The Unsolvable Question - Shabbat 5
But then we have another case, even more tricky: what if someone throws something and then moves and catches it himself? Is it a violation of boundaries or not? In the English translation, the resolution reads “The question stands over;” the original Aramaic is teku, which has no exact translation. However, traditional Jewish folklore treats this word as an acronym for tishbi yetaretz kushiyot v’ba’ayot – “the man from Tishbi (Elijah) will solve difficulties and problems.” In other words, when Elijah returns from heaven as a precursor to the Messiah, he will spend at least some of his time resolving the unsolvable questions where the Rabbis got stuck. This indicates a willingness to live with limited uncertainty, but also an optimism that there is an answer out there that will someday be found. Today, when we say, “I don’t know” about the universe, we do better to say, “I don’t know YET,” since we’re not waiting for Elijah any more.
Later on in today’s page, the same phrase appears in the question of carrying out objects at rest – if a nut in a container is considered “at rest,” and that container then floats on water, is the nut considered in the container and at rest or on the water and not at rest? Again the answer is teku – no decision at this time. Our response to these questions might be “who cares?” or “you’re certainly stretching the question of ‘carrying’ on Shabbat.” There are three things to consider – first, we have 150 more pages in tractate Shabbat to go; second, this again is an example of exploring what our cultural ancestors considered important; and third, if you were given the job of defining what was public and private space, how would you refine those concepts? The Talmud’s rabbis strove to meet a task they believed God had given them – to define the rules of living for every aspect of life. And if it took them years of discussion, they believed it was worth it for the end results of pleasing their God and “the world to come.”
Rabbi Adam Chalom