The Tarud Exemption from Mitzvot

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


A person who is considered an ones (involuntarily withheld from performing a mitzva) is exempt from the performance of a mitzva. The factor that makes one ones may be internal, such as physical inability (illness or other) to perform the mitzva. Additionally, extrinsic factors can render an ones status, such as non-accessibility of requisite items to execute the mitzva. Several gemarot introduce a third potential form of ones – someone who is “tarud,” too preoccupied with a mitzva performance to execute a different mitzva. In this shiur, we will analyze the nature of the tarud exemption.

The gemara (Sukka 26b) establishes that a chatan, who is worried about succeeding in marital relations, is the prototypical case of tarud. As alluded to above, tarud may reflect a novel halakhic exemption. The original exemption of ones is derived from a pasuk. The tarud principle may be an extension of ones LOGIC – not only does physical inability to perform a mitzva excuse a person from mitzva performance, but psychological and emotional inability does as well.

Alternatively, tarud may represent a completely different logic. Ones only applies to physical deterrents, either inherent inability or lack of resources. Tarud is an extension of a different principle. The principle of osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva excuses a person from switching from a previously engaged-in mitzva to a newly emergent one. The concept of tarud asserts that emotional preoccupation is also considered osek be-mitzva, even though the person is not physically engaged in the mitzva. Emotional immersion in a mitzva process is also considered osek be-mitzva, rendering the person eligible for the exemption of osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva.

This second approach may be reflected in the pasuk employed to derive the tarud exemption. The general principle of osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva is derived from the phrase “be-shivtekha be-veitekha,” which implies that a person is only commanded to perform a mitzva if otherwise involved in tranquil or personal pursuits. If a person is immersed in religious behavior, however, he is exempt from additional religious commandments. The very next phrase in the pasuk, “u-velechtikha ba-derekh,” teaches us the tarud exemption. Derekh, the road, is typically associated with a voluntary expedition. Presumably a tarud person is not considered in a voluntary ‘state of mind.’ Thus, a chatan worried about marital relations is preoccupied with a mitzva and excused from additional mitzvot he is not in a voluntary situation. As the principle of tarud is derived from a phrase IMMEDIATELY PROXIMATE to the phrase establishing the osek exemption, it is logical to suggest that tarud merely EXTENDS the definition of osek be-mitzva to someone who is emotionally engrossed, although not physically engaged.

To summarize, the principle of tarud may be understood in two very different manners. Either it extends the status of osek be-mitzva to someone who is emotionally preoccupied with a mitzva or it represents an unrelated petur based on viewing the tarud person as an ones. This question may affect several issues pertaining to the scope of tarud.

An interesting question surrounding the ability to apply tarud to hechsher mitzva emerges from the gemara in Sukka (26a). The beraita (26a) discusses the case of people who are journeying to perform a mitzva, exempting them from performing the mitzva of sukka. Although their exemption during the daytime is obvious since they are PHYSICALLY involved in a mitzva, their nighttime exemption is less logical. Rashi comments that at night, they are excused from sukka performance because they are mentally preoccupied and considered tarud. It is unclear from Rashi’s comment what excuses them from the mitzva of sukka – their nighttime mental preoccupation with the JOURNEY or their nighttime preoccupation with the ULTIMATE MITZVA. If Rashi maintains that mental preoccupation with the ACTUAL journey exempts them from sukka, then he presumably recognizes tarud about a hechsher mitzva as a legitimate exemption. The journey to perform a mitzva is not a mitzva itself, but only a hechsher, a preparatory enabler of the mitzva. Preoccupation about the journey is essentially tarud about a hechsher mitzva.

Presumably, this question revolves around the original issue of how to understand tarud. If tarud entails an independent exemption for someone who is mentally preoccupied with “devar Hashem,tarud should apply to a hechsher mitzva. If, however, tarud extends the status of osek be-mitzva even to someone who is not physically involved, it may not apply to someone who is mentally engaged in hechsher mitzva. Mental engagement in the lead-up to a mitzva may not be sufficient to define the person as an “osek be-mitzva.”

A similar question emerges from a gemara in Ketuvot (6b) that discusses the permissibility of first marital relations on Shabbat. Depending upon very intricate halakhot of eino mitkaven and pesik reisha, this may entail Shabbat violation. Citing a beraita that excuses a new chatan from keriat shema the Friday night after his wedding, the gemara assumes that he is exempt because he is tarud about performing first bi’ah that night, implying that first bi’ah is indeed permissible on Shabbat. This is the classic application of tarud - the chatan who is mentally preoccupied with performing a mitzva. Rejecting this inference, the gemara responds that perhaps first bi’ah is FORBIDDEN on Shabbat but the chatan in question is excused because he is tarud about his INABILITY to perform first bi’ah because of Shabbat restrictions. He has not yet succeeded, and now that it is Shabbat, he is halakhically forbidden; this anxiety renders him tarud and exempt from keriat shema.

This instance of tarud is a situation of preoccupation with religious duties, but not with the actual performance of a mitzva. Presumably, preoccupation about halakhic INABILITY to perform a mitzva would render the chatan tarud if tarud represents an independent exemption. If tarud extends the osek be-mitzva status, however, it may only apply to someone who is tarud about the pending PERFORMANCE of a mitzva.

Finally, the nature of tarud may be probed by exploring the sweep of the exemption. Several gemarot (Berakhot 11, Ketuvot 6, and Sukka 25) exempt a chatan from keriat shema. A parallel beraita includes birkhat ha-mazon and tefillin (while obligating him to keriat shema). These gemarot limit the tarud exemption to mitzvot that require focused kavana or mental intent. Several sources suggest that tarud may also exempt a person from mitzvot in general. Rabbenu Chananel (in his comments to Sukka 25b) and the Rambam (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 4:1), among others, apply the tarud exemption to a broad range of mitzvot. Presumably, if tarud is an independent dispensation rendering mental preoccupation as ones, it may only exempt mitzvot like keriat shema, which require more focused concentration. The Torah acknowledges the inability to achieve this higher focus due to prior religious preoccupation and exempts a person from these kavana-based mitzvot. It is less likely that mental preoccupation per se would exempt from other, non-kavana-based mitzvot. If, on the other hand, tarud bestows the status of ACTUAL osek be-mitzva, he should be exempt from a broader range of mitzvot. In theory (depending upon the sweep of the osek be-mitzva category), an osek is exempted from all mitzvot, even those that are not kavana-based.