As we have learned, when someone performs ritual slaughter on a wild animal or on a bird, there is a mitzvah of kisuy ha-dam – a commandment to cover the blood of the slaughtered animal that is spilled (see Vayikra 17:13). The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) teaches that in the event that the person performing shehitah did not fulfill this mitzvah, an onlooker who sees this situation should cover the blood in his stead, thereby performing the commandment.
The Gemara relates a story about someone who performed ritual slaughter, and before he had the opportunity to fulfill the commandment of kisuy ha-dam someone else stepped forward and covered the blood, taking away his opportunity to perform the mitzvah. Rabban Gamliel, who was asked to judge this case, ruled that the person who covered the blood should pay ten zehuvim to the slaughterer who lost his mitzvah.
The Hatam Sofer points out that it is impossible to understand that the ten zehuvim were the actual values of the mitzvahthat was “stolen,” rather it is a payment made for the emotional distress caused by taking the mitzvah away from the person to whom it belonged. Effectively, it is a penalty imposed by Rabban Gamliel.
While some rishonim understand that this is the set rule – anyone who takes the opportunity to perform a mitzvah from his fellow will be obligated to pay ten zehuvim – others suggest that the penalty will depend on circumstances, and it is up to the judge to determine the appropriate penalty in a given case (e.g. if it was known that the person from whom themitzvah was “stolen” was particular about fulfilling that commandment, the payment might be greater, while if it was a difficult commandment that he appeared reluctant to perform, the payment would be less). Furthermore, some rishonimsuggest that there is another possible option available – the person who “stole” the mitzvah can create a situation where the person could perform that same mitzvah another time (e.g. he can give him a new bird to slaughter). Tosafot rejects this suggestion, arguing that this is a new mitzvah and that the loss of the previous mitzvah can never be recovered.