5770 - #19
There is a classic statement in Kiddushin 31a that concludes gadol metzuveh v’oseh yoteir mi’mi she’eino metzuveh v’oseh, that one commanded who acts in fulfillment of his/her obligation is greater than one who is not commanded and still fulfills the command. Rav Yosef, in the gemara, originally thought the opposite, that one who performs a mitzvah although not commanded should receive a greater reward. After all, such an individual is performing this deed motivated solely by his/her own free will and desire; should that not be better than one who acts because he/she is commanded and thus fearfully obligated to do so? The gemara, however, concludes otherwise. A possible explanation for this is the one presented by Tosfot, d.h. Gadol based upon the recognition that the one commanded faces greater worry and anxiety lest he/she does not fulfill the command and is held responsible. It is in lieu of this greater apprehension that the act done by the one commanded is deemed to have greater value. In contradistinction to this principal, though, there seems to be various cases, such as the one expressed in Shemot 25:2, which highlight actions done as a reflection of personal desire. It would seem that, notwithstanding the statement of this gemara, there are situations whereby an act done not in response to a command has the greater value.
Sridei Eish 2:46 raises the question of why there is no bracha for the mitzvah of mishlo’ach manot, especially since the classic answer of Rashba -- as to why there is no bracha for giving tzedakah -- would seem to be inapplicable in this case. Rashba contends, as most understand his argument,1 that the saying of a blessing is just simply inappropriate when the one doing the act and, thus, reciting the bracha does not have full control of the situation. This is the case in such circumstances as the giving of charity where, to fulfill the mitzvah, the poor person must accept the gift of tzedakah and, as such, the potential for fulfilling the mitzvah is not solely in the hands of the one giving the charity. Until the poor person legally accepts the gift, there is no mitzvah of tzedakah. This, however, is not the case with the mitzvah of mishlo’ach manot, for the mitzvah is simply fulfilled with the sending of the gift and does not require the acceptance of the gift to define the act as a mitzvah. Since the mitzvah is, as such, totally in the control of the one doing the act, the question emerges again as to why there is no bracha.
One of the possible answers presented by the Sridei Eish builds upon this very issue of the role of personal desire in the fulfillment of a mitzvah. He contends that the recitation of a bracha, with its focus on the fact that this act is commanded by God, clearly reflects the value of metzuveh v’oseh, that there is greater value in an act performed in response to a command. He then contends, though, that this may not necessarily always be the case. The mitzvah of mishlo’ach manot is intended to further feelings of brotherhood, love and friendship within the Jewish community. Such feelings, the Sridei Eish contends, emerge to a greater extent when an act is done because of personal desire and emotions of caring for fellow Jews. Thus, for this mitzvah, it is actually of greater value when it is performed not primarily in response to the command but because of personal desire and feelings. As such, the recitation of a bracha would actually be inappropriate in the case of mishlo’ach manot as it would change the preferred focus of the action. A similar reason can be given for why there is no bracha when one gives tzedakah, for that action, as well, should be motivated by personal feelings, in this case, of caring and love.
Sridei Eish continues with a reference to the famous distinction in Rambam, Shemona Perakim, Perek 6 between chukim, the commands beyond human reason, and mitzvot sichliyot, commands which we to understand and internalize. By implication, he would seem to be inferring that there are mitzvot whereby our focus is to be primarily on the action that is commanded and, indeed, in such cases the focus of our motivation is to be centered on the fact that this is a command of God. There are other mitzvot, though, whereby our focus is not to be primarily on the action per se but on the motivation and feelings that are to be inherently connected to this action. In such actions, it would seem, it is, in fact, of great importance that the action flows from these personal desires, motivations and feelings. In a certain way, God’s command does not solely concern the action but also the emotion and reason behind the action – and the development of such emotions and reasons so that they motivate one to perform the actions of mitzvah is of specific import. In such cases, indeed, it would be inappropriate to say a bracha thereby stating that one is performing this act solely because it was commanded by God. It is actually God’s Will that it be performed because of correct personal desires.
This recognition may also be of significance when we reflect upon our relationship with God. Many are somewhat bewildered by the view of Ramban, Commentary to Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 5 which contends, in disagreement with the view of Rambam, that there is no Biblical commandment to pray. How could there be no mitzvah d’oraita of tefilla? What value, though, is there in a prayer that is solely motivated by a command and not the emotion and personal desire to pray?2 There is, no doubt, a significant value in responding to the tzivui Hashem, the command of God, simply acting because that is what God demands. Yet, if our entire Torah experience is defined by this one feeling exclusively, there is much that can and does get lost. In certain cases, our actions must be motivated by different considerations and, even, personal desires. This is true in aspects of our behaviour with our fellow man. This is also true, at times, in our relationship with God. Thus the Torah informs us that in the building of the Mishkan it is important to note that the motivation to contribute was personal. Bnei Yisrael gave because they wanted to,3 they wanted to express their feelings and desire for HaKodesh Baruch Hu by participating, most generously, in the building of the Mishkan. There are times, it would seem, that it is gadol mi she’eino metzuveh v’oseh; that the one who acts without being commanded may be greater.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 In this response, the Sridei Eish will present another way to understand the theory of the Rashba that bypasses this problem; however that fuller discussion is beyond the parameters of this Insight.
2 See, also, Avot 2:13 and, even, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefilla 4:15, however a full discussion of this issue, including, especially, an analysis of the views of Rambam and Ramban, is also outside the parameters of this Insight. .
3 See, further, Rashi, Shemot 25:2.
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