Question: Should a person try to observe mitzvot he is technically exempt from performing?
Answer: Many people assume the answer to this question is yes. Tosafot (Pesachim 113b) suggest that the source for this idea is Sotah 14a, which states that Moshe Rabbeinu sought to enter Eretz Yisrael in order to observe (and receive reward for) the mitzvot that are “dependent upon the land.” Based on this Gemara, Tosafot contend that one should strive to put oneself in a situation where one will be required to observe mitzvot that one would otherwise be exempt from. Thus, Tosafot argue that Jews should wear four-cornered garments in order to obligate themselves to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit.
When I learned this Gemara, many years ago, I, personally, had a different pshat for why Moshe Rabbeinu wished to enter Eretz Yisrael. It wasn’t that he wished to obligate himself to perform the mitzvot of Eretz Yisrael. Rather, Moshe was responsible for taking the Jewish people out of Egypt and bringing them to the promised land, and he wanted to finish his task in line with the saying, “Ha’matchil b’mitzvah omrim lo g’mor – We tell a person who starts a mitzvah to finish it.”
Therefore, we lack proof from the Talmud that Jews should try to perform mitzvot they are exempt from. There is no proof, for example, that a person must wear a four-cornered garment in order to obligate himself to wear tzitzit. One may, of course, follow the minhag of Klal Yisrael and always wear tzitzit. But, one cannot bring proof, as Tosafot did, that one should do so based on the Gemara regarding Moshe Rabbeinu.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has written several books on Jewish law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.