I want to share something personal: my feet are both long and wide which therefore makes shoe shopping a challenge as most shoes that should fit me simply aren’t comfortable on me. Consequently, whenever I am in need of a pair of shoes, I enter shoes stores reluctantly; yes, I hope to find a pair of shoes that will fit. But I also know that they probably won’t have my size, and even if they do, they probably won’t be comfortable.
And why have I decided to share this with you? In order to correct a translation of a line in today’s daf (Ketubot 86a) where, embedded in a wider discussion about paying debts and fulfilling mitzvot, we read: ‘What do we do when someone says לא ניחא לי דאיעביד מצוה?
Significantly, Artscroll translates this phrase as “I do not want to perform the mitzvah” (which is understandable given the Beraita that follows), while Steinsaltz translates it as “It is not amenable to me to perform a mitzva”. However, I’d like to translate it as “it is not comfortable for me to do the mitzvah”. And why do I think it is important to translate this statement in this way? Because when most people express sentiments such as לא ניחא לי דאיעביד מצוה, it is generally not because they don’t want to fulfil a given mitzvah. Instead, it is because the previous times when they have attempted to fulfil this mitzvah have been – like my experience of putting on a pair of shoes that are too narrow for my feet – uncomfortable, and given this bad experience they then reach a point where their attitude towards that mitzvah is לא ניחא לי.
This is where I, or people like me, can help, because I oftentimes find that people only know a limited number of ways of observing certain mitzvot, just like – until last year – I only knew of a limited number of stores that sold larger shoes – and then I discovered a store that sold shoes that fit me.
In this same spirit, when I have halachic consultations with men, women and couples who may be struggling with a mitzvah, and I then present them with a range of ways in which that mitzvah can legitimately be kept, it is a wonderous thing to see them react having now found a way for them to keep that mitzvah without the discomfort that they may have previously experienced. In that split second they switch from לא ניחא לי to ניחא לי, and they have the same smile as I have when I put my feet into a pair of shoes that fit.
We often we think that people don’t do things because they don’t want to. But in many cases, the real reason is that they’ve yet to find a way to do them in a manner that is comfortable to them – and this is why I love doing what I do – because once someone discovers a way to fulfil what they want in a way that fits them, it completes them.