Today’s daf (Nedarim 85a) discusses the topic of טובת הנאה ממון – literally ‘whether the benefit of doing good is quantifiable in monetary terms’ – which is a concept associated with the gifts and tithes that one gives to Kohanim and, specifically, to the question of whether one’s ability to choose which particular Kohen should be the recipient of those gifts or tithes can be financially quantified.
To use an analogy, there are people who, having purchased a ticket for a flight, simply don’t care where they sit on the plane. At the same time, there are others who care to such a point that they would pay significant money to have that choice. The question that our Gemara examines is admittedly less tangible than this analogy. Still, the principle about the financial value of choice applies in both cases.
Interestingly, choice is a funny thing. We all want choice, but sometimes we are overcome by choice. Ask someone in a choiceless situation what they want and they will tell you that they crave choice. And ask those who are paralysed by the choices that lie in front of them, and they will tell you that they wish they didn’t have so many options (nb. this plays into that age-old debate whether it is easier to attend a school which has a school uniform or restrictive, or whether the freedom to choose whatever you want to wear is liberating or paralysing).
In terms of the question of טובת הנאה ממון, this is a matter of debate both in the Gemara and the Rishonim. At the same time, having discussed the different forms of choice, we should remember the profound words of Viktor Frankl, that: ‘Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’