If someone fell asleep while traveling on Friday afternoon and wakes up to find that Shabbat has already begun, the hakhamim rule that he is limited to just his immediate four amot, since he did not intend to establish his place for Shabbat there. Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri rules that he can walk the full 2,000 amot in any direction, since he does not believe that it is necessary to establish Shabbat residency with specific intent.
The discussion of Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri’s position leads to questions about what the ruling is with regard to inanimate objects, as well. Does an ownerless object “establish residency” – thus limiting it for use in a specific area – or not?
Rav Yosef tries to answer this question by quoting a baraita that discusses rainfall.
Rain that fell on the eve of a Festival has two thousand cubits in each direction, meaning that one is permitted to carry the rainwater within a radius of two thousand cubits. But if the rain fell on the Festival itself, it is like the feet of all people, as it did not acquire residence, and consequently one is permitted to carry this water wherever he is permitted to walk.
The problem raised by several rishonim is that, in the case of rainfall on Yom Tov, it is likely that the rain, which originated in another place entirely, should be limited to its immediate surroundings, since it left its original tehum. Some respond by arguing that the rules about leaving one’s established boundaries and becoming limited to four cubits of space only make sense when discussing a person who has the ability to make conscious decisions and choose his area of residence for Shabbat. Such a person, who established a place for himself and left it, or did not establish it at all, can be limited by his decision. Rain – an unintelligent object – cannot make decisions or choose where its Shabbat will take place. It is, therefore, bound only by the limits of the person who discovers it and wants to make use of it. Another explanation is that, while in the clouds, rain is in constant motion, and it is impossible to discuss “establishing a Shabbat place” with regard to something that is moving. Therefore when it reaches the earth we cannot try to impose independent tehum limitations on it.