Much of this was inspired by Rabbi Asher Benzion Buchman’s article in Hakirah 3, King Solomon’s Takanah: Rambam’s Eruv.
This week’s parasha starts with Moshe’s announcement to בני ישראל that ה׳ had forgiven them for חטא העגל and they would now build a משכן. But he starts with an apparently unrelated law: שבת:
Rashi says that this teaches that you can’t violate שבת while building the משכן:
But it’s more subtle than that. They had previously heard the law of שבת:
But exactly what is forbidden? What counts as מלאכה? The answer is given now: the משכן defines מלאכה.
The מלאכה that we’re not supposed to do is the מלאכת המשכן. We’ve discussed before the idea that the משכן is a microcosm of creation; that we keep שבת because we are imitating הקב״ה: ה׳ engaged in the act of creation for six days, then stopped on the seventh; so too we create for six days and stop on the seventh. מלאכה doesn’t mean “work”; it means “technology”:
And the Rabbeinu Bachya explains that fire is the ur-technology:
The other side of that coin is ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה; there is an obligation to engage in creation when it is not שבת. That’s part of our task in this world.
There is one מלאכה that does not fit this model: הוצאה. Carrying is not creating, not uniquely human. I can train my dog to fetch. What are we supposed to think of this unique מלאכה? In our modern religious lives, we think of הוצאה only in terms of the ערוב. But that’s not really what it’s about. We have to look at the דאורייתא law.
To summarize from the פירוש המשנה לרמב״ם, שבת א:א, there are four kinds of places, called רשיות שבת. רשות has many different meanings; this has nothing to do with ownership or even control, but with who goes where: רשות הרבים is a place where “everybody” goes (the details are in defining what counts as “everybody”); רשות היחיד is where only a few people go (again, this is a gross oversimplification); כרמלית is an area that fits neither category (either a place where many people go but not “everybody”, like a side street; or an uninhabited area). The Rambam explains the name:
The fourth, a מקום פטור, is too small for a person to stand on and we will not deal with that.
The אסור דאורייתא of הוצאה has two aspects: First, not to carry between רשות היחיד and רשות הרבים. Carrying into and out of a כרמלית is not forbidden; I can (מדאורייתא!) carry from my house onto Old Bonhomme and from there into your house, and certainly directly from my house to yours. The second aspect is not to carry beyond my “personal space”, ארבע אמות, within רשות הרבים. That only applies to a true (מדאורייתא!) רשות הרבים. Carrying in a כרמלית is fine and certainly carrying in my backyard. There’s no requirement of strings or poles or an Eruv Committee.
חז״ל imposed two גזרות on this law, one on the “between” and one on the “within”. The “within” rule is that any area that is not enclosed in halachic walls, called מחיצות, is to be considered a רשות הרבים. So even my yard, or my street, needs some kind of enclosure. We call that an “eruv”, though that’s a misnomer, as we shall see. The details of what counts as a מחיצה vary depending on the circumstances, and for that we need an Eruv Committee (so pay your eruv dues!).
An “eruv” doesn’t allow me to carry in רשות הרבים; the rabbinical law is stricter than the Torah. The “eruv” allows me to carry in areas that מדאורייתא I would be allowed to carry in, but that were forbidden מדרבנן. Usually, if someone “doesn’t hold by the eruv”, it means they feel the area is a true רשות הרבים and surrounding it with מחיצות won’t help.
The “between” rule is that carrying between any רשיות is forbidden unless everyone who dwells there joins together and places a common food supply in a common area. This “joining” is called an ערוב חצרות. That’s really the eruv. Again, this does not permit carrying from רשות היחיד to רשות הרבים. It permits carrying from one רשות היחיד to another רשות היחיד.
So when we look at the meaning of the מצוות, we have to look at the underlying Torah law. And איסור הוצאה is clearly important; ירמיהו associates it with the destruction of Jerusalem:
Hirsch says that the “creation” inherent in הוצאה is the creation of society itself:
The issue isn’t really carrying; it is transferring things from personal space to public space. At a deeper level, הוצאה is an acknowledgement that personal space exists; that I can’t go and take your stuff just because I am stronger than you. Creating a personal space and the entire social and legal structure that makes that possible, is the מלאכה represented by the איסור הוצאה. And by not carrying on שבת, we state that just as ה׳ created laws and rules of society, so too does humanity create laws and rules of society. And ירמיהו is saying that if we lose sight of that, then Jerusalem deserves the destruction that is coming.
I claimed that the סייג of ערוב may protect the letter of the law, but it obscures the underlying spirit of the law. Rabbi Buchman says that I am wrong. The gemara attributes the תקנה of עירוב to Shlomo:
And it’s important to note that this is called a תקנה, not a גזרה. As we said last time, גזרות protect the letter of the law; תקנות protect the spirit of the law. Rabbi Buchman understands the Rambam to say that there is a positive מצוה דרבנן to make an עירוב, because it is part of creating a society:
So support the work of the Eruv Committee, because it’s their work that turns a mass of individuals into a community.