February 14, 2023

Nedarim 36

There is a fascinating discussion in today’s daf (Nedarim 36b) about whether doing a mitzvah which benefits another needs their consent? Specifically, the Gemara addresses whether someone can take it upon themselves to remove an extra amount of terumah (tithes) from their produce so that their friend need not have to take tithes from their own produce?
On first glance this seems like a very generous thing to do – with the technical question simply being whether tithe-taking requires the knowledge and consent of the person whose tithes are being indirectly taken?
On the other hand, taking terumah is a mitzvah of a given individual, and consequently, maybe it is improper to take someone’s mitzvah away from them even if, by doing so, it may be financially beneficial to them?
Interestingly, many of the commentaries on this Gemara suggest that most people evaluate this question according to a cost-gain ratio – meaning, how much more do they gain by someone else doing the mitzvah, versus the ‘cost’ of not actively performing the mitzvah themselves.
However, I think it is important to realize that some mitzvot are very personal. For example, Rabbi David HaLevi Segal (1586-1667) explains in his Turei Zahav (Taz) commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 328:2) that it would be improper for a home help (or anyone else, for that matter) to take challah from the dough designated to be used for Challah on Shabbat unless specifically asked to do so. This is because many people derive pleasure from the mitzvah of ‘taking challah’.
Sometimes doing a mitzvah for another is beneficial to them. But many times, allowing and enabling them to perform their mitzvah is an even greater benefit, and while we live in an age of outsourcing, not everything in our life should be outsourced – as Rabbi Sacks observed in his Templeton Prize acceptance speech, “there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away”.
Ultimately, kindness comes in many forms. Sometimes it is by getting involved, and sometimes it is by not getting involved; sometimes it is doing for others, and sometimes it is holding yourself back so others can do for themselves – and the more personal the act, or – in this case – the mitzvah, the more we should remember that actions aren’t just mechanical. Instead, they are meaningful, emotional, and personal.
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