Talmud pages

Shabbat 23

What will the neighbors say?

Today’s daf continues to explore the laws about lighting the Hanukkah menorah. Although this mitzvah is observed at home, the candles are placed in the window or doorway in order to be clearly visible to the neighbors. Having others observing one’s menorah is an important part of the ritual.

In the time of the Talmud, people would place their Hanukkah lights in the entrances to their courtyards. Rav Huna and Rava disagree about a courtyard with two entrances — does it need candles burning at each?

Rav Huna said: A courtyard that has two entrances requires two lamps. 

Rava said: We only said this in a case where the two entrances face two different directions. However, if they both face in the same direction one need not light at more than one entrance. 

Rav Huna thinks that every entrance should get a lamp — no matter what. But Rava says this is unnecessary if two entrances are on the same side of the courtyard. The Gemara refines Rava’s position, using the undergirding logic that we would never want a homeowner to be suspected of not lighting Hanukkah lights:

What is the reason? If you say because those who see an entrance without a lamp will suspect he does not kindle the Hanukkah light — then whose suspicion concerns us? If you say the suspicion of people who do not live in the city and are unfamiliar with the courtyard’s tenants, even in the same direction let them be required. And if the concern is the suspicion of the residents of that city, even when the two entrances face two different directions let them not be required to light at both entrances. 

In other words, the Gemara claims, Rava’s rule is conditional. Neighbors familiar with the geography of the households and the piety of their occupants will see one entrance without a menorah, and simply assume that it is simply placed at the other entrance, or that the lamp was lit at a different time. But people not familiar with the city might see an empty doorway and automatically suspect the homeowner did not light. We wouldn’t want that!

We might wonder why it matters so much that our neighbors can check our observance of this mitzvah? Does it really matter that others know we lit our candles?

The Gemara jumps to another example of a mitzvah that neighbors are meant to observe, and this one has a clearer need for public awareness. This is the requirement of leaving pe’ah — the command to leave the corners of the field unharvested, in order for poor neighbors to take. We are told that this mitzvah must be observed at the end of the harvest process, on the corners, and cannot be done by leaving a section in the middle or by giving away the first part you harvest. Why? We are given four reasons:

Due to robbing the poor, and due to causing the poor to be idle, and due to suspicion, and due to the verse: You shall not wholly reap the corner of your field. (Leviticus 23:22)

Reason number three: so people won’t get suspicious that you forgot to leave the pe’ah! This is further explained:

And due to suspicion — that passersby will not say: A person who did not leave pe’ah in his field should be cursed.

Lest we think mitzvot are always personal and private, these mitzvot remind us of the importance of setting the example for the community and spreading the word.

Read all of Shabbat 23 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 29, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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