Shiur #17: "Mitzva Bo Yeter Mi-beshlucho"

  • Rav Amnon Bazak



Sources for this week's shiur:


1. Kiddushin 41a "Ha-ish...armelu," Shabbat 119a "Rav Safra...kamei."

2. Rashi Kiddushin s.v. mitzva bo, Tosafot Ri Ha-zaken mitzva bo... shaliach."

3. Rambam Hilkhot Ishut 3:19, Hilkhot Shabbat 30:6.

4. Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 250:1, Magen Avraham ibid.




1. Regarding what specific cases does the gemara explicitly prefer personal involvement?

2. Should this preference be applied to mitzvot in general?

3. The Yad David limits the preference of personal involvement to those cases mentioned explicitly.  What might be the reason for this?



A. Introduction


The gemara at the beginning of the second chapter of Kiddushin (41a) discusses the statement of the mishna: "A man betrothes (a woman) either himself or through an agent; a woman is betrothed either herself or through her agent." The gemara comments:


"If one can betroth through an agent, do I need [the mishna to tell me that one can do so] himself?"  Rav Yosef answers that the mishna here alludes to the principle of, "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho" - there is an extra mitzva for one to personally perform the act, rather than assigning an agent.  Rav Yosef cites as examples the practice of two amoraim to personally involve themselves in shabbat preparations, rather than leaving all the work for others.


The gemara brings an additional opinion, according to which this principle is not to be derived from the beginning of the mishna.  In the case of betrothal through an agent, this view argues, if the man does not know the woman there is even a prohibition involved: "A man is prohibited to betroth a woman until he has seen her, in case (when he meets her later on) he will see in her something that is distasteful to him and she will be repugnant to him...." It is for this reason that the mishna employs the word "himself." However, we may still derive this principle from the end of the mishna: "A woman is betrothed either herself or through her agent." The word "herself" teaches that "the mitzva is greater if she performs it herself rather than through an agent." 


In this article we shall examine the nature and scope of the principle that "it is a greater mitzva if he performs it himself rather than through an agent" - "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho."


B. Reason and scope of this Provision


Rashi comments as follows:


"For one who performs the mitzvot himself receives a greater reward."


The significance of physically engaging in mitzvot oneself may be understood in two different ways:


1. As pertaining to the person who performs the mitzvot: i.e., if a person engages physically and exerts himself in the performance of mitzvot, then he is fulfilling them in the best possible way: "the reward is in accordance with the effort." The Rambam comments as follows, in his Perush Ha-mishnayot:


"Accordingly, 'herself' is mentioned before 'through her agent,' because a person's involvement in a mitzva is more complete when he performs it himself than when he has someone else perform it for him."


2. The second possibility is that this principle pertains to the mitzva: a person who takes the trouble to personally perform the mitzva shows greater honor to the mitzva.


These two possibilities have ramifications with regard to the range of instances in which this principle will apply. This principle is mentioned only in our sugya, and relates to only two mitzvot explicitly - kiddushin (betrothal) and Shabbat. (The scope of this article does not allow for a full treatment of the debate among the Rishonim as to whether or not kiddushin is actually a mitzva.) 


There are three basic opinions in this regard:


1.  The Ri Ha-zaken states at the beginning of the second chapter of Kiddushin: "'It is a greater mitzva if he performs it himself' - ANY MITZVA that applies to him should be performed by him personally, and not by an agent."

This approach seems to be the most widely accepted among the poskim, and the halakha is codified accordingly by the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 250:2), who writes: "This principle applies to every mitzva - it is a greater mitzva if he performs it himself than through an agent."


2.  The Pitchei Teshuva (Even HaEzer 35:2) brings the opinion of the Yad David on the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 4:6), maintaining that the principle applies specifically to the two mitzvot explicitly mentioned in the gemara: kiddushin and Shabbat.


The debate seems to revolve around the nature of the reason behind this principle.  According to the view that the reason relates to the personal involvement of the person in fulfilling the mitzva, there appears to be no reason to differentiate between different types of mitzvot.  Since the basis of the principle rests on the process of the fulfillment of the given mitzva, its specific character is of no consequence. But for those who maintain that the reason relates to the honor shown to the mitzva, there may be room to argue that the principle pertains only to specific mitzvot.


According to the view of the Yad David, which is based on our sugya, the principle is relevant specifically to the mitzvot of kiddushin and Shabbat.  Concerning Shabbat, the reason is clear.  The command to "honor Shabbat" is one of the "four things that are said of Shabbat" (Rambam, Hilkhot Shabbat 30:1), and it includes all the preparations for Shabbat (ibid., halakhot 2-6).  In the words of the Rambam in halakha 6: "Even if a person holds a very important title and is not accustomed to bringing things from the market or engaging in housework, he is obligated to personally perform himself, such activities as are necessary for Shabbat, for this is his honor." (Although the language here is slightly ambiguous, we may understand the Rambam in light of the parallel passage with the Shulchan Arukh - Orach Chayim 250:1: "this is his honor, that he honors Shabbat.")


It is therefore understandable why specifically in the case of Shabbat, where there is a special mitzva of 'honor,' the principle of "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho" applies.


In the case of kiddushin, too, we can understand why it is particularly important that the mitzva be performed by the man himself.  Although the sugya does not, at first glance, point to any clear connection between the two halakhot, it nevertheless appears that they have their source in the same concept, that just as "a man may not betroth a woman until he has seen her, in case (when he meets her later on) he will see in her something that is distasteful to him and she will be repugnant to him,' and Hashem has commanded, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself," likewise, the mitzva of betrothing a woman should be performed by the person himself, for this is an integral part of the nature of kiddushin.


This arises explicitly from the words of the Maharshdam (Yoreh De'ah 95; the question under discussion is whether a person must obey his father's command not to marry a certain woman):


..."For (even) a lenient rabbinical prohibition overrides the mitzva of honoring one's parents, and all the more so the mitzva of marriage (overrides the mitzva to obey his parents), which is exceedingly great - to marry the woman who is suitable in his eyes. After all, for what reason did the Sages say of this mitzva (of kiddushin) that 'it is a greater mitzva if he performs it himself rather than through an agent'?!"


The Maharshdam clearly sees this principle as inherently connected to the mitzva of marriage: "to marry the woman who is suitable in his eyes." (The same idea as applying to women is found in a revolutionary statement of the Ran (teshuvat, 32) asserting that "the crux of the mitzva of marriage for a woman is that it should be to the person whom she desires.")  In light of this approach we may understand why this principle applies specifically to marriage. (According to this approach, the gemara's comparison between kiddushin and Shabbat should be understood as comparing only the actual halakha, whereas the reasons for its application are completely different in each case.)


c. A unique, "in-between approach" is to be found in the Or Zaru'a (siman 128), who contends that theoretically, the principle of "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho" applies to all the mitzvot. But then he asks, if this is so, then why do we not make a point with regard to shechita (ritual slaughter of animals), separation of 'challa,' circumcision, etc., to perform them ourselves rather than through an agent? He answers as follows:


"Specifically concerning kiddushin our Sages taught that 'it is a greater mitzva if he performs it himself,' for the agent derives no benefit at all from the betrothal; to the contrary, it is to his detriment, in that the woman is now forbidden to him. But in the cases of shechita, challa, etc., the mitzva will be no greater if he performs it himself rather than through an agent, as indeed our Sages and all the nation, although they were proficient in the laws pertaining to shechita, they customarily allowed the appointed one (the 'shochet') to slaughter... and the same applies to circumcision, where even if the father is trained [as a mohel], he may, as a first preference, ask someone else to perform the circumcision. Even though the mohel derives no benefit from the act of circumcision,  neither does the child's father derive benefit, and so they are equal."


To explain his approach, it appears that he, too, believes that the principle pertains to the honor shown to mitzvot, but in his view the principle arises not from the unique character of the mitzva, but rather from the PROCESS OF ITS PERFORMANCE. Thus, the principle applies only when there is a discrepancy in motivation between the dispatcher and his agent, when the dispatcher stands to benefit (such as in kiddushin) and the agent does not (in kiddushin, the agent actually loses). In such a case, the mitzva will be performed with less enthusiasm by the agent than it would be by the dispatcher himself, and the honor shown towards the mitzva is thereby undermined. But when there is no discrepancy in terms of motivation (even if the respective parties are driven by completely different motives), then there is no difference in the way the mitzva is performed - e.g. shechita, where the dispatcher benefits (from the results) as does the agent (from payment) - and so the principle does not apply.


C. The Nature of the principle


Earlier we mentioned Rashi's comment that "a person who engages in it personally receives a greater reward." This would seem to show that the mitzva for a person to perform the given act personally rather than through an agent belongs more in the philosophical realm: he "receives a greater reward," suggesting that this principle makes no practical difference and has no practical ramifications.


The Ra'avad introduces a novel idea in this regard, as quoted in the responsa of the Rivash (siman 82):


"You have asked further: Suppose that Reuven appoints an agent to betroth a certain woman to him in a different city, and the agent betroths her to Reuven as he should - for an agent generally carries out his mission - and the berakha over the betrothal is recited. Then the woman arrives with the agent to Reuven's place to marry him. The woman and the agent declare that she was betrothed to Reuven through the agent; must the prospective groom then betroth her once again himself and recite the berakha over the betrothal a second time before entering the 'chupa,' or not? You say that this very situation came before you in Majorca and you wanted to recite the blessing for the marriage, but the sage Rabbi Vidal Ephraim zt"l would not let you do so until the groom betrothed her once again himself. You said to him, 'Hasn't the agent already betrothed her to him? If the groom betroths her once again, then you are casting doubt and aspersions on the original betrothal that was executed by the agent, and people will say that betrothal through an agent is not valied betrothal.' And (you say that) he replied that the Ra'avad zt"l wrote in his halakhot that a person who betroths a woman through an agent must betroth her once again himself, based on what our Sages taught. 'mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho' - is a greater mitzva if he performs it himself rather than through an agent.  Nevertheless, in order not to pronounce Hashem's Name in vain, for a person who recites an unnecessary berakha violates the prohibition against invoking Hashem's Name in vain, he (ordered that Hashem's Name should not be mentioned in the blessing; he should say only, 'Blessed are You, Hashem' rather than mentioning His Name."


The Ra'avad's novel theory - that a person who betroths a woman through an agent must then betroth her himself (albeit without mentioning a berakha) is at first very difficult to understand. Indeed, the Rivash expresses his astonishment:


"What R. Vidal z"l, of blessed memory, told you - that the Ra'avad wrote that someone who betroths through an agent must betroth again himself at the time of the marriage, based on what is written "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho" - I wonder how such a holy person as the Ra'avad could say such a thing. For (the gemara) there says only that when he initially comes to betroth her, it is a greater mitzva if he does so himself than if he does so through an agent.  But once the woman has already been betrothed to him through his agent in front of witnesses, then what mitzva can there be in betrothing her again; she is already betrothed to him and the betrothal is valid. This is wasteful activity and futile effort.  We may compare this to that which the gemara brings in this context, that Rav Safra would roast a head [of an animal] and Rava would salt a fish [before Shabbat, to personally involved themselves in the mitzva]: if it were roasted or salted by someone else, he would not have roasted or salted it again."


The Rivash raises two difficulties:


    1.         The principle of "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho," applies only "le-khatchila" when first performing the act, but not after the fact (be-di'avad).

    2.         Once a man has already betrothed a woman through an agent, she is betrothed to him and the betrothal is valid. The second betrothal is meaningless - it is no more than "wasteful activity and futile effort."  The question becomes even more pointed with regard to kiddushin itself: what turns the simple action of giving a sum of money to a woman into an act of betrothal is the halakhic effect that is created thereby: the woman is thus forbidden to anyone else. But if the woman is already halakhically betrothed, then the act of "kiddushin" a second time is merely a meaningless act of giving, for what can now turn that act of giving into a halakhic act of kiddushin?


In order to understand the Ra'avad's comments, we must address two questions:


1. It appears that according to the Ra'avad, the halakhic principle of "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho" is defined as "hiddur mitzva" (a way of fulfilling the mitzva in the best possible way) or, in the words of R. Chaim ben Shemuel, a "mitzva min ha-muvchar" - mitzva of a higher quality.  In light of this we may evaluate the question of the function served by the second betrothal, based on the famous discussion of the Beit Ha-Levi (part 2, siman 47) concerning 'hiddur mitzva':


"For some time I have had a doubt concerning someone who held a qualified lulav on the first day of Sukkot, and then later on comes upon a more beautiful lulav - is he obligated to take the nicer lulav? For we may say that even though if, in the beginning, he had both of them together then he would have been obligated to take the nicer one, now that he has already performed the mitzva properly with the first one - such that he no longer has the obligation of performing the mitzva - then in what way is the second one to be considered an enhancement or beautification, if there is no mitzva?"


The Beit Ha-Levi claims that question hinges on the debate among the Rishonim in the sugya in Masekhet Shabbat 133b concerning 'hiddur mitzva' in the case of circumcision.  The gemara brings the following beraita:


"The person who circumcises: so long as he is involved with the circumcision he should cut again (if there are some remaining shreds of the foreskin), whether [to remove] shreds that invalidate the circumcision [if they are not removed] or for shreds that do not invalidate it. After he has finished (the act of circumcision), he should cut again for remaining shreds that invalidate the circumcision, but for those that do not invalidate it, he should not cut again."


The Rishonim are divided as to how the beraita is to be understood. The Tur (Y.D. 264) argues that this entire halakha was stated only with regard to Shabbat, for since the mohel has finished his work, and has removed the critical pieces of the foreskin, he may not desecrate Shabbat again in order to remove remaining pieces which are not critical (i.e., their presence does not invalidate the circumcision). But during the week, clearly he should circumcise again even after he has already finished, even if the shreds that remain do not invalidate the circumcision, because of the principle of 'hiddur mitzva' - "this is my God and I shall glorify Him."


The Rambam (Hilkhot Mila 2, par. 4,6), by contrast, applies this halakha not only to Shabbat, but generally, as well. He maintains that even during the week one does not go back to complete the circumcision after he has stopped.


The Beit Ha-Levi claims that this debate hinges on the aforementioned question concerning 'hiddur mitzva.'  According to the Rambam, the principle of 'hiddur mitzva' applies only at the time of the actual performance of the mitzva; once the action is completed, the concept of 'hiddur' will no longer apply.  Therefore, even on a weekday there is no significance to the act the second time. But the Tur argues that even after the completion of the mitzva it is possible to beautify it further, so long as the time frame for the mitzva has not passed.  In the case of circumcision, the mitzva is fulfilled for the entire duration of the person's life.  Therefore, to this view, on a weekday the mohel must afterwards cut away even those shreds that do not invalidate the circumcision. 


If so, then the Rivash's question against the Ra'avad - that "mitzva bo yoter mi-beshlucho" applies only le-khatechila but not after the fact - would hinge on this debate among the Rishonim.  We contend that the Ra'avad follows the line of the Tur, maintaining that 'hiddur mitzva' applies even after the act of performing the mitzva is completed.


            However, even the Tur says this only concerning circumcision, a mitzva which - as noted - is fulfilled continuously throughout one's life, and is not a one-time mitzva.  It thus does not resemble kiddushin, a mitzva that is fulfilled through a one-time act of betrothal.  But this relates to the Rivash's second question on the Ra'avad - the significance of the act of giving once the woman is already betrothed.


In response to this question it would appear that in the opinion of the Ra'avad, the act of kiddushin is actually not a one-time act, but rather represents the relationship of dependence that lasts from the act of betrothal until the marriage (clearly, even according to the Ra'avad, after the woman is fully married there is no significance to the performance of kiddushin), similarly to circumcision, in the opinion of the Tur. Proof for this argument is to be found in the words of the Meiri on our sugyah, quoting in the name of "some of the Geonim" an opinion that the agent does not recite a blessing over the kiddushin: "Even though an agent for the purposes of the mitzva of 'teruma' recites the blessing, for the mitzva has been completed by him, in the case of kiddushin the mitzva is not complete until they enter under the chupa, and only at that time should he (the groom) recite the blessing, for the kiddushin as well, since the chupa is a remnant of the mitzva."


Further support for this approach is to be found in the Hagahot on Sefer HaTashbetz, siman 450 (quoted by the Beit Yosef here in siman 35):


"If the original kiddushin was carried out in the absence of a minyan, he may betroth her again at the time of the marriage in order to be able to recite the blessing of the betrothal before a minyan."


This halakha, too, can only be understood if we regard the process of betrothal as lasting until the time of the marriage.


We may therefore summarize as follows: according to the Ra'avad, the principle that "the mitzva is greater if he performs it himself rather than through an agent": is not only abstract, in the sense that "he receives a greater reward," but rather is included within the scope of the principle of 'hiddur mitzva' - performance of the mitzva in the best possible way. The practical ramification of this is that the groom should betroth the woman himself personally at the time of the marriage, if she was previously betrothed to him through an agent, in accordance with the perception that the act of kiddushin is actually a process that lasts until the chupa.



Sources for the next shiur


1.  Kiddushin 41a "shlichut minalan ... benei brit"

2.  Ketubot 74a "kol tnai ... lo havei tnai."  Tosafot s.v. tnai till "limirmi bei tna-ah."

3.  Mordechai Kiddushin 505, Ktzot 188:2

4.  Tosafot Gittin 66a s.v. kol, Ramban ibid ha ditnan.