Are Boundaries Good Things?
Taste of Talmud
“No man shall go out from his place on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:29). From here we learn the concept of having a “Techum Shabbos” (a Shabbos boundary). There are three opinions as to what the Torah is prohibiting with this statement. The Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) says that the size of the Israelite camp determines what constitutes a person’s “place” for Shabbos. Since the Israelite camp in the desert was approximately 12 mil (approx. 7 miles), this is what the Torah refers to as being a “place” for Shabbos. Therefore, according to the Yerushalmi, there is a Biblical command not to walk more than 7 miles outside of your “place” on Shabbos. In the Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Sota (27b), Rabbi Akiva has a different opinion. He says that a person’s place for Shabbos is derived from the measurements of the city limits of the cities given to the Levites (Num. 35:5). This would mean that you could not walk more than 2000 cubits (approx. 2/3 of a mile) in any direction outside of your “place” on Shabbos. The Rif and the Ramban point out that in a number of places (Eruvin 35b, 46a, and Kesuvos 28a) the Babylonian Talmud follows a third opinion, the opinion of Rabbi Yosi Haglili. He says that there is no Biblical source as to the distance you are allowed to walk on Shabbos. The 2000 cubit limit is actually a Rabbinic decree only loosely based on the measurements of the Levite’s city limits.
Taste of Halacha
The Rambam decides the Halacha in accordance with the Yerushalmi. Therefore he writes: It is permissible for a person to walk throughout his entire city even if it is the size of Nineveh (a very large city). Likewise, it is permissible to walk less than 2/3 of a mile beyond the city limits. However, one who walks even one cubit more than the permitted amount has transgressed a Rabbinic decree. However, if he walks more than 7 miles outside of his city limits by even one cubit, he is liable to receive lashes for transgressing a Biblical command (Rambam, Laws of Shabbos, 27:2). The Shulchan Aruch follows the opinion that there is no Biblical penalty for transgressing this law, as its parameters are Rabbinic in origin. This is in following with the understanding of the Rif and the Ramban. According to all opinions, there is a Rabbinic decree not to walk more than 2/3 of a mile outside of your city limits on Shabbos. This issue can be ameliorated by establishing an Eruv Techumim (an extension of your Techum / boundary). This is done by placing a significant amount of food within the border of your 2000 cubit limit. This establishes a new “place” as your Shabbos dwelling, thereby allowing you to walk 2000 cubits in any direction from there.
Taste of Parasha
The Jews wandered through the desert for over 40 years but they were not lost. They were following a divine plan. Every step that they took was purposeful and mapped out by G-d. This created an atmosphere of belonging. Now, standing at the borders of Israel, they were about to leave the warm and friendly confines of the 50 square miles of the Israelite camp which was constantly enveloped in the “clouds-of-glory.” What was going to be their new “place”? How were they to stay within the parameters of G-d’s divine presence? They would begin by conquering and dividing the land. Upon fully conquering the land, they were to transition into an agricultural based society. Were they to become solely involved in agricultural matters of the land after living so closely with G-d for over 40 years? Before they enter the land, G-d tells Moses, “Give the Levites… cities to live in” (Num. 35:2). Every tribe, based on their portion in the land, had to donate a certain number of cities to the Levites. In this way, the tribe of Levi was spread out throughout the land. They provided, among other things, an educational network for the Jewish nation. This nationwide system of cities created an environment in which no part of the nation was too far removed from a bastion of Torah and its devoted teachers. These cities also provided a safe haven and rehabilitation center for any exiled individuals who had become involved in illegal behavior. In this way, Jewish society provided an educational and spiritual framework in the Land of Israel.