Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
SHIUR 02: HE WHO
IS ENGAGED IN A MITZVA IS EXEMPT FROM OTHER RELIGIOUS DUTIES
By Rav shmuel shimoni
closing folios of the second chapter of tractate Sukka (25a and on) deal
with the mitzva of dwelling in a sukka, but we in fact will begin
our study with those who are exempt from dwelling in a sukka. The
exemption that we shall deal with in this shiur is not specific to the
mitzva of sukka, but rather a general exemption – he who is engaged in a
mitzva is exempt from other religious duties - which our Mishna applies to the mitzva
of sukka: "Those on a religious mission are exempt from sukka."
Some Rishonim understood that the very existence of such an exemption is
the subject of a tannaitic controversy (e.g., Rashi 26a, s.v. mishum);
we, however, shall focus on those who maintain that this exemption has been
accepted as normative law.
Gemara cites two sources for the exemption granted to one who is engaged in a
mitzva. The first source is the verse in Keriat Shema which states:
"When you sit (be-shivtekha; lit., "in your sitting")
in your house and when you walk (be-lekhtekha; lit., "in your
walking) by the way" (Devarim 6:7). The Gemara
understands that the terms be-shivtekha and be-lekhtekha restrict
the commandment to optional sitting and optional walking, for otherwise the
verse should have read "be-shevet… be-lekhet," "while
sitting… while walking." The added pronominal suffix, the khaf ("your"),
implies that we are dealing with sitting and walking that is yours. This
derivation leads to the very interesting idea that the Torah's commandments
relate exclusively to the unhallowed world, and that when a person is already
engaged in sacred activity, the other mitzvot do not relate to him
whatsoever. [Perhaps this idea parallels a similar principle found elsewhere in
the Talmud: "One prohibition does not take effect where another
prohibition already exists." It is possible that there too the idea is
that the Torah relates exclusively to the world of permitted activity. This,
however, is not the topic of our present discussion.] We shall see below that
this explanation fits in well with one approach taken by the Rishonim,
but that according to another approach, the law regarding one who is engaged in
a mitzva must be understood differently.
second source is not an extraneous word, but conduct: When the Jews were
wandering in the wilderness, a number of them involved themselves in burial of
the dead shortly before Pesach, despite the fact that they knew that
this would bar them from bringing the paschal offering at its proper time. The
Gemara argues that both sources are necessary:
necessary. For had we been told [only] that one [regarding the paschal
offering] – because the time of obligation regarding the paschal offering had
not yet arrived, but here where the time for reciting Shema already
arrived, I might have said, no. [Therefore,] it is necessary. And had we been
told [only] this one [regarding Shema], because there is no karet
[excision]. But there where there is karet, I might have said, no.
[Therefore,] it is necessary.
we encounter a tzerikhuta argument of this type, we can understand its
conclusion in two ways: It is possible that while there are two sources, there
is only one law regarding one who is engaged in mitzva, that applies even if
the time of obligation of the other mitzva has already arrived, and even
if that other mitzva bears the stringency of karet. It is, however,
possible, and thus Tosafot have been understood (25b, s.v. mishum),
that even according to the conclusion there are two separate laws. One law
applies even if the time of obligation of the other mitzva has arrived, but not
when the other mitzva bears liability for karet. And another law applies
even when the other mitzva bears liability for karet, but not
when the time of obligation of the other mitzva has already arrived.
we follow the second approach, then it turns out that we are dealing with two
laws having very different natures. The first law, as we have explained,
provides immunity from additional commandments to anyone who is already engaged
in a mitzva, with the exception of commandments that bear liability for karet.
The second law is not really a law that one who is engaged in a mitzva is
exempt from other religious duties. For it is not the occupation with the dead
that prevents a person from bringing the paschal offering, but rather the fact
of ritual impurity. While the person could have taken
this into account and refrained from dealing with the corpse, at the time that
he did so, he was not yet obligated to bring the paschal offering. At that
time, the operative principle was "one must not forgo the occasion of
performing a mitzva" (ein ma'avirin al ha-mitzvot") – when the
opportunity presents itself to perform a mitzva now, do so immediately,
and do not consider how that will affect your performance of mitzvot in
the future. This principle is not self-evident, for it is valid even in a case
where the future mitzva is more severe than the present one. As Rashi says: "This implies that a light mitzva that
presents itself now must not be set aside on account of a more severe mitzva
that will present itself in the future."
in fact, should one not consider the severity of the future mitzva? Perhaps,
the reasoning is that a person must consider only his present situation, his
current state and circumstances, and not give preference to future plans over a
mitzva that is standing before him at this very moment. The Rambam, in
his commentary to the Mishna, proposes a different understanding, but in
contrast to our position here, he presents it both with respect to the
principle that "one must not forgo the occasion of performing a
mitzva," and with respect to the law that one who is engaged in a mitzva
is exempt from other religious duties.
Mishna in Pirkei Avot (2:1) states: "Be careful of a light precept,
even as of a grave one, for you do not know the reward
for the commandments." On this, the Rambam writes:
The reason for
this is that you do not know the reward [for the commandments]. The meaning of
this is as follows: The Torah in its entirety is composed of positive
commandments and negative commandments. As for the negative commandments,
Scripture clarifies the punishment for each one of them, barring a few
[exceptions], imposing on some capital punishment, on others karet, or
death at the hand of heaven, or flogging. And we know from the punishments
imposed upon all the negative commandments, which prohibition is most severe
and which less so… And from these gradations we know the enormity or the
smallness of the sin. But as for the positive commandments, the Divine reward
for each of them was never clarified, so that we might know which of them is
more important and which less so. Rather God commanded [us] to perform certain
acts, but did not make known which of them carries the greater reward. It is,
therefore, fitting to strive [to fulfill] all of them. On account of this
principle, [the Sages] said: "One who is engaged in a mitzva is
exempt from other religious duties," without distinguishing between the
mitzva in which he is engaged, and the other which will vanish. And
therefore they also said: "One must not forgo the occasion of performing a
mitzva." That is to say, if the performance of a mitzva presents
itself, do not forgo and forsake it in order to perform a different mitzva.
to the Rambam, the reason that one must not prefer the severe mitzva to the
light one is that one does not really know whether indeed the one is more
severe than the other. What is interesting is that according to the Rambam this
is also the rationale for the law that one who is engaged in a mitzva is exempt
from other religious duties. That is to say, even when the time of obligation
of the other mitzva has already arrived, the reason that you should
continue with the mitzva in which you are presently engaged is not some
immunity that you enjoy because you are already engaged in a mitzva, but rather
the lack of certainty that the other mitzva is in fact more important
than the one in which you are currently occupied. In such a situation of
uncertainty it falls upon you to refrain from deciding the matter, the
practical ramification of which is to continue with the mitzva in which
you are presently engaged.
two understandings find expression in a controversy between the Rishonim
on our passage regarding the scope of the law that one who is engaged in a
mitzva is exempt from other religious duties. The Tosafot write:
Those on a
religious mission – those traveling for the sake of a mitzva, e.g., Torah
study, greeting one's teacher, or redemption of captives, are exempt from the sukka,
even when they camp. So explains Rashi…. But there is a question. If they are
capable of fulfilling both mitzvot, why should they be exempt? If a
person casts tzitzit on his garment or dons tefilin on his head,
is he thereby exempt from the other mitzvot…. One must say that here too
we are dealing with a case where if he would trouble himself with the
fulfillment of the mitzva of sukka, he would be unable to fulfill
Tosafot assume as obvious that if a person is able to fulfill the other mitzva
without sacrificing the present one, he is obligated to do so. This
assumption is particularly reasonable according to the Rambam, for if the basis
for the exemption is that a person does not know the reward for the
commandments, then clearly if it is within his capability to fulfill both mitzvot,
he must do so.
Ran (11a in Alfasi, s.v., ve-ika), however, disagrees, for he writes:
One who is
engaged in a mitzva is exempt from other ritual duties even if he can do both…
As long as a person is engaged in God's work, the Torah does not obligate him
to trouble himself and fulfill other mitzvot, even though it would be
possible for him to do so.
stated above, in order to extend the exemption to situations in which the
fulfillment of one mitzva does not come at the expense of another, it is not
enough to accept the view of the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna, that
one does not know which mitzva is preferable, but rather one must accept the
premise that the Torah provides immunity from its commandments to one who is
already engaged in a mitzva. This indeed is the implication of the words of the
is interesting to note that the Or Zarua (II, no. 299) also agrees with
the Ran's conclusion. He understands that while the Rambam's approach leads to
the position of the Tosafot, if that position were correct, there would
be no need for a verse:
If one is
incapable of fulfilling both of them, why is a verse necessary to exempt him?
Why should he abandon the mitzva in which he is engaged, and occupy
himself in a different mitzva? He should not even abandon a light mitzva for
the sake of a severe mitzva, because a person does not know the reward for the
commandments. And furthermore: "Be not like servants who minister to their
master for the sake of receiving a reward" (Avot 1:3). Rather,
without a doubt, even though he would be capable of fulfilling both of them,
the Torah exempts him. This is a royal decree.
should be noted that the position of the Ran and the Or Zarua is
conceptually not at all simple. The fulfillment of mitzvot includes the
dimension of obeying the command of God, and from this perspective it is
understandable that one who is already engaged in the fulfillment of one of
God's commandments should be exempt from all other obligations. However, the
fulfillment of mitzvot includes another dimension, the unique value of
each and every mitzva, and it is not at all clear how this dimension is taken
care of by the exemption granted to one who is already engaged in another
mitzva. It may be that this dimension in and of itself does not suffice
to impose a formal obligation. But this is what underlies the Ran's expectation
that if a person is able to perform the second mitzva without special
effort, he should do so, as will be explained below.
cited above, the Tosafot offer proof that the exemption does not apply
to one who is capable of fulfilling both mitzvot: "If a person
casts tzitzit on his garment or dons tefilin on his head, is he
thereby exempt from the other mitzvot?" The Ran struggles with this
proof, and suggests that the exemption was only given to one who is presently
occupied in God's work, and not to anyone who is now fulfilling a mitzva.
A person who is engaged in a mitzva does in fact enjoy immunity from other mitzvot
(with the possible exception of mitzvot that bear liability for karet).
The Ran, however, agrees that if he can fulfill both mitzvot without
excessive effort, he must do so, but this is only because of "Rather than
being good, do not be called evil."
last point raises a new question. Thus far we have discussed the basis and the
scope of the exemption. But what happens when the exemption is in effect, but
nevertheless a person wishes to fulfill the mitzva from which he is
exempt. Does the law that states that one who is engaged in a mitzva is
exempt from other ritual duties, define his fulfillment of another mitzva as
void of halakhic significance, or are we still dealing with a religious act,
albeit one which he is not obligated to perform?
stands to reason that the answer to this question also depends on the two
approaches that we have already encountered regarding the foundation of the
law. According to the approach of the Rambam, who maintains that one must not
give preference to another mitzva over the current one, because one does not
know the reward for the commandments, it stands to reason that if a person
decides to abandon the present mitzva and fulfill a different mitzva, he is
indeed acting inappropriately, but nevertheless he fulfills the second mitzva.
In contrast, according to the approach of the Ran, who maintains that the Torah
does not impose other mitzvot upon one who is already engaged in God's
work, there is room to say that even if he performs another mitzva, it is not
regarded as a mitzva, because he was never commanded about it.
however, reject this correlation in both directions. The Ran, as stated above,
emphasizes that there is no absolute cancellation of the other mitzva, and
because of "Rather than being good, do not be called evil," it is
fitting to fulfill both mitzvot.
the other hand, the Ritva agrees with the approach adopted by the Tosafot,
but nevertheless he sees the performance of the second mitzva (when it
contradicts the first mitzva, for otherwise, according to him, the exemption
granted to one who is engaged in a mitzva does not apply) as an optional act
having no religious value. As the Ritva states:
Because one who is engaged in a mitzva is exempt from other
religious duties. And for this the Gemara cites a verse. And it may be
asked: They certainly only said that one who is engaged in a mitzva is exempt
from fulfilling another mitzva, in a case where he is incapable of
fulfilling both of them…. Now, if he is only exempt while he is engaged in the
mitzva, why is a verse necessary? This is obvious! Why should he abandon one
mitzva for the sake of another? It may be suggested that it comes to teach us
that even if one wishes to abandon one mitzva in order to perform a different
mitzva that is greater than it, he may not do so. One might have thought that
he is exempt from the second mitzva, but if he wishes to abandon the first and
perform the second, he is permitted to do so. Thus, the verse teaches us that since
he is exempt from the second mitzva, it is now considered for him as an
optional act, and one must not abandon a mitzva for the sake of an optional
Ritva maintains that even though we are not dealing with immunity, but
with preference given to the current mitzva when the second mitzva would come
at its expense, the Torah teaches that in such a case the second mitzva is
cancelled, and if the person performs it, it is regarded as an optional act
having no religious value.
Let us now
examine the practical ramifications of the last question – does the law
governing one who is engaged in a mitzva absolutely cancel his obligation
regarding the second mitzva, or is it merely a superficial exemption. As we all
know, a person who missed a prayer service is obligated in a compensatory
prayer. This law, however, only applies when the person was obligated in the
missed prayer. Therefore, the Shulchan Arukh (Yore De'a 341:2)
rules that an onen – a person who is in acute mourning on the day of the
death of a close relative – who missed a prayer service does not have to make
it up, because at the time of that prayer he was exempt from all positive
commandments. What is the law regarding one who is engaged in a mitzva? The
matter depends on the various positions that we saw above: If the first mitzva
absolutely cancels out the second obligation, turning it into a mere
optional act, it stands to reason that the person should not be considered as a
person under obligation. If, however, the second mitzva is still
regarded as a mitzva act, albeit non-obligatory, it seems that he should
be able to recite the compensatory prayer. The Taz and the Derisha disagree
on this point:
In Yore De'a,
sec. 341, no. 2, [the Shulchan Arukh] writes that someone whose close
relative died on Shabbat should not recite the evening prayer on Motzaei
Shabbat, and in the morning he is not obligated to pray twice in order to
compensate for the evening prayer, for its time has already passed. This cannot
be compared to the case where a person forgot to recite the evening prayer who
must pray twice in the morning, because [here] he had not been obligated to
pray at night. Thus far, the words [of the Shulchan Arukh].
And the Derisha writes there: From here it would seem that the same law
applies to one who is occupied with public affairs or the like at prayer time
and is [therefore] exempt from prayer, as the Tur says in sec. 93, and
over the course of his occupation, the time for that prayer passed. He too is
not required to make it up during the next time of prayer, praying twice, one
for compensation, because at the time of his occupation he too was exempt from
prayer, as in the case of mourning. For what difference is there between
mourning and occupation in a mitzva? And it seems to me that it is all the more
so, for in the case of public affairs, he also engages in the service of God. Thus far, the words [of the Derisha]. I question
whether these words issued forth from the mouth of that righteous man. For
anyone who falls into the category of ones (circumstances beyond a
person's control) is exempt from prayer, and here it is explicitly stated that
if a person is prevented [from praying] because of ones, he prays
twice [at the next prayer service]. And furthermore it is written in the Terumat
ha-Deshen, no. 5, regarding one who was occupied with an official because
of a debt, and he was unable to excuse himself without suffering a financial
loss, and in the meantime the time for prayer passed, that this is called ones,
even though it was on account of money, and afterwards he prays twice [at the
next prayer service]. Here you have it stated explicitly that even though he
had been exempt at the time of prayer because of his affairs, it is called ones.
And the same applies to one who is exempt because of the trouble of the mitzva
of [involvement in] public affairs. For the entire reasoning of the Terumat
ha-Deshen's responsum is that it is regarded like the trouble of a mitzva.
And so the view of the author of the Derisha is contradicted. And there
is no comparison to the exemption of mourning, for there he can pray for he is
doing nothing, but the Sages exempted him, and therefore there is no room for
compensatory prayer, because that is not called ones, but rather an
exemption, which is not the case here. For here there is no exemption, but
rather ones, for he was unable to pray, because he had no time. He is
like a sick person who is unable to pray or a drunkard. All this is called ones,
since he himself is obligated, and for this they enacted a compensatory prayer.
In my humble opinion, this is obvious. (Taz, Orach Chayyim 108:1)
us now examine the status of a person who is exempt from a certain mitzva because
of the law governing one who is already engaged in a mitzva, but nevertheless
he chooses to be stringent and performs the mitzva. Let us assume that the
performance of the second mitzva did not come at the expense of the
first mitzva, and that even in such a case, the person is exempt, as argued by
the Ran. As stated above, the Ran's wording implies that in such a case the
person fulfills the mitzva, whereas the Ritva seems to be saying that his
action is regarded as optional conduct (for our purposes it is immaterial that
according to the Ritva the exemption does not apply in such a situation). To clarify
this question, we must relate to three possible practical ramifications:
1) When the person is no longer
engaged in the first mitzva, will he be obligated to perform the second mitzva
a second time, or perhaps he fulfilled his obligation when he performed the
mitzva at a time that he enjoyed an exemption. The Shulchan Arukh
in Hilkhot Pesach 475:5) writes (following the Gemara in Rosh
ha-Shana 28a): "If a person ate an olive-sized portion of matza during
a period that he suffered from madness, and then he recovered, he is obligated
to eat [another portion of matza] after he has recovered, because his
[original] eating was at a time that he was exempt from all the mitzvot."
For our purposes, the question is whether a person who is engaged in a mitzva
is removed from other mitzvot as is a madman, or basically he is
connected to the mitzvot, but enjoys an exemption.
2) Is a person who is engaged in
a mitzva permitted to recite a blessing over the second mitzva?
Ashkenazim rule in accordance with the view of Rabbenu Tam, according to which
a woman is permitted to recite a blessing over time-bound positive precepts,
despite the fact that she is exempt from them, based on the assumption that her
action is regarded as a religiously significant act, despite the exemption.
Does the same apply to one who is engaged in a mitzva?
3) If one is already engaged in a
mitzva but decides to perform a different mitzva, can he perform that second
mitzva on behalf of others, e.g., shofar blowing or the like? The Gemara
in Rosh ha-Shana 29a states that a man who is obligated in shofar can
discharge the obligation of others even if he himself has already fulfilled his
own obligation, this being based on the law of arevut, mutual
responsibility. A woman, on the other hand, cannot discharge the obligation of
other men, even if she had not yet heard the shofar blowing. While a
woman has an advantage over a man who has already blown for himself, in that
according to Rabbenu Tam she can recite a blessing for herself, as opposed to the
man who cannot, she also has a disadvantage, in that she is not regarded as a
person who is obligated in the mitzva and so she cannot discharge the
obligation of others. Returning to our issue, is a person who is already
engaged in a mitzva regarded as a person who is obligated in the second
Or Zarua (Responsa, no. 183) addresses
these last two questions:
traveling to study Torah are exempt from all mitzvot as long as they are
in their master's house, like Rav Chisda and Rabba bar Rav Huna who were exempt as long as they had not yet heard the lecture.
Nevertheless, if they wish to recite a blessing over tzitzit and tefilin,
they may do so, just like women. For Rabbenu Tam, of blessed memory, ruled that
women may recite a blessing over any time-bound positive commandment. And,
therefore, they can blow shofar for those who are obligated [in that
mitzva]. And we do not say that someone who is exempt, even by rabbinic law,
cannot come and discharge the obligation of someone who is obligated, for all
are responsible for one another. As
it is stated in Rosh ha-Shana that regarding all blessings, even though
a person has already fulfilled his own obligation, he can discharge the
obligation of others.
Or Zarua bases his position on the model of the
status of women with respect to time-bound positive mitzvot, according
to Rabbenu Tam. Thus, he understands that here too there exists an intermediate
level: fulfillment of a mitzva on the level of one who is not commanded about
it, but yet fulfills it. As opposed to women, however, here we are dealing with
men who in and of themselves are bound by the mitzva under discussion, and
therefore they can even discharge the obligation of others.
The Maharach Or Zarua does not explicitly relate to the first question,
but it is reasonable to assume that he would say that a person can fulfill his
obligation even at a time that he is exempt, because his action has the quality
of a mitzva-act.
Berura also deals with these questions, but I fail to understand what he
says, and therefore I would be very grateful to anyone who proposes an
explanation of his words. As mentioned above, the Shulchan Arukh in Hilkhot
Pesach writes: "If a person ate an olive-sized portion of matza during
a period that he suffered from madness, and then he recovered, he is obligated
to eat [another portion of matza] after he has recovered, because his
[original] eating was at a time that he was exempt from all the mitzvot."
The Mishna Berura explains (no. 39): "He means to say that he was
then in the category of a madman, and not a man." In his Sha'ar Tziyun,
exclusion of one who is watching over a found object or guarding a corpse. Even
though such a person is also exempt from all the mitzvot, if he ate matza,
he has fulfilled his obligation, because he is a man, only that then he was not
obligated by the Torah, since he was engaged in a different mitzva.
Nevertheless, I am in doubt whether he can then recite the blessing over eating
matza, "who has sanctified us in his commandments, and commanded
us, etc.," for at that time he is not commanded.
is clear to the Mishna Berura, that if a person who was already engaged
in a mitzva ate matza, he is not obligated to eat matza a
second time. This assumption is not self-evident, for according to the Ritva,
what he did then falls into the category of optional behavior having no
religious value, and it is difficult to say that such behavior can constitute
the fulfillment of his obligation. Also according to the Maharach Or Zarua,
his eating falls into the category of "one who is not commanded regarding
a mitzva, but yet fulfills it," and it is by no means obvious that
he should not be obligated to fulfill the mitzva a second time as
"one who is commanded regarding a mitzva and fulfills it." The Mishna
Berura must understand, in contrast to these positions, that the person's
action has the status of a religious act, despite the fact that he is not
commanded to perform it. But if this is the case, how can he say that a
blessing may not be recited over such an action? Surely it is an action through
which the person fulfills his obligation!
 The Rambam (Hilkhot
Sukka 6:4) makes not the slightest allusion to the forced explanation of
the Tosafot. Further study is required to determine whether or not he
later retracted the position that he had put forward in his commentary to Avot.
 The Meiri
in Berakhot 17b records a dispute about this question: "[An onen
who is exempt from all other obligations owing to his anxiety about the mitzva
of burial that falls upon him] does not recite the Ha-motzi blessing.
That is to say, he is not required to recite the Ha-motzi blessing for
himself. Some explain that if he recited the blessing, other people cannot
fulfill their obligation with it, since he is exempt. Nevertheless, it seems to
me, that bedieved, they fulfill their obligation."
our next shiur, we will deal with the law of mitzta'er and
"dwelling similar to ordinary residence." Please review the Gemara,
p. 25b, and especially, "Ve-amar Rabbi Abba bar Zavda amar Rav: Avel
chayyav be-sukka… iba'I lei le-yituvei da'atei"; and continue
on p. 26a, "Tanu rabbanan: Shomerei ha-ir… mitzta'er hu patur
meshamshav lo"; [29a, "Tanu rabbanan: Haya okhel be-sukka
ve-yaredu… amud ha-shachar"].
1. Mordekhai, sec. 740, "De'amar Rava…," and
marginal stricture; Rosh, 7; Rashi, 25b, s.v. tza'ara demimela.
2. [Shulchan Arukh 640:4-5; Taz, nos. 7-8].
3. Tosafot 26a, s.v. holkhei; Ritva 26a, s.v.
pirtza, "u-mai de-darshinan be-khol dukhta"; Ritva 28b,
s.v. Rava, "ve-yesh lish'ol."
4. Shomerei ganot u-pardesim – Rashi; Shitat Ribav
(12a in Alfasi), "Abaye amar… bein ba-laila"; Ritva, s.v. tanu
rabbanan, shomerei, pirtza; Ran 12a, s.v. Rava amar.
5. [Rema, 639:7; Be'ur Halakha, s.v. ve-khol,
s.v. hedyotot; Be'ur Halakha, beginning of sec. 640].
(Translated by David Strauss)