י״ז באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ט (February 22, 2019)

Hullin 87a-b: “Stealing” a Mitzva

As we have learned, when someone performs ritual slaughter on a wild animal or on a bird, there is a mitzva of kisuy ha-dam – a commandment to cover the blood of the slaughtered animal that is spilled (see 17:13). The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that in the event that the person performing sheḥita did not fulfill this mitzva, 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 mitzva. Rabban Gamliel, who was asked to judge this case, ruled that the person who covered the blood should pay ten zehuvim (gold coins) to the slaughterer who lost his mitzva.

The Ḥatam Sofer points out that it is impossible to understand that the ten zehuvim were the actual value of the mitzva that was “stolen,” rather it is a payment made for the emotional distress caused by taking the mitzva 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 mitzva 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 the mitzva 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 rishonim suggest that there is another possible option available – the person who “stole” the mitzva can create a situation where the person could perform that same mitzva another time (e.g. he can give him a new bird to slaughter). Tosafot rejects this suggestion, arguing that this is a new mitzva and that the loss of the previous mitzva can never be recovered.