Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 3:4
4: If he was faced with the option of performing a[nother] Mitzva or TT;
if it was possible for the Mitzva to be performed by someone else, he
should not interrupt his study. If not, he should perform this Mitzva
and return to his study.
Q1: Stylistic question: R would normally begin a statement like this
(exemplifying a previous Halakha) with the *Keitzad* (How so?). Why is it
YE: One possibility is that he ISN'T exemplifying the previous Halakha,
rather introducing a new Halakha. In that case, the previous Halakha
should be understood as follows: TT takes precedence over action in every
situation (not "in all cases") - meaning, if we need to support one or
the other (e.g. financially) or to promote one or the other - TT takes
precedence. This is more a public policy statement and one of education
than a practical directive.
The other possibility is that it really is an example of the "precedence"
mentioned in the previous Halakha; however, since that precedence has
many ramifications, only one of which is this *d'hiya* (one overriding
the other) - he didn't want to term it as a *Keitzad* - which might
narrow the scope of the Halakha. In other words, *Keitzad* is used when
a given Halakha has one general application and the *Keitzad* is used to
present an example. This Halakha, the precedence of TT over Mitzvot, has
many theoretical applications (support, education) along with *d'hiya* -
practical precedence. By avoiding the use of *Keitzad*, R leaves open
the other applications as possibilities.
Q2: Why does R need to add on that after interrupting for the Mitzva
which can be done by no one else, we return to study. Isn't that obvious?
HH: It isn't obvious to me. Many people dedicate their whole lives to
action and never return to study.
CN (Charlotte Nusberg ):
Perhaps the answer lies in that the allure of action and the sense of
power that results from performing an action effectively may become so
much more attractive than the act of mere studying that one needs a
reminder to return to a less action-oriented realm.
JB: Fundamantal in R's "granting" of permission to leave learning is the
understanding that it is a brief pause (a hafsaka), not an excuse to stop
altogether. In other words, one may not say, "well, the people of Hawaii
need more Jews to help out in community projects." It may be a mitzvah,
but that's not "worth the trade". What he is condoning is a situation
where someone approaches you and says, "excuse me, my ox fell into a
pit." (As a matter of fact, I'm just getting back from an ox raising.) If
there is nobody around, a brief stop is no problem. Because when it
comes down to it, certain mundane situations have time limits and
restrictions. Torah is fluid and does not suffer from a short delay as
would our friend the ox. Which ties into the next question... R isn't
trying to encourage delinquency in the performing of mitzvot. God gave us
mitzvot like Biur Chametz for a reason, symbolic or otherwise. The Torah
is filled with mitzvot that we could, hypothetically, push onto other
pople. I believe that R is really adressing mitzvot that are more
utilitarian that ceremonial. The concept of doing it yourself rather
than an agent is for the fulfillment of the person doing it. Bringing a
korban, for example, can be done by a shaliach (in some cases), but can
you imagine the personal "vibes" you'd get from participating?
Q3: Which sort of Mitzvot fall into this category? Does this also
imply that, where possible, it is better to appoint an agent (*Shaliach*)
to perform a Mitzva for you (as in *Bi'ur Hametz* - cleaning out the
Hametz before Pesach), in order to allow you to continue learning? What
of the principle (BT Kiddushin 41a) *Mitzva bo yoter mib'shulcho* - (It
is a greater fulfillment of the Mitzva when done by the obligated one, as
opposed to an agent)?
YE: We can first categorize Mitzvot into two: *Mitzvot Aseh* (Mitzvot of
commission) and *Mitzvot Lo Ta'aseh* (Mitzvot of omission). Examples of
MA (Mitzvot Aseh) are: Giving Tzedaka, studying Torah, bringing certain
offerings to the altar, eating Matza on Pesach night etc. Examples of
MLT (Mitzvot Lo Taaseh) are avoiding the mixture of milk and meat, not
doing certain kinds of work on Shabbat, avoiding killing people and
avoiding forbidden sexual liaisons.
Clearly, R is only referring to MA - no one would suggest that you may
kill someone or eat pork just because you are studying - plus, it
wouldn't fit the concept - the problem is one of interrupting study in
order to commit an act of Mitzva - not to avoid certain things (which are
easiest avoided by continuing to learn!)
Within MA, there is another important categorization - *Hovat haGuf*
(personal obligation) and those which are not *Hovat haGuf*. For example,
Tefillin is a Hovat haGuf - I am obligated to tie the Tefillin onto my
own arm etc.; similarly, shaking the Lulav on Sukkot, reading Megilla on
Purim etc. The Mitzva in these cases is not just that these actions be
done - and not just that I do them - but that I do them and am personally
involved in their fulfillment. It is for this reason that I cannot
appoint an agent to put on Tefillin - on his arm - for me. Clearly,
again, Mitvot which are Hovat haGuf are not ignored or even delayed due
to the study of Torah. No one suggests that we are exempt from Tefillin,
eating Matza on Pesach night, shaking Lulav etc. just because we are
studying (with the exceptions noted of those few super-devoted students
in the times of the Mishna - see BT Shabbat 10a).
An example of a Mitzva which is not a personal obligation is building a
parapet around the roof (or, as R delineates in Hilkhot Rotzeach,Ch.11,
fortifying any dangerous area on your property). There is no reason that
I cannot appoint an agent to build that fence around my rooftop etc. (As
a matter of fact, this Mitzva is probably fulfilled in the most ideal way
when done by a professional). There is no obligation for me to personally
be involved in the building - rather, it is my obligation TO MAKE SURE
THAT IT IS DONE. This is quite distinct from the *Hovat haGuf* mentioned
earlier. Another example is *Kibbud Av va'Em* - honoring parents. If
father asks me to get a glass of water, and I am able to send the waiter,
or my own daughter to bring it to him, this is a full accomplishment of
the Mitzva. Agency works here, because the main concern is that the goal
(protecting the roof, taking care of father and mother's needs) is
accomplished. This is, by the way, probably true about most Mitzvot
which are interpersonal *Bein Adam laHavero* - the main concern is not
that I help the older lady across the street, but that she make it
These are the Mitzvot about which R is likely applying the rule of "If it
can be done without your interrupting your study, that's ideal..."
Now, the principle of *Mitzva bo Yoter mib'Shlucho* - it is a greater
Mitzva when done by the obligated one than by an agent - specifically
applies to these Mitzvot - the ones which could be done by an agent. It
seems that R's whole point here is that this "advantage" of fulfilling a
Mitzva on your own as opposed to using an agent - is lost when it comes
at the cost of TT. Otherwise, this entire Halakha becomes impractical.
Since the only situation where R could possibly be suggesting that you
should keep studying and let someone else do the Mitzva is those which
can be done by another - obviously he prefers study to the "plus" of
personal involvement in those Mitzvot.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project