Immeasurable Mitzvot

Peah (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 14 years ago

Masechet Peah opens with the law of leaving a corner of one’s field for the poor. The first Mishnah teaches that biblically there is no requisite measure of land that one must leave. The Mishnah then lists other mitzvot for which the Torah does not prescribe a minimum or maximum quantity:

The following [mitzvot] do not have a measure: Peah, Bikkurim (bringing the first fruit), Re’ayon (appearing at the Beit HaMikdash for the Three Festivals), Gemilut Chasadim (acts of kindness) and Torah study.

The same Mishnah then continues:

The following [mitzvot] one enjoys the fruit in this world, while principle [reward] stand for him in the Next World: honouring parent, acts of kindness, bringing peace amongst friends and Torah study is equivalent to them all.

The Mefarshim question the brevity of the Mishnah noting that there are many other mitzvot that do not have a Torah defined measure. The Tosfot citing the Yerushalmi brings many other cases that appear to missing. One example is the quantity of ashes from the para aduma that should be used for mei chatat (to purify one from tumat ha’met). They cite the answer of R’ Yosi who explains that the mitzvot listed are unique because there is a greater mitzvah the more one increases the measure. 

Another example is the Mishnah Achrona who asks that the mitzvah of telling the story of leaving Egypt should have been included. He answers, that our Mishnah only mentions those mitzvot that also have no minimum (unlike sippur yetziyat mitzrayim). A further case is the chatat(sin offering) which has no value, yet the more one spends the better. The Mishnah Achrona suggests that unlike the chatat, the Mishnah wanted to list mitzvot that one should pursue in order to fulfil.

The Tifferet Yisrael provides a fascinating understanding of the selection of mitzvot and how they are presented in the Mishnah. He explains that the mitzvah of Peah should ideally be performed at the end of harvesting, while Bikkurim is performed at the beginning. They are polar opposites and present boundaries of time and space. Similarly from an internal-quality perspective, the mitzvah of Re’ayon, to see and present one’s self where Hashem’s presence presides, is the opposite quality of the mitzvah of Gemilut Chasadim, which is in the thick of the physical and highly active. These mitzvot therefore present the boundaries of both quantity and quality. Since boundary points are just that, points, it makes sense that these mitzvot have no measure. 

The Tifferet Yisrael continues, just as the performance has no measure, the Mishnah lists those mitzvot that have no measure in their reward. These mitzvot have a similar sense of scope. Honouring parents begins life, Gemilut Chasadim is at the end (visiting the sick and burial), while bringing peace spans the time between. Juxtaposed to these practical mitzvot is the theoretical and spiritual one that too encompasses and spans one’s life – Talmud Torah.

Perhaps then we can suggest a novel exposition of our Mishnah. This Mishnah is recited daily after birkat ha’torah as one of the first things learnt in the morning.1 As such, when we read “These matters have no measure...” we not only learn the meaning as intended by the Mishnah, but remind ourselves that “these matters”, Torah and mitzvot, span our every part of our lives and experience. In their entirety they should be pursued and have no measure both in their depth and reward. 

1 We recite only the first part of our Mishnah. The continuation of what is read is similar to the end of our Mishnah, yet comes from the Gemara (Shabbat).



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