Wednesday, August 06, 2003

VeEtchanan - Nachamu: Every Valley Shall Be Lifted Up

The haftara of VeEtchanan contains the following message: (Yeshayahu 40:3-5) "A voice calls: 'Clear ye in the wilderness the way of the LORD, make plain in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain; And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.'"

Ibn Ezra explains this to mean that those in exile will return to the holy mountain (the Bet HaMikdash) and this is the "derech Hashem," the "way of the LORD" mentioned in the first pasuk I cited. (I think Ibn Ezra actually translates that pasuk slightly differently, as "a voice calls in the wilderness: clear ye the way of the LORD." More on this dispute about how to translate this pasuk and who is right in another dvar torah, if I get the chance.)

Ibn Ezra explains the import of "kol gey yinasei, vechol har vigivah yishafelu," "every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, etc," that the returnees from exile will have easy time returning, without much effort, for the way will be made level.

Chazal speak elsewhere about how the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, which encompassed and led the Jews as they made their way through the wilderness the first time towards Eretz Yisrael, also made the ground level, lifting up valleys and leveling mountains.

However, this pasuk about all valleys being lifted up and all mountains and hills made low surfaces in an interesting halachic dispute in the 8th perek of yerushalmi Eruvin, in the 8th halacha. Beginning in the middle:

"R Chiya bar Bo said, 'R Chanania ben Akavia did not speak {his din to permit a gezoztera on Shabbos (with specific details mentioned earlier in the gemara which will take us too far afield) - a platform over the water with a hole through which you draw water} except by the sea of Tiveria, since mountains surround it." {explains Rav Kanievsky, and thus, the ikkur hadin is that it is ??reshus harabbim??, but miderabbanan it is treated as a karmilis}.

"R Leizar asked R Yochanan, those cities surrounded by mountains, may one throw from it to reshus harabbim (public domain), or from reshus harabbim into it? {In other words, is it considered reshus hayachid = private domain?) He said to him, by your reasoning, there would never be any reshus harabim in the world!"

"Resh Lakish said, 'Indeed there is no reshus harabim until it is mefulash (open on both ends - this means, for example, open-ended on North and South, or alternatively, on East and West) from one end of the world until its (other) end."

"This seems the reverse of the opinion of Resh Lakish, who said 'There is no reshus harabim in this world, but there will be in the future to come, as it it said, (Yeshayahu 40:4), "kol gey yinasei," "every valley will be lifted up."

{Josh: and it continues, every mountain and hill will be made low. So, the world's surface will be flat and so the mountains will not act as walls to make all areas a karmelis.}

This is a contradiction within Resh Lakish only slightly, since in one place he said it is very unlikely (since you need mefulash), and in the other place he said there is no place that will be mefulash. It seems to be simply a rephrasing rather than a contradiction, with the first giving the reason, the second saying it does not exist, but in the future it will exist since all will be flat.

It is not clear whether Resh Lakish holds it is a karmelis or even Rabbinically a reshus hayachid. The gemara proceeds to say a mishna seems to argue on Resh Lakish by classifying something only "shvilei beis gilgal and the like" as a reshus hayachid... One also has to wonder, if we do agree to Resh Lakish, if there is any limit now that we know the world is an oblate spheroid. After all, if you keep traveling to the north, you will reach the North Pole, and from there you will travel south, until the mountain you find is actually possibly directly under your city. Would we say you should only consider the hemisphere whose midpoint is where you are currently standing. Or perhaps some lesser angle of ascent/descent is acceptable.

Have an easy and meaningful fast, and a good Shabbos.

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