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Bava Metzia 110

Our Gemara on amud beis discusses an interesting exemption to the rule that one must pay workers promptly (by sunset or sunrise of the day or evening that the work was completed, subject to certain conditions. See Ahavas Chesed, Laws of Payments of Wages, 1:9.):

The Sages taught: Concerning one who says to another, “Go out and hire workers for me,” both of them do not violate the prohibition of delaying payment of wages if they fail to pay immediately. This one, the employer, is exempt because he did not hire them himself, and strictly speaking they are not his hired workers. And that one, the middleman, is exempt because his work is not performed for him.


Essentially, on a technicality, there is a deflection of responsibility since the one who hired them is not the one whom they are working for.

There is a famous question that since we are taught that the reward for mitzvot is in the World to Come, and not in our physical lifetime (Kiddushin 39a), how is G-d not in violation of delaying the payment of wages? There are several clever answers, but we will focus on one, which also can be used to explain another theological principle.

Rav Dovid Hamilnik (see Bas Ayin, Re’eh, “O Yomar”) says, based on our Gemara, since the Torah was given via Moshe, the above rule applies. G-d cannot be held accountable to make the payment of wages at the set time, since Moshe “hired” us on His behalf, not G-d.

This is where it gets interesting. We have a tradition that the first two commandments were heard from G-d himself, and not via Moshe. Those commandments are about belief in G-d: “I am the Lord your G-d” and “You shall have no other gods” (Exodus 20:2-3). (See Makkos 24a. Also see introduction of Rabbeinu Kreskas’ Ohr Hashem, where he points out that the first two commandments are written in the first person, as if G-d is speaking Himself, unlike the rest of the commandments.) Therefore, since these mitzvot did not come indirectly through Moshe, the commandments of faith in G-d must be compensated for immediately.

This shrewd d’rash allows us to understand how simple faith may transcend merit. That is to say, even when a person might not ordinarily merit divine intervention, possibly due to not receiving reward in this world, faith will “require” compensation from G-d in a timelier manner. This also can be explained in a spiritual-psychological fashion. If faith creates a more direct relationship with G-d, which of course eliminates the middleman, it follows that this will result in a more direct conduit of divine blessings.


Is There Such A Thing As An Easy Mitzvah?

Bava Metzia 112

Our Gemara on amud beis makes a linguistic observation in regard to a teaching that referred to “great halachot.” The Gemara comments that if they are described as “great,” there must also be halachot that are considered minor, which it finds odd, since how can any halacha be considered small? Therefore, the Gemara rejects and revises the text of that teaching.

But on practical level, we must ask ourselves: Aren’t there halachot that are more serious than others? No legal or moral system can operate by treating everything with equal priority (see Tosafos Yom Tov on Avos 2:1). Additionally, the Gemara (Chulin 142a) describes certain mitzvot as lighter, such as sending the mother bird away, as it incurs minor cost and bother.

Mishna Avos (2:1) tells us: “Be careful with a light commandment as with a grave one, for you did know not the reward for the fulfillment of the commandments.”

This statement is confusing and contradictory. If every mitzvah should be treated with equal caution, how can one be lighter and the other more serious?

A simple reading of this Mishna might be as follows: Though some mitzvot have greater punishments or severity than others, treat them all the same, because since we cannot understand the reward for even a minor mitzvah, we would not want to let even the smallest one go by. In fact, Midrash Shmuel (ibid.) says something similar. However, there are other compelling answers, each one providing meaning in a different way.

Rambam (ibid.) gives a logical answer, which is that the Torah quantifies various punishments for prohibitions, and therefore it is obvious that one that incurs death is more severe than a simple prohibition. The Mishna, however, is referring to positive commandments, for which it is impossible to determine which is more important. The Rambam elegantly proves this from the principle that when one is involved in one mitzvah, he is exempt from another, and no equation is made to determine if the second mitzvah is more important.

Kedushas Levi (Beresihis 21) explains that the so-called light and heavy mitzvot have to do with how frequent there is opportunity for the mitzvah. Thus, a light mitzvah is prayer or Torah study which are performed daily, versus the mitzvah of succah or matzah, which are annual. We then read it as “scarce” versus “routine,” instead of light versus heavy, and the Mishna is instructing a person not to take a frequent mitzvah for granted.

Chiddushei Harim interprets light mitzvot versus heavy as referring to the standard default reward. However, in each situation, there is a subjective reward and punishment based on the person’s particular circumstances. Therefore, one should treat a light mitzvah with the same severity as a heavy one, as it is unknown what the effects will be for him.

Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 61) offers a different idea. He says that there are mitzvot that are easier to do and harder to do. In that sense, there is absolutely a greater reward for mitzvot that one must work harder to achieve, as it says elsewhere in Avos (5:23), “The greater the hardship, the greater the reward.” However, there is also an intrinsic reward and value to each mitzvah that is beyond the human ken and may not be in line with our subjective logic.

We can think of this by way of the following metaphor: A layperson might believe such a food is healthful and another food is harmful, but an expert physician might have a different perspective and evaluate the harm and benefit differently, based on his knowledge of the scientific facts. Similarly, Sefer Baal Shem Tov (Va’eschanan 5) learns from a play on words that “careful” in Hebrew, “zahir,” also means to shine. One can get a greater enlightenment or glow from an apparently light mitzvah than from an apparently heavy mitzvah.

I will conclude with a fascinating notion that can also be used to interpret this passage. The Ishbitzer (Beis Yaakov Vayechi 26) says every Jew has one mitzvah that is somehow tied deeply and extraordinarily to his neshama. A tzaddik cannot break with such a mitzvah that is tied to his neshama, no matter what, and must even martyr himself, though it is not among the standard three sins that all must give their life for.

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