- Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz
- Duration: 49 min
I. Introduction. Halachic discussions tend to be interesting for one of two reasons. First, the nature of halachic discourse lends itself to questions that directly affect behavior. When dealing in the world of the practical, immediate relevance piques our interest. Second, but no less significantly, there are halachic discussions about situations that are unlikely to occur with any degree of regularity, but are interesting in the moral dilemma and/or intellectual challenge that they may present. The nature of the question we will discuss in this essay fits squarely in the second category, as current social conditions would preclude the likelihood of our dilemma occuring with any level of frequency.
The Sharei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 482:1) discusses a case of two people who are in a desert or in a jail cell on Pesach and have only one k’zayis of matzah to share between them. The mitzvah of eating matzah on Pesach entails eating a full k’zayis. Splitting the matzah between the two of them would mean that neither fulfills the mitzvah properly. In this essay, we will explore the various options that people in this predicament would have. Should they split the matzah because that is the only equitable way to deal with the situation? Should each of them try to secure the matzah for himself? Should one of the people volunteer to give the matzah to the other? Is one even permitted to give his share of the matzah if that necessarily means that in so doing he is passing up on a biblical commandment?
It is difficult to discuss this question without relating to the dispute recorded in Baba Metzia (62a) revolving around two people walking in a desert with only enough water for one of them to survive. Ben Petura thought it is best to split the water because it is better for both to die than for either person to witness the death of his friend. Rabi Akiva argued that there is a biblical requirement to allow your friend to live “with you”, clearly implying that your own life takes precedence over that of your friend. It would seem that our issue may relate to whether we would apply the principle used in regard to one’s physical well being to one’s spiritual well being. Would Rabi Akiva say that one should worry about his own spiritual well being before that of his friend? In this essay we will explore numerous sources that deal with balancing one’s own performance of mitzvos with the aid he would provide others to perform mitzvos.
II. Considering the Issues. In order to arrive at a halachic conclusion we must first consider numerous issues. First, it is important to determine if there is any halachic value in consuming less than the prescribed amount of matzah. Even if we determine that there is value we would need to discuss whether having two people gain this limited value would outweigh the value of having a single person do the mitzvah properly at the expense of the other. If we were to determine that one of them should eat the entire k’zayis we would then need to determine how to make the decision as to who should eat the matzah. If the matzah belongs to one of them it would seem that he would have the right to eat it, but what if the matzah is ownerless? Should the more righteous of the two eat it? Should they fight for it?
A. Is there any value in eating less than a k’zayis of matzah? Whereas when it comes to the violation of negative commandments the gemara (Yoma 83b, Chullin 98a) clearly rules that violation in an amount smaller than the minimum shiur would still be biblically prohibited, there is no such rabbinic statement relating to eating less than the prescribed amount for a positive mitzvah. The acharonim debate whether a parallel rule does indeed exist in relation to positive commandments. The Mishnah L’Melech (Hilchos Chameit u’Matzah 1:7) and Shevus Yakov (II:18) assume that there is absolutely no value in eating less than a k’zayis of matzah. The Avnei Nezer (Orach Chaim:383), however quotes acharonim who believe that there is a partial fulfillment of a mitzvah when one consumes less than a k’zayis (though one would not be able to recite the beracha of “al achilas matzah” because less than a k’zayis does not qualify as “achila”).
1. Proofs. Rabbi Asher Weiss (Hagadah shel Pesach Minchas Asher, Chelek Hashu”t #12) suggests a variety of proofs to each opinion. What follows is a sampling of sources that may prove whether there is any value in eating less than a k’zayis of matzah.
a. The Mishnah (Shabbos 137b) states that one who does milah without doing periah has not accomplished anything. Similarly, one who can only blow the tekiah sound from a shofar but is unable to blow a teruah sound should not blow shofar at all. Both of these halachos seem to indicate that half a mitzvah is no mitzvah at all. Similarly, eating a half k’zayis of matzah is the equivalent of eating no matzah at all.
i. Rav Weiss rejects this proof on the grounds that there is an important distinction between half a shiur and half an issur. In both of the above described cases, the person did not do all of the actions that make up the mitzvah. When, however, one eats a half k’zayis, he has done the entire action that entails the mitzvah but only on half the necessary volume. The proper equivalent of one the case of the bris and the tekiah would be one who puts a k’zayis of matzah in his mouth, chews it, but does not swallow it. Such a half mitzvah would obviously be worthless.
b. The Maharil Diskin (Teshuva 4) proves that eating half a k’zayis of matzah has no value from the halacha that we don’t begin training a child in the mitzvah of matzah until he can eat the full k’zayis. Apparently training him to eat a half k’zayis has no value whatsoever because even as an adult eating such a small amount is not even a partial mitzvah.
i. Rav Weiss rejects this proof as well by pointing to the unique nature of the mitzvah of chinuch. The gemara (Arachin 2b) states that a child who knows how to shake the lulav should be trained in the mitzvah of lulav, a child who knows how to protect his tefillin should be trained in the mitzvah of tefillin and a child who knows how to wrap himself in a talis should be trained in the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Brisker Rav (chiddushim to Arachin) points out that none of the described activities are critical to the performance of the mitzvah. One fulfills the mitzvah of daled minim by merely lifting the lulav, even without waiving the lulav (Sukkah 42a). One who wears tefillin, even without protecting them properly has fulfilled the mitzvah. One who wears a tallis, even without any special wrapping, has fulfilled the mitzvah of tzitzis. Evidently, argues the Brisker Rav, the mitzvah of chinuch does not begin when a child is old enough to perform the mitzvah in a minimal way, but only when the child is old enough to do the mitzvah in the best way possible. Similarly, even if there is some value in eating a half k’zayis of matzah the mitzvah of chinuch would only begin when a child is old enough to eat the entire k’zayis as the mitzvah is supposed to be performed.
c. The gemara (Yoma 39a) reports that during the forty years of Shimon Hatzadik’s reign as the kohen gadol, the lechem hapanim benefited from great blessings. Any kohein who would receive a k’zayis of the lechem hapanim would be fully satiated. After Shimon Hatzadik’s death the beracha ceased and people would receive only a tiny amount of bread from the lechem hapanim (less than a k’zayis). When this began to occur with regularity, the modest kohannim would decline their portions in the lechem hapanim. The Ritva (ad loc.) explains that these modes kohanim saw no value in eating less than a k’zayis of lechem hapanim since the mitzvah required that a k’zayis be eaten. The Tosafos Yeshanim (ad loc.), however, writes that they declined their portions because eating less than a k’zayis does not entail “the complete mitzvah”. The implication of Tosafos Yeshanim is that there is some value in even less than a k’zayis of a mitzvah. Perhaps, whether one gains anything by eating less than a k’zayis of matzah is subject to the dispute between the Ritva and Tosafos Yeshanim.
i. Rav Weiss points out, however, that the comparison between lechem hapanim and matzah may not be completely accurate. Whereas the mitzvah of eating matzah consists exclusively of each individual consuming a k’zayis of matzah, the mitzvah of eating the lechem hapanim involves an additional obligation to ensure that all of the lechem hapanim is consumed. Perhaps the partial mitzvah in eating a very small amount of the lechem hapanim that the Tosafos Yeshanim refers to is not the mitvah of eating lechem hapanim (which would require a k’zayis), but the mitzvah of making sure that the bread becomes consumed (which has no given shiur). [The Beis Halevi uses a similar idea to explain an unusual gemara.The gemara in Nazir 23a states that although achilas gassah is generally not considered to be eating (as stated in Yoma 80b), when one eats his korban pesach as an achilas gassah he has done a partial mitzvah. The Beis Halevi (III:52:3) explains that normally the mitzvah of eating korbanos does not entail an obligation on the individual to eat, but an obligation to ensure that the korban gets eaten. The korban pesach in unique in that there is a dual obligation – for the individual to eat and for the korban to get eaten. When one eats the korban as an achilah gassah he has not fulfilled his obligation to eat, but has fulfilled the requirement to make sure the korban gets eaten. (see Tosafos in Nazir for a different explanation)]
2. The issue of whether there is any value in eating less than a k’zayis of matzah (or any mitzvah of eating) may depend on how we understand the prohibition of eating less than a k’zayis of a prohibited food (chatzi shiur assur min hatorah – Yoma 83b, Chullin 98a). The gemara (Yoma 74a) explains the reason that it is prohibited to eat less than a k’zayis is that it is “chazi l’itztarufi” (can be combined with more to make up the complete amount). There are three possible ways to understand this concept, each has an impact on whether we would assume there is value in eating less than a k’zayis of matzah:
a. The Tzlach (Pesachim 47a and in Noda B’Yehuda Tinyana Orach Chaim #53) understands that the problem with eating less than a k’zayis of a prohibited food is that one may easily eat a little bit more and violate the prohibition. The gemara employs a separate source to teach the prohibition of eating a tiny amount of chameitz and does not rely on the general rule that a chazi shiur is prohibited because had we relied on the general rule of chatzi shiur, if one were to commence eating chameitz at the very end of Pesach, not leaving himself enough time to finish eating a full k’zayis before Pesach ends, he would be exempt. Only once we have a separate source to teach that even the smallest amount of chameitz is prohibited, do we know that such last minute eating would be prohibited. The clear assumption of the Tzlach is that eating a chatzi shiur is only prohibited in as much as it can lead you to eat the full shiur. There is no inherent problem with a chatzi shiur. Applying this logic to mitzvos it would seem that just as there is no inherent problem with eating less than the shiur of a prohibition, there is no inherent value in eating less than a shiur of a mitzvah.
b. The Yad Shaul (Hilchos Shvuos 234) cites the Rashba to be in disagreement with the understanding of the Tzlach. In the Rashba’s view it is illogical for the entire prohibition to only begin in the last drop that completes the k’zayis. It must be that the characteristics of prohibition are there all along, but the prohibition is only strong enough to receive a punishment for it when the amount reaches a full k’zayis. In the Rashba’s view eating a small amount of a prohibited item is a partial prohibition. Similarly, one can surmise, eating a small amount of matzah (or any other mitzvah of eating) would be considered a partial mitzvah.
B. Even if there is value in eating a chatzi shiur, is it better for both people to eat the smaller amount of for one to eath the full amount? Even if we assume that there is some value in eating a half k’zayis of matzah, we have still not solved our dilemma. Perhaps eating half a k’zayis is valuable, but the value of having one person eat a full k’zayis outweighs the limited value of having two people eat a half k’zayis each. The Ran (Yoma 83) discusses the case of a dangerously ill patient who needs to eat meat on shabbos in order to live, only there is no slaughtered kosher meat available. The options are to either feed him non kosher meat or to slaughter an animal on shabbos in order to feed him kosher meat. The Ran suggests that although the prohibition of slaughtering on shabbos is far greater than the prohibition of eating non-kosher food, there may be reason to argue that it is best to slaughter the animal: If the man were to eat the non-kosher meat, he would violate a separate prohibition with each k’zayis that he consumes. If, however, we were to slaughter the animal, it would involve only the one time prohibition of slaughtering the animal. As such, the Ran suggests that if the patient will need to eat a lot of meat it is best for him to have an animal slaughtered instead of eating non-kosher meat. The obvious implication of the Ran is that a greater quantity of a lesser prohibition can outweigh a smaller quantity of a greater prohibition. If one were to apply the same logic to mitzvos, we might conclude that a greater quantity of smaller mitzvos would be more valuable than a lesser quantity of greater mitzvos. Perhaps one may then argue that having two people eat less than a k’zayis is better than to have a single person eat a full k’zayis.
1. Upon further analysis, however, it becomes clear that the Ran’s comment does not help us resolve our issue. Even if multiple lesser mitzvos would outweigh one larger mitzvah, it may be argued that this would only apply to complete smaller mitzvos. All would agree that even a single complete mitzvah would outweigh multiple partial mitzvos. Eating a half k’zayis of matzah is not a smaller mitzvah, but a partial mitzvah. It would therefore seem clear that the best approach is to have one person eat the entire k’zayis, rather than splitting it amongst the two people.
C. Is one permitted (or obligated) to give up his half zayis to allow his friend to eat the full zayis? If we were to assume that there is absolutely no value in eating a half k’zayis of matzah, there is no doubt that one is permitted to give his half k’zayis away in order to enable somebody else to fulfill the mitzvah with a full k’zayis. If, however, we assume that eating a half k’zayis is halachically meaningful the question becomes whether one can pass up on a halachically valuable action in order to enable somebody else to do a mitzvah.
1. A possible precedent to provide us with direction may be found in the Mishnah Berurah (671:6) who rules that if one has enough oil to light the most mehudar amount of candles throughout Chanukah, but his friend has no oil at all, it is best to sacrifice one’s own hiddur in order to provide his friend with the ability to do the mitzvah. Our case, however, differs in a very fundamental way. By Ner Chanukah, at the end of the day both people will have fulfilled the mitzvah and the first person will have only sacrificed a hiddur. In our case, the man who gives up the k’zayis of matzah is left with nothing at all.
2. Perhaps another possible source to clarify our issue is the discussion amongst the Rishonim relating to a seeming contradiction between two passages in the Gemara. On the one hand, the Gemara (Shabbos 4a) states that if a person disobeyed the halacha and attached his dough to the walls of the oven on shabbos, another person is not obligated to remove the bread from the walls (in violation of a rabbinic prohibition) in order to save the original sinner from violating baking on shabbos. The reason we do not allow anybody to remove the dough is that we would never ask a person to violate a smaller prohibition in order to save another person from a more major prohibition. On the other hand the gemara (Eruvin 32b) rules that if one furnished an am ha’aretz with untithed produce, he may tithe the produce from other produce that is not near the original produce, in violation of the rabbinic prohibition of tithing “shelo min hamukaf” (from produce that is not adjacent to the untithed produce). The gemara explains that we prefer the educated Jew violate the lesser prohibition (of separating “shelo min hamukaf”) rather than allow the am ha’aretz to violate a greater prohibition (eating untithed produce). The two passages seem to blatantly contradict each other. Should one sacrifice his own spiritual well being in the interest of helping to enhance his friend’s spiritual well being? How we resolve this contradiction may be instructive for our case of personal sacrifice of a mitzvah in order to enable somebody else to do a mitzvah.
a. Tosafos (Shabbos 4a) initially resolves the contradiction by suggesting that one would only sacrifice his own religious obligations in order to help another person when he is responsible for his friend’s possible pitfall (as in the case of furnishing one’s friend with untithed produce). When one is not at fault for his friend’s problem (as in the case of the dough in the oven) there is no reason for one to violate any prohibition to save his friend. It would seem that if we were to accept this answer, in our case one should not sacrifice his own partial mitzvah of eating a half k’zayis in order to aid his friend in the mitzvah of eating a full k’zayis because neither person is responsible for his friend’s situation.
b. Tosafos further resolves the contradiction by distinguishing between a case where one is saving his friend from violating a prohibition that he had brought upon himself with his own negligence (like the case in Shabbos where the person has only himself to blame for putting the dough on the wall), and a case where one is saving his friend from a prohibition that the friend did not bring upon himself (like in the case of the untithed produce). It would seem that if we were to accept this answer one should sacrifice his own half k’zayis of matzah in order to enable his friend to eat a full k’zayis because the friend’s failure to eat a full k’zayis was not brought on by his own negligence.
c. The Ritva suggests that the distinction may lie in the relative severity of the prohibition. When the friend will only be obligated a korban (as in the case of the dough in the oven) there is no need to violate a prohibition to save the friend. When, however, the friend is in danger of a violation that deserves the death penalty (such as eating untithed produce) it is worth violating a smaller prohibition to save him. It would seem that if accept this answer, one should not give up his half k’zayis as he is not saving his friend from a violation that carries a serious penalty.
d. The Ritva further answers that one would never be obligated to violate a prohibition in order to save his friend from a more sever violation, but one is permitted to do so. If we were to accept this answer, one may but is not obligated to give up his own half k’zayis in order to enable his friend to eat a full k’zayis.
i. One may argue that the above four approaches have no relevance to our case. In the two passages in question (Shabbos 4a, Eruvin 32b), the personal sacrifice one would make is an actual prohibition. In our case, the personal sacrifice isn’t even a full mitzvah, and one would therefore be encouraged to sacrifice his partial shell of a mitzvah in order to enable his friend to do a genuine complete mitzvah.
D. Should the mitzvah go to whoever can perform it better? Now that we have concluded that it is best for one person to eat the entire k’zayis, the question arises as to how to determine who should have the opportunity to do the mitzvah. The Gemara (Kiddushin 29b) states that if one is able to send his son to learn or can learn himself, but cannot do both, it is best for the person to learn himself. If, however the son has a sharper mind, it is best to have his son learn instead of him. The obvious implication of the gemara is that whoever can perform the mitzvah better should be the one who is awarded with the chance to do the mitzvah. Perhaps one may suggest that whichever person is more capable of fulfilling the mitzvah of matzah in a more complete way should perform the mitzvah. The difficulty with this comparison is in determining how one can be said to perform the mitzvah of matzah in a better way. Does a heightened sense of kavanah qualify one as more capable of fulfilling the mitzvah? Whereas the ability of the student to become fluent in the information is part of the basic mitzvah of learning torah, extra kavanos are not critical in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of matzah. Perhaps one who is able to eat the full k’zayis in the shorter shiur of k’dei achilas pras should be awarded with the mitzvah. The Beis Yehuda (#58) suggests that the case of torah learning is different in that he who supports others in torah receives a portion of the credit for the mitzvah (similar to Yisachar and Zevulun, or women who support their husband’s learning – see Sotah 21a).
There may be reason to argue that the mitzvah should be awarded to the man of greater stature. The Tevuos Shor (28:14) points out that there is a longstanding custom of “honoring” a rabbi with the mitzvah of covering the blood after shechitah. This “honor” seems to be in direct violation of the gemara’s requirement (Kidushin 41a) to do a mitzvah yourself rather than through a messenger. The Tevuos Shor explains that the reason one should not leave his mitzvos for a shaliach to do is that doing so insults the mitzvah. When, however one tries to save the mitzvah for somebody greater than himself to perform, it is a great honor to the mitzvah. This may be the source of the custom for people to provide the nicest available esrog to the rabbi, as they are honoring not only the rabbi, but the mitzvah itself by saving it for the most honorable person.
The Beis Yehuda (18th century, #58) writes that the Mishnah (Zevachim 89a) clearly rules that when one is more holy than his friend, it takes precedence. Similarly it makes sense to allow the more holy of the two Jews to perform the mitzvah of eating the full k’zayis of matzah. Aside from the practical difficulty of determining which person is “holier”, the application of the Mishnah seems completely inaccurate. The Mishnah does not speak of two people, one of who is holier than his friend, but of two mitzvos one of which has a higher level of sanctity. Furthermore, the Mishnah does not speak of sacrificing one mitzvah in favor of another, but of allowing one mitzvah to precede the other (with both mitzvos ultimately being performed). One can only assume that this suggestion of the Beis Yehuda was meant as nothing more than a manner of speech, but was never meant as an actual proof.
III. The Practical Opinions.
A. The Beis Yehuda rules that it is best for each to try to get the entire mitzvah for himself. Since the requirement to eat matzah is a personal obligation, and not a goal oriented mitzvah (ensuring that the matzah get eaten) each person should make every effort to be the one who fulfills the mitzvah. Whichever one is stronger and able to convince the other to give him the entire k’zayis should do so. May the best man win!
B. The Sha’arei Teshuva (482:1) rejects the Beis Yehuda’s approach on the grounds that if one has to force his friend to give up his half k’zayis, the matzah that he is left with is stolen matzah which cannot be used for the mitzvah. The only way that the Beis Yehuda’s approach is feasible is when the k’zayis of matzah was ownerless to begin with. In a case where the item is ownerless the Sharei Teshuva would agree that each person should try to take the entire k’zayis for himself. The logic is that if one were permitted to take the last available water in a desert because his own life takes precedence over his friend’s life, one would certainly be allowed to put his own mitzvah needs in front of his friend’s mitzvah needs. In fact, no less a figure than Yakov Avinu did whatever was in his power to take an available mitzvah (the blessings of the firstborn) while it was available. The Sharei Teshuva derives from the story of Yakov that while one cannot take a mitzvah away from his friend, he may certainly resort to any sort of trickery to obtain the rights to a mitzvah that is not yet claimed.
C. The Sharei Teshuva further argues that the best approach is to make a simple raffle to determine who gets the k’zayis. Even if one were to believe that eating a half k’zayis has some value, there is no doubt that the value of one person doing the mitzvah properly far outweighs whatever value there is in each person doing the mitzvah partially. As far as the concern that it is prohibited to “give up” your own partial mitzvah in the interest of your friend, the Sharei Teshuva argues that when you leave it up to a raffle you are not giving anything up willingly, but committing to abide by the random outcome.
D. The Kesav Sofer (Orach Chaim #96) takes what can safely be described as the most creative approach to this question. After proving at length that the primary mitzvah of eating matzah is not in the digestion of a k’zayis of matzah, but in the swallowing of a k’zayis of matzah, he suggests the following solution: If each person were to take a half k’zayis, chew it, regurgitate it, and eat it again, he will have eaten a full k’zayis of matzah. We find precedent for this idea in the gemara (Chulin 103b) which states that if a person eats a half k’zayis of forbidden food, regurgitates it and eat it again, he will be culpable as if he has eaten a full k’zayis (provided that the prohibition is in the swallowing and not the digesting). If this is true of violations of issurim it should be equally true of the performance of mitzvos. The only proviso that the Kesav Sofer adds is that one cannot eat a half k’zayis that another person has regurgitated because it would be completely disgusting to him and therefore inadequate to fulfill the mitzvah with it. The Kesav Sofer acknowledges that his solution is not ideal (because neither person will be able to eat the entire k’zayis at one time, neither will be able to digest the k’zayis, one runs the risk of not being able to regurgitate the matzah and after all it is a bit disgusting) but is the best of the available options.
E. Rav Asher Weiss (Hagada Shel Pesach Minchas Asher Teshuva #12) writes that even if one person is in possession of the entire k’zayis, it is best to give it to his friend to fulfill the mitzvah. Rav Weiss argues that passing up on the k’zayis in this case is not the same as neglecting a mitzvah because in any case only one person will be able to do the mitzvah. Why should the person holding the matzah be more entitled to perform the mitzvah than the person not holding the matzah. Rav Weiss argues that a spirit of generosity when it comes to mitzvos is also a positive thing and should be encouraged.
IV. Conclusion. The variety of halachic opinions and considerations involved in what seems like the simplest of halachic questions demonstrates the complexity and beauty of the halachic process. The variety of opinions we have explored should serve to highlight for us the importance of caring for the spiritual well being of others, the value of performing mitzvos ourselves in the proper way, and the natural struggle in making difficult spiritual choices as we try to serve our Creator. It is our hope that through the study of the underlying principles of halacha we should always merit to perform mitzvos and help others perform mitzvos in the most ideal way possible.