At the beginning of the second perek of Kidushin, the Mishnah rules that a man is able to betroth (mekadesh) a woman by himself or through an agent. The Gemara (41a) states:
Now that he is able to betroth a woman with an agent, is the case of betrothing ‘by himself’ needed? Rav Yosef answered – there is a greater mitzvah when he does it, as opposed to the agent.
Most Rishonim argue about exactly what mitzvah is being discussed by this passage of Gemara. The Ran (Ketubot 2a) states that the mitzvah that is referred to here is one of p’ru urvu (bearing offspring). He states that the whole reason marriage is instituted is to fulfill the mitzvah of p’ru urvu and that kidushin is a part of that mitzvah. The Rosh (Ketubot 17) however disagrees with this opinion. He states that it is not necessary to marry in order to fulfill the mitzvah of p’ru urvu49. Rather, his opinion is that kidushin is only a hechsher mitzvah (preparation) to the actual mitzvah of p’ru urvu. The Rambam differs from these opinions as well, and states that there is a separate mitzvah of kidushin that is based on p’sukim from the Torah.50
The Gemara then continues to bring cases that highlight how certain Rabbis would prepare for Shabbat themselves, rather than getting others to do work for them.51 The example which is brought in this context is puzzling according to the Rambam’s opinion. This is because the example seems to be outlining cases of hechsher mitzvah. Now the Rambam, stated that the mitzvah of kidushin is from the Torah, so why then does the Gemara bring cases of hechsher mitzvah to illustrate that point?
Most Rishonim hold that the preparing for the Shabbat is not a mitzvah in its own right. Rather it is a hechsher mitzvah to the Shabbat itself. However, the Rambam holds that preparing for Shabbat, is in itself part of the mitzvah of kavod Shabbat (which is a mitzvah from the Torah). Therefore, according to the Rambam both the statement and the illustrations refer to mitzvot d’oraita.
In the example given by the Gemara we see that each Amora would do one thing in order to prepare for Shabbat. Why did they only do one thing? Surely their dinner was going to be consist of more than just one fish, or meat? If we say that there is a greater mitzvah if a person does something himself as opposed to having an agent doing it for him, then why did these Amoraim not prepare the whole Shabbat meal?
The Magen Avraham, when referring to bedikat chametz, states that a person must only search one room, and then since he has begun the mitzvah, this concept of “a greater mitzvah done by himself, rather than an agent” has been fulfilled. Therefore, in the case of preparing for Shabbat, just by beginning the work, and preparing fish for Shabbat on one’s own, is enough, and an agent can finish up the Shabbat preparations with no detriment to the original mitzvah. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav however, states that the case that the Magen Avraham was referring to with regards to bedikat chametz was specific to a sick individual. In all the other cases, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav states that one must complete the whole mitzvah in order to also fulfill the concept of “mitzvah bo, yoter m’bshlucho.” Then why did these Amoraim only do one particular action in preparing for Shabbat? This is because they were searching for those things, that would give them a special Oneg Shabbat when they ate them. It was only these foods that would give them this oneg, and these that they had to prepare with regards to them having a greater mitzvah than anyone else. However, for all other preparations, an agent could have done them for him, because they did not impact on their kavod Shabbat as much.
49 In certain instances, one is able to fulfill the mitzvah by having a concubine (see Sefer Bereishis)
50 Devarim 24:1
51 The Gemara notes that Rav Safra would sever the heads of the animals that were to be eaten and Rava would salt his own fish.
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