Who gets more credit – someone who does mitzvot because he is obligated or someone who does mitzvot as a volunteer?
Although most people’s immediate reaction is to give more credit to the volunteer who has indicated a personal desire to perform mitzvot, Rabbi Hanina rules, “Gadol ha-mitzuveh ve-oseh me-me she-aino metzuveh ve-oseh – someone who is commanded to perform a mitzva and does so is greater than someone who performs the commandment without being obligated to do so.” The Gemara reports that upon hearing this teaching, Rabbi Yosef who was blind said that he would throw a party for the Sages who ruled against Rabbi Yehuda who says that blind people are not obligated to perform mitzvot, since he wanted to receive appropriate reward for his actions.
Why would this be true? Several approaches are offered by the rishonim.
Tosafot explain that a person who is commanded to perform mitzvot has a harder time doing them because his evil inclination discourages him from doing what he needs to do. A volunteer, who knows that he is not really obligated in the mitzva and can choose not to do it, does not have to resist his evil inclination when performing the mitzva. Tosafot Tokh suggests simply that there is less reward for someone who performs an action that may not be God’s will, as evidenced by the fact that he was not commanded to do it.
The Rambam concludes from this Gemara that we cannot discount the actions performed by someone who was not commanded to do a mitzva, since the Gemara states that such a person receives less of a reward, but clearly he does receive some level of reward for doing what he did. Rabbeinu Tam goes so far as to use this Gemara as a source for his ruling that women who are not obligated in mitzvot aseh she-hazman gerama – positive commandments that are time-related – should, nevertheless, recite a blessing upon performing them. This has become the accepted ruling on this matter, at least in the Ashkenazi community.