The Gemara offers two possibilities in an attempt to understand why this rule was established. Was it tikkun ha-olam inasmuch as the community would find it difficult to pay larger sums than normal, or was it to discourage kidnappers from capturing more people by ensuring that they would not find it lucrative enough?
The Gemara tries to prove that it was an issue of the cost to the community by telling the story of Levi bar Darga who paid an enormous sum to redeem his daughter from captivity, indicating that if someone can pay the ransom we are not concerned about the future implications. In response to this proof Abaye asks, “Perhaps he did it against the will of the sages?”
The rishonim examine this discussion and how it relates to the Gemara in Massekhet Ketubot 52a which clearly permits a husband to pay ten times his wife’s value to her captors in order to redeem her. The Rambam and the Ri”f simply suggest that there is a difference of opinion between the author of that Mishna and the Mishna on today’s daf. Tosafot, however, suggest that there may be some exceptions to the rule presented in our Mishna. For example, a person can certainly make use of all of his personal resources to free himself from captivity; Tosafot suggest that the rule ishto ke-gufo – that a person’s wife is like himself – allows him to make use of all his resources on behalf of his wife, as well.
Some rishonim suggest that we should distinguish between different kinds of hostage situations and that we have more leeway in cases where the individual’s life is in danger. The Ramban disagrees with such an approach, arguing that every situation in which someone is held captive is inherently dangerous, and the sages would apply their rule nevertheless.