As we have learned, on Shabbat and Yom Tov a person is limited in the distance that he can travel outside the boundaries of his city. Under ordinary circumstances, a person cannot venture more than 2,000 amot out of the city (called tehum Shabbat), and with the establishment of an eiruv tehumin he can travel an extra 2,000 amot in a specific direction. In the event that a person leaves the area around his city, halakha requires him to remain where he finds himself; he cannot move beyond his immediate surroundings until Shabbat or Yom Tov is over.
What if someone is forced to leave his permitted area in order to fulfill a mitzva- what is his status? Does he need to be “frozen in place,” or does he have freedom of movement on account of the mitzva?
The Mishna on our daf discusses this situation in the case of witnesses who came to Jerusalem to testify about having seen the new moon. According to the Mishna, the witnesses were gathered into a large courtyard called Beit Ya’zek, where they were interviewed by the court and served sumptuous meals, since the court wanted to encourage them to come in the future, as well. If the witnesses arrived on Shabbat, the Mishna records that originally they were not permitted to leave, but Rabban Gamliel ha-Zaken established a rule permitting them free access to the entire city of Jerusalem, as well as travel within the 2,000 amot perimeter around the city. Furthermore, this ruling was applied to others who travel outside of their tehum Shabbat for a mitzva, including a midwife who comes to deliver a baby, or someone who comes to save others from a fire, avalanche, flood, etc.
Rashi explains that originally the witnesses were required to remain in the Temple courtyard, and Rabban Gamliel’s takkana allowed them to travel within the city and its tehum. The Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that there were four stages to this rule:
- At first they were required to remain in place.
- Later they were allowed to move within four cubits around them.
- Then they were permitted to walk anywhere within the courtyard.
- Finally, Rabban Gamliel gave them access to the entire city.
An interesting point is raised regarding the meals that were offered to the witnesses, since halakha does not permit witnesses to be paid for their testimony. The general consensus is that while actual payment is forbidden, meals such as these would not constitute forbidden compensation.