verbally."

The Chasam Sofer (Orach Chaim 99) explains that this strong praise of Shlomo Hamelech coming from such a high source is not because that wisest of all men slapped on a new restriction. On the contrary. The effusive praise referring specifically to his wisdom is for his introduction of eruv chatzeiros to allow carrying from one private domain to another, and not for the limitation.

The Torah-based prohibition on carrying between a private and a public domain is, as Tosafos explains at the beginning of maseches Shabbos (2a), a very minimal melochoh (melochoh geru'oh). Moving an object an inch, if it involves this kind of carrying, is a capital crime! It is easy to understand how it became evident relatively early that it needed attention from the leaders of Klal Yisroel if it was to be practically observed properly by everyone.

What was impressive about Shlomo Hamelech's chochmoh was that he found a way to ensure the preservation of the melochoh of carrying between domains, yet not by simply prohibiting everything in sight that came close to the main Torah-based melochoh. Rather, his achievement was that he managed to effect the preservation while at the same time finding an acceptable way to allow us to continue carrying between two private domains. His outstanding chochmoh that was recognized by the Bas Kol was that he innovated the heter of eruvei chatzeiros, and not that he prohibited carrying between private domains in the first place.

The second example of Shlomo Hamelech's chochmoh mentioned by the Bas Kol exhibits precisely the same kind of innovation. The Bas Kol praises Shlomo Hamelech for finding a relatively easy way to be able to continue to eat — after it was found necessary to consider one's hand to be unclean as a safeguard. It is netillas yodayim that is praised as it gives us a way to eat, and not the new prohibition of second-degree tumoh that was put onto people's hands.

HaRav Matisyohu Shtrashun points out that this approach even provides an understanding of the second posuk cited by the Bas Kol: " . . . and I can answer those who attack me verbally." He says that this alludes to the scoffers like those at the home of Binyomin the doctor, who said, "What good are the rabbonim? They never permitted us to eat ravens or prohibited us from eating doves." HaRav Shtrashun describes them as those who "complain about the chumras."

The Bas Kol is calling attention to a case that shows how wrong they are in every aspect. The desire of the chachomim is to find permissible ways to do things within the framework of Torah while preserving what is essential. It is when they do this successfully that they have truly earned the title, "Chachomim."

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