Benfiting from Mitzvot

Nedarim (5:4) | Yehuda Gottlieb | 15 years ago

The Mishnah in Nedarim (5:4-5) mentions that if one makes a vow that his friend is “cherem” to him, or that he is “cherem” to his friend, they are forbidden to derive benefit from common facilities or property within their town. They are however able to derive benefit from facilities of Olei Bavel, that is, property that was designated for public use of those who returned to Eretz Yisrael from the Babylonian exile.

The Mishnah continues by mentioning some examples of both properties that are categorised as belonging to ‘Olei Bavel’, including Har Ha’Bait and water cisterns in the middle of the road, and those that are categorised as belonging to the town – such as, the town square, the synagogue and sefarim.

The Ran understands that the sefarim referred to by the Mishnah are the sefarim which are used for the communal reading which took place at the synagogue. It is for this reason it is forbidden for both the person making the vow and the subject of the vow, as they are deriving benefit from an item that is common (‘belongs’) to the two of them (being members of the community).

Tosfot and the Rosh understand that these sefarim refer to sifrei kodesh purchased with communal funds and are set aside to be used for study by the public.

The Rashba (see Bedek Ha’Bait, Yoreh Deah 224) however rules that one cannot forbid sifrei kodesh to his fellow, because studying from such sefarim is a mitzvah and the benefit of performing a mitzvah cannot be prohibited. This is a concept found in Masechet Rosh Hashanah (28a) which introduces the principle of Mitzvot Lav Lehenot Nitnu ( i.e., mitzvot were not given to Israel for the purpose of our deriving benefit from their fulfilment). The Gemara states that if one is bound by a vow prohibiting him from deriving benefit from his fellow, the fellow is permitted to blow shofar for him. Additionally, he may fulfil the mitzvah with a shofar from which he has vowed not to gain benefit.

According to the way the Tosfot and Rosh understand our Mishnah it seems that the benefit of the mitzvah (of studying Torah) is being prohibited by the vow - a ruling inconsistent with the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah!

R’ Avraham Min HaHar solves this apparent contradiction. The principle of Mitzvot Lav Lehonot Nitnu means that the performance of a mitzvah is in and of itself not considered a ‘benefit’ that can be prohibited by a neder. The reason is because one is not doing the mitzvah for any personal benefit, but rather fulfilling Hashem’s commandment. However, if one derives personal benefit from something or someone while fulfilling a commandment – the neder is deemed to be violated. Therefore, the case in Rosh Hashanah is deemed to be purely the performance of a mitzvah (blowing the shofar), and since the parties are not gaining any personal benefit they may blow the shofar for one another.

However, the case of learning out of sifrei kodesh is different. Learning Torah is intensely gratifying, and one does gain personal benefit from Torah study. This is evident from the fact that a mourner is forbidden to learn Torah, and that all people are forbidden to learn Torah on Tisha B’Av. This is because the study of Torah gladdens the heart and spirit, and gives us personal benefit. Since this mitzvah is bound with personal satisfaction it is an exception to the general rule of Mitzvot Lav Lehenot Nitnu and therefore a neder is able to render these communal sifrei kodesh as forbidden.

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