Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Daf Yomi learners just finished Masechta Nedarim and started Masechta Nazir. Those who learn Amud Yomi may feel bad that they didn’t cover as much ground and are not finishing yet another masechta. They learn three and a half blatt a week and will only finish Shas every 15 years. Oraysah followers learn only 2.5 blatt a week. Those who follow the Daf HaShavua regimen will need almost 52 years to finish Shas! Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlit”a, broached this subject at the recent Darchei Yovel Dinner. After reciting the Hadran on Shas, he said to notice the words he just recited, “We toil, and they toil. We toil and receive reward, they toil and don’t receive reward.” The reward for studying the Torah is based on the time and effort that one invests. He lamented that, too often, people focus on the number of masechtos one finished. However, the real focus should be on the time and effort expended. If one studies Daf HaShavua and spends two hours a day on it, the reward will be greater than if one studied Daf HaYomi and only set aside a half-hour a day for the limud. Whatever Talmud schedule one follows, one should be sure to focus on the time and energy that one is investing in the limud and not merely the amount of masechtos one has completed. A wealthy person wants to construct a beautiful mansion, the largest house in the city. But he feels guilty spending such an extravagant sum when others are struggling. Perhaps Rashi in Bava Kama can come to the rescue. The Gemara in Nazir (2b) states: It was taught in a baraisa that it is said, “This is my G-d, and I will beautify Him.” This can be accomplished through the following: I shall make before Him a beautiful sukkah, a beautiful lulav, beautiful tzitzis. I shall write before Him a beautiful sefer Torah, and I shall wrap it in beautiful silks. What does the Gemara refer to when it mentions beautiful tzitzis?
It refers to the tzitzis strings. It is a hiddur mitzvah to use fine strings for the mitzvah of tzitzis. Rashi in Bava Kama, though, says that there is a mitzvah to beautify the tallis as well as the tzitzis. Evidently, the tallis refers to the garment and the tzitzis refers to the strings. Rashi perforce holds that there is a mitzvah to beautify the garment as well. This is troubling because the garment is not actually part of the mitzvah. One who wears a four-cornered garment is obligated to place tzitzis on it. In fact, at a chasunah, some bachurim were wearing four-cornered Mexican ponchos, and they were adorned with tzitzis. There is no mitzvah to wear the poncho, per se. Once one is wearing one, however, it has to have tzitzis on it. Would one suggest there is a mitzvah to beautify the four-cornered poncho? Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, asked further: “What about a poor person who only has four-cornered garments – does he have a mitzvah to only wear fancy clothes?” If we would follow this flawed logic, then our homeowner could argue he is performing a mitzvah by constructing an ostentatious house. After all, the home will have a mezuzah affixed to it. Just as there is a mitzvah to beautify the garment that has tzitzis attached to it, there should be a mitzvah to beautify a house that has a mezuzah on it. Unfortunately for our well-intentioned homeowner, Rav Moshe, zt”l, said that this logic is incorrect. In fact, there is no mitzvah to beautify the poncho or any other four-cornered garment, with one major exception.
If one is wearing the garment specifically to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis, then there is a mitzvah to beautify the garment. So there is a mitzvah to beautify the tallisos that men wear during davening. Likewise, there is a mitzvah to beautify the tzitzis garment that men and boys wear. Our minhag is to wear the garments specifically to obligate ourselves in and to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. In fact, Rav Moshe points out a halachic oddity. It is only a minhag to specifically wear a four-cornered garment for the sake of the mitzvah; it is not even a rabbinic obligation. Yet one who follows the minhag and dons a four-cornered garment for the sake of the mitzvah of tzitzis has a biblical mitzvah to adorn that garment. If the homeowner would be building an edifice for the sake of a mitzvah, such as a shul or yeshiva, then there would be a mitzvah to beautify that building. However, most likely he is building the house for his own needs and then following the halacha by affixing a mezuzah. It brings to mind the following anecdote: A chassid once held an apple in his hand and declared, “I am eating this apple in order to recite a blessing upon it.” Whereupon his Rebbe held an apple and declared, “I am eating this apple to fulfill my desires for tasty food.” The chassid exclaimed, “Is that the proper intention one should have when eating an apple?” The Rebbe answered, “No. But at least I am being honest!”
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.