As part of its technical discussion about the possibility of someone getting so distracted in their preparations for a meal that they may come to transgress the Shabbat laws, today’s daf (Ketubot 5a) draws a distinction between preparations for an Erev Yom Kippur meal where there is no concern for Shabbat transgression, and preparations for a wedding feast where there is a concern for Shabbat transgression.
But why, asks the Gemara, should there be a difference between the two? It answers by informing us that התם דלנפשיה לא טריד – ‘there, regarding Yom Kippur where the meal preparations are just for that person, we are not concerned that someone would get so preoccupied that they may, without thought, transgress the Shabbat laws’. In contrast, we are told הכא דלאחרים טריד – ‘here, when involved in planning a wedding meal for others, we are concerned that someone would get so preoccupied that they may, without thought, transgress the Shabbat laws.’ What this suggests is that when someone is doing something just for themselves, they are generally focused on the task at hand. In contrast, when they are doing something for someone else, they can get so caught up by the flurry of activity that they can do things thoughtlessly.
However, there is a further way of reading the words used by the Gemara, namely: דלנפשיה לא טריד – when someone is doing something for themselves, they don’t feel burdened and they are able to find the time, דלאחרים טריד – whereas when others need their help, they feel burdened and they can’t find the time.
Admittedly, there is a halachic principle of חייך קודמין (see Bava Metziah 62a) – meaning, ‘your life takes precedence’, from which we learn that a person needs to know how to self-prioritize. At the same time when, for example, someone in our area sends out a message saying that they need a small amount of help, many of us often struggle to find the time. Simply put, לנפשיה לא טריד דלאחרים טריד – for ourselves, our time is flexible; for others, it is not.
Of course, there are many situations when such behaviour may well be justified. We are busy. We have work. We need to destress. Still, we need to remember that strong communities and strong societies are built on the gestures of kindness that we perform not only for ourselves but for others too.