The Symbolism of Eiruv Techumin and Eiruv Tavshilin by Rabbi Ezra Wiener


There is a puzzling Midrash found in this week’s Parashah regarding the Pasuk,  “VaYavo Yaakov Shaleim Ir Shechem Asher BeEretz Kenaan BeVo’o MiPadan Aram VaYichan Et Penei HaIr,” “Yaakov came in peace to the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan, upon his coming from Padan Aram, and he encamped before the city” (BeReishit 33:18).  The BeReishit Rabbah (Chapter 79), commenting on the phrase states that “VaYichan Et Pnei HaIr” connotes that Yaakov encamped in front of the city in order to acquire Shevitah (a resting place) within 2000 Amot (cubits) of the city of Shechem.  This would enable Yaakov (according to some authorities) to walk to the city and traverse the entire city on Shabbat.  Through this action, Yaakov essentially performed the Mitzvah MiDeRabanan of Eiruv Techumin; hence, he was Shomeir Shabbat even in regard to Mitzvot DeRabanan.

This notion of the Avot (forefathers) observing Mitzvot should not be unfamiliar to us, as we are probably even more familiar with a similar saying of Chazal in relation to Avraham Avinu.  The Gemara (Yoma 28b) states in the name of Rava or Rav Ashi, “Kiyeim Avraham Avinu Afilu Eiruvei Tavshilin SheNe’emar ‘Torotai’ Achat Torah SheBiChtav VeAchat Torah SheBeAl Peh,” “Avraham observed the entirety of Torah, even Eiruv Tavshilin, based on the Pasuk, ‘[Avraham obeyed] my Torahs,’ the plural form referring to both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.”

Is there a specific reason for Chazal to mention Eiruv Tavshilin and Eiruv Techumin when they speak of the Avot observing even Mitzvot DeRabanan?

The Meshech Chochmah mentions that these two Maamarei Chazal take us to the very core and essence of the primary objective and mission of Avraham and Yaakov as the forebears of the Jewish people and its history.

Eiruv Tavshilin is able to function due to the concept of Ho’il UMekali Leih Orechim,” “Since guests may arrive.”  (In other words, Eiruv Tavshilin does not permit one to cook from Yom Tov to Shabbat except for the fact that we can always claim that the cooking is really being performed for Yom Tov itself, as guests may arrive and be in need of food.  It is only if guests do not arrive that we can use these Yom Tov “leftovers” for Shabbat.)  Avraham invited many guests in order to educate them and draw them Tachat Kanfei HaShechinah (under the “wings” of Hashem’s Presence).  He set out to win over the pagan world and teach his guests the truth of monotheism.  Perhaps this is the reason Hashem promised Avraham, “Anochi Magein Lach,” “I will shield you” (BeReishit 15:1) and also the reason we conclude the first Berachah of Shemoneh Esreih with the words “Magein Avraham,” “Shield of Avraham.”  This was a risky endeavor, but it was necessary in order to establish Hashem’s name throughout the world.

Concerning Yaakov, Chazal teach us, “Mitato Sheleimah” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah Chapter 3).  In contradistinction to Avraham who was Mekayeim Eiruv Tavshilin but not Koveia Techumin, Yaakov was Koveia Techumin: he set boundaries for his children, the future of Bnei Yisrael, and taught that part of being holy is knowing “Ad Kan VeLo Yoteir,” “until here but no further,” meaning that we cannot intermingle with the outside world.  Just as the Eiruv Techumin tells us that Kedushat Shabbat necessitates setting boundaries to maintain the Kedushah, separation from other nations will sustain the Kedushah of Klal Yisrael.

This idea is alluded to the very next time the Torah uses the world “VaYichan,” in the Pasuk, “VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” “[Bnei] Yisrael encamped there opposite the mountain [Har Sinai]” (Shemot 19:2).  It is true that Kabalat HaTorah demanded Achdut, KeIsh Echad BeLeiv Echad (which is the reason the Pasuk is written as singular and not plural), but perhaps more important and more apropos is the notion of setting up boundaries.  The Gemara (Sukkah 52a) compares the Yeitzer HaRa to an insurmountable mountain.  A prerequisite for Kabalat HaTorah is VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar – Bnei Yisrael must set up Techumin against negative influences, symbolized by the mountain, that are infiltrating their Machaneh.

We must strike a delicate balance between Avraham and Yaakov and between Eiruv Tavshilin and Eiruv Techumin.  We face this challenge every day with our contact with the regular world.   Many of us are successful in Kiddush Hashem and Kiruv but we always must remember to draw Techumin.  A Mil is two thousand Amot, a walk of eighteen minutes (according to many), the same amount of time it takes the Seor SheBeIsah, the Chameitz (which represents the Yeitzer HaRa), to rise.  We need to stay within the boundaries that detain the Yeitzer HaRa.

The Halachot of Eiruv Techumin, which are applicable only on Shabbat, remind us that even if during the balance of the week we find ourselves overstepping the boundaries somewhat, Shabbat is a day that we remain within the Techum of Kedushah.  As we say in Shemoneh Esrei at Minchah on Shabbat, Avraham Yageil Yitzchak Yeranein, Avraham will be happy and Yitzchak will rejoice, but Yaakov UVanav Yanuchu Vo, Yaakov and his children will rest on Shabbat, because only Yaakov rested properly within his Techum and that ensured the Menuchah of his children as well.

If we are true to ourselves about the importance of establishing our spiritual barriers and enclosures, we will then be Zocheh to the Berachah given to Yaakov, “UPharatzta Yamah VaKeidmah Tzafonah VaNegbah,” “You shall burst forth westward, eastward, northward, and southward” (BeReishit 15:14).  This is Midah KeNeged Midah.  If one is Koveia Techumin, then he will be blessed with “VeHaachalticha Nachalat Yaakov Avicha,” “I will feed you the portion of Yaakov your forefather” (Yeshayahu 58:14), a portion also surrounded by Techumin.

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