Hiddur Mitzva Ad Shelish (9a-b)

  • Rav Reuven Taragin


Based on shiurim by Rav Reuven Taragin



[Editor's note: We have skipped to Daf 9 in accordance with the program of studies in the Yeshiva.  It is nevertheless recommended to at least read over these pages (bekiyut).]


I) Gemara - Rav Huna and Rav Zeira


            In a parenthetical note the gemara quotes R. Asi in the name of Rav Huna, who mandates a maximum limit of one third to be spent on proper mitzva observance - "be-mitzva ad shelish."  R. Zeira rejects the literal interpretation of the quote, which would require one to sacrifice a third of one's assets on behalf of each mitzva, as unreasonable.[1]  Instead, he applies it to situations of hiddur mitzva and understands the limitation of a third as a percentage of the cost of the normal mitzva - "Be-hiddur mitzva ad shelish be-mitzva." 


            At first glance, this explanation seems far from R. Huna's actual statement which does not even mention the word hiddur.[2]  After having seen R. Zeira's opinion through the eyes of the Rishonim, we will realize how his suggestion reflects an appreciation of R. Huna's true intention.


II) Rishonim


            The Rishonim debate the intent of both segments of R. Zeira's statement: 1) be-hiddur mitzva; 2) ad shelish be-mitzva. 


A) Rashi


            Rashi (s.v. Be-hiddur) links R. Zeira's hiddur mitzva to the gemara in Shabbat (133b) which mandates beautification of mitzva objects such as sifrei Torah and describes a scenario where one is choosing between two Torot.  Shelish defines how far beyond the VALUE of the least expensive kosher scroll, must one spend in order to purchase a more beautiful one.[3]


B) Tosafot


            Tosafot (s.v. Ad), on the other hand, limit R. Zeira's mandate to a particular type of choice - between variant sizes.  Shelish refers to the VOLUME beyond the minimum, for which one is required to spend extra money to obtain.  For instance it one found a minimum sized etrog, he is encouraged to search for an etrog which is larger by one third.[4]  Rabbeinu Peretz (s.v. Hiddur) presents Tosafot's limiting interpretation as a response to his understanding of the boundless nature of Rashi.  Rabbeinu Peretz understood Rashi as requiring one to spend up to a third to acquire a more beautiful object, even after a kosher one was ALREADY PURCHASED.  Taken to its logical end, one would have to purchase numerous objects for the same mitzva moving slowly but steadily up the beauty scale in increments of less than a third in value.  However, by limiting hiddur to a third of the minimum volume, there is a defined maximum which need not be surpassed.


            Tosafot's limitation of R. Zeira's mandate to the issue of size, as opposed to beauty as stressed by the gemara in Shabbat, implies a distinction between two types of hiddur.  Although mitzva beautification reflects one's love of the God Who decreed their observance, it does not enhance the fulfillment of the actual mitzva.  An adorned sefer Torah is no more a Torah than a simple one.  Increasing the size, on the other hand, at least in regard to an etrog (the case described by Tosafot), enhances the fulfillment of the mitzva of etrog itself.  Although one is expected to beautify mitzvot, additional financial investment is mandated only when doing so enhances the mitzva's objective halakhic fulfillment. 


            This restrictive criterion might limit R. Zeira's statement not only to specific types of hiddurim, but even to particular mitzvot.  The Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo 24) understands Tosafot's etrog illustration as precise - only the size of the etrog, as opposed to the size of other mitzva objects, mandates additional expenditure.  Etrog is unique because the Torah describes it as "peri etz hadar" (literally, the fruit of the "hadar" tree), explicitly defining hiddur as part of the basic mitzva.  On this formulation, Chazal based the uniquely high standards, both lekhatchila (ideally) and be-di'eved (post-facto), set for the four species.[5]  According to the Maharshal, therefore, only regarding etrog, where the Torah itself stresses hiddur, can we view hiddur as enhancing the fulfillment of the mitzva itself.


C) Rosh / Rabbeinu Tam 


            Although Tosafot's demand for intrinsic hiddur may have restricted R. Zeira to particular types of hiddurim within specific mitzvot, when applicable it may very well be more emphatic than according to Rashi.  The Magen Avraham[6] infers from Rashi that the requirement applies only to one who is choosing between objects of varying beauty and cost; one who has already made a purchase is not required to purchase a second object for the same mitzva. Tosafot, like Rashi, describe a case where one has a choice between two mitzva items and seem to accept the same condition.  However, the Rosh (siman 7) and Rabbeinu Tam,[7] who explain hiddur like Tosafot, require a second purchase.  This follows directly from their understanding that hiddur intrinsically improves the quality of the mitzva.


III) Basis for Tosafot in the Gemara


A) Rav Ashi


            Rav Soloveitchik[8] used a Tosafot-based conception to justify Rav Ashi's suggestion (continuation of the gemara 9b) that the third by evaluated "mi-lebar" - from the sum total of the base and the added expenditure (or, in other words, one would be required to add half of the base value).  If, according to Tosafot, R. Zeira relates only to hiddurim that can be classified as integral to the mitzva, we might view money allocated for such hiddurim as akin to money spent on the mitzva's basic fulfillment.  Inclusion of the third together with the base value as the sum used for evaluating itself, reflects this kinship.


B) Rav Zeira


            Tosafot may have derived his limiting conception from R. Zeira's strange formulation - "be-hiddur mitzva ad shelish be-mitzva."  Had R. Zeira been referring to the amount spent for basic fulfillment, he would have more appropriately described it as "shelish bi-DEMEI[9] mitzva" (a third of the sum spent on the mitzva).  In R. Zeira's actual formulation, "shelish" modifies, at least if taken literally, the mitzva itself.  From this, Tosafot concluded that R. Zeira was dealing with hiddur that enhanced the mitzva itself by increasing the size of the object used to fulfill it.


C) Rav Huna


            R. Zeira, according to Tosafot, may have inferred his explanation from R. Huna's formulation - "be-mitzva ad shelish."  Having proved R. Huna to be referring to hiddur, not the mitzva itself, R. Zeira faced R. Huna's formulation which seems to refer to the mitzva itself.  R. Zeira reconciled the law with its formulation, by limiting it to types of hiddurim integral to the mitzva itself.  It is noteworthy that the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), which seems to hold like Rashi, quotes R. Huna as - "LE-mitzva ad shelish."  The lamed, in place of the bet, changes the implied relationship between the hiddur and mitzva from intrinsic to external.[10]


IV) Two Tracks


            The Shulchan Arukh (OC 646) quotes the opinions of both Rashi and Tosafot.  Interestingly, though, it quotes Tosafot with the scope added by the Rosh, who requires a second purchase.  Recognition of hiddur in the broader sense highlighted by Rashi, does not necessarily force a blurring of Tosafot's distinction.  We can accept the two by applying R. Zeira's position to all types of hiddur (Rashi), but requiring a second purchase only in regard to those which are intrinsic (Tosafot according to the Rosh).



Sources for the next shiur:


1) Mishna 9b

Gemara "Ka garim."

Rashi, Tosafot s.v. Shor.

Ra'avad s.v. I-leima.

Ramban Milchamot Hashem 22b on the Rif "Ela vadai ... Shlomo zt"l."

Rambam Nizkei Mammom 4:6.


2) Kofer payments in other mazikim

Gemara ... bottom of 9b.

Tosafot s.v. Ma she-ein.

Gemara BK 26a "Ibaye lehu ... shema mina."

Gemara 40b "Amar man ... mishna" (41a).


* *Hiddur Mitzva - A more beautiful/halakhically correct form of mitzva observance.

[1] See Rishonim (for example Tosafot s.v. Ileima) who claim that, in actuality, for mitzva observance one is not expected to sacrifice more than a fifth of his resource for all mitzvot cumulatively.

[2] Interestingly, the Yerushalmi, (Pe'a 1:1) suggests a similar explanation.

[3] See also Rabbeinu Chananel and the Rif (Sukka) who interpret like Rashi.  Basis for this approach can be found in the Yerushalmi which actually refers to the "demei mitzva."  See, though, the Rosh who may reflect an alternative understanding of the Yerushalmi.

[4] See Maharsha (Aggadic Section) who finds basis for the figure of a third as a determinant of size from the requirement that a lulav be a third taller than the hadasim.

[5] See third chapter of Sukka.  See also Rashi there (29b s.v. Ha-yavesh) who quotes "Zeh keili ve-anveihu" as the source for the pesul of yavesh.  Although the hiddurim inferred from that pasuk are generally not indispensable, regarding the four species where "hadar" is specified by the Torah the significance of these hiddurim is magnified.

[6] OC 656:5.

[7] Quoted by Bet Yosef (646) in the name of the Semag.  What allows for this expansion is the fact that these Rishonim accept Rashi's limitation of a third of the value as well.  This avoids the impracticality issue raised by Rabbeinu Peretz and the Rosh himself.

[8] See Rav Reichman's "Reshimot Shiurim," printed notes of Rav Soloveitchik's shiurim.

[9] See the Yerushalmi which actually suggests a similar formulation.

[10] See Rabbeinu Chananel and Rif (Sukka) who had a lamed in place of a bet within R. Zeira's formulation as well - "le-hiddur mitzva...."  They too understand R. Zeira like Rashi.