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The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs

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To What Degree Is One Obligated to Perform The Mitzvoth?- Part I

By: Rav Noam Koenigsberg

What does Judaism demand of us? Are we required to obey the precepts of the  Torah in all contingencies? Where does the Master of the World "have mercy"  upon us, and permit us to refrain from performing His will?

The gemara (Masechet Sanhedrin 74a) derives from the verse "and you shall  live by them" (vechay bahem), that an individual is not required to forfeit  his biological life to abstain from a transgression or to perform a  commandment. The three exceptions to this rule (idolatry, sexual misconduct  and murder) are derived from specific verses and empirical logic. The goal  of this essay is to explore the degree to which one is required to fulfill  the Mitzvoth- especially in the realms of financial and physical health.

The gemara in Masechet Bava Kama (9b) states: "Rav Asi, quoted Rabi Zera who  quoted Rav Huna as saying that in a mitzvah one must extend himself to a  third. How is a third determined? If it means a third of one's estate, then  after three mitzvoth an individual will be bankrupt. Rather, as Rav Zera  explains, one must beautify mitzvoth until a third."

What is the basis of the gemara that one is not required to sacrifice his  financial assets to perform the Mitzvoth? As the Ra'avad asks, "do Mitzvoth  have price tags?!" Additionally, we must clarify if this halacha is of a  Biblical or rabbinic origin.

The Tosafot and other early commentators (the Ra'avad quoted in the Rashba,  and the Rosh) opine that this halacha is linked to the enactment that  originated in Usha. As the gemara mentions in Masechet Ketubot (50b), Rabi  Ila'iy proclaimed: "In Usha it was instituted that one who spends money (for  purposes of Tzedakah), may not spend (mevazbez, literally, waste) more than  a fifth in order that he himself should not come to require assistance from  fellow human beings. A promise made by Yaakov to Hashem is marshaled as  proof- "and (from) all that You give me I will tithe a tithe for You". Two  tithes equal 20%- thus one may not give more than a fifth of his assets to  Tzedakah.

Although this source deals explicitly with Tzedakah, the above-mentioned  commentators understand that it applies to all Mitzvoth. It is difficult to  maintain that the derasha concerning the terminology of the tithes (aser  a'asreinu lach) reveals a Biblical halacha (de'orayta). Rather, this seems  to imply a rabbinic law, promoted with the aid of a quotation from the Torah  (asmakhta).

Rabi Akiva Eiger quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi (the first chapter of Masechet  Peah) that this halacha was forgotten and reinstated (thus the terminology  of "instituted"-hitkeynu- is to be understood as re-instituted- chazru  vehitkeynu). The question is what is the essential status of the halacha-  Biblical or rabbinic?

Rav Chanoch Henich Eigess (in his work entitled the Marcheset) advances an  alternative source for this halacha. The Talmud Yerushalmi (quoted by the  Rosh and the Ran) quotes the verse in Mishlei (3:8) "honor Hashem from your  wealth" (kabed et Hashem mehonecha). One is obliged to perform Mitzvoth  exclusively if one is financially equipped to do so.

It appears that this source does not indicate the presence of a Biblically  mandated commandment. Biblical halachot cannot be derived from words of the  Prophet (divrei Torah medivrei Kabala, lo yalfinan).

The gemara in Masechet Arachin (28) quotes the opinion of Rabi Elazar  (predicated on Vayikra 27:28) that one may not dedicate (machrim) all of  one's livestock, gentile servants or inherited fields towards consecrated  purposes (hekdesh). Rabi Elazar ben Azarya derives from this halacha the  following: if for elevated purposes one may not totally relinquish his  financial assets, certainly a person should exercise caution with his money.  The gemara links the view of Rabi Elazar ben Azarya with the institution of  Usha; forbidding one to donate more than a fifth to Tzedakah (the Rambam in  Hilchot Arachin veCharamim 8:13 rules in accordance with this gemara and  concludes that one may not spend more than a fifth in the realm of  Mitzvoth).  This halacha stems from a kal vachomer- thus implying a  de'orayta status.

Thus, we have encountered three possible sources for the institution of  Usha. Two sources indicate that the halacha is on a rabbinic level; the  third suggests that it is of a Biblical status.

Be'ezrat Hashem in the next installment we will investigate further  parameters of this halacha.


Categorized under: 1: Halacha > General
Uploaded: 1/24/2006 12:21:49 PM