Friday, June 30, 2006

bikur cholim (II)

Yesterday I left off with the question of the shita mekubetzet: why is it that by hashavas aveida there is a ptur of ‘zakein v’aino l’fi kevodo’, i.e. the mitzvah is pre-empted by the kavod habriyos concern of an elderly person not debasing him/herself, yet by bikur cholim we find that the mitzvah obligates even a gadol visiting someone beneath him? If one adopts the gemara in sota 14 as the source for bikur cholim, placing it in the context of ‘v’halachta b’derachav’, the obligation to imitate Hashem’s actions, the question is resolved. No one can be greater than Hashem, yet we see that Hashem put aside his kavod and came to visit Avraham after his bris. The assumption of this answer is that v’halachta b’derachav’ is not only the source of the obligation of bikur cholim, but teaches its parameters as well. However, if the source of bikur cholim is as extension of ‘v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha’ (as the Rambam Aveil 14:2 writes), then how does one answer the question? Perhaps one can distinguish between the relative value of an object viz. a viz. a person’s honor and the relative value of one human being vs. another person’s honor. I was thinking one could sharpen this idea using a little lomdus: the Torah does not obligate performing hashavas aveida on every stray object encountered. For example, if the object has been purposely placed in a location (hinuach), that is not considered an aveida that needs returning. Perhaps the ‘ptur of zakein v’aino l’fi kevodo’is not a ptur on the gavra, but a statement that an object which causes a sacrifice of kavod to return is not a cheftza which is mechayeiv hashavas aveida. But by bikur cholim, there are no dinim as to the definition of a choleh, so the ptur cannot apply.
One other note on the source for bikur cholim: the gemara in Nedarim 39 used the phrase ‘remez l’bikur cholim’, presenting the pasuk as a ‘hint’ to the idea. The Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos shoresh 3 writes with respect to stealing a kli shareis (‘koneiv es hakisva’) that the term remez indicates something is not implicit in the pasuk itself and is an asmachta b’alma. The Ramban (p. 70 in standard edition) compiles a long list of places where the term ‘remez’ is used to refer to a din d’oraysa. (Those who have learned Makkos may recall the line on the first daf ‘remez l’eidim zomimin min hatorah…’). As noted yesterday, the Rambam holds that the specific mitzvah of bikur cholim is a derabbanan institution as a means to achieve a kiyum d’oraysa of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha (see Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mari vol I p. 57).
I recall hearing from R’ Y. Sacks (I think in the name of the Rav) that the parameters of chessed are not taught from a text, but are learned and inculcated by observing role models of proper behavior. We derive the idea of bikur cholim not from derashos or pesukim, but from the act of Hashem himself in visiting Avraham Avinu. It is our behavior more than our words which will impress the lesson of chessed upon our children and others.


  1. Bill Selliger11:11 AM

    Isn't there a p'tur learned from a pasuk about aveida and zakein? There is no such p'tur for other mitzvos (including bikur cholim). (This is a question on the Shitta).

    To wit: there is a famous story told about a turn-of-the-century godol (R. Chaim Ozer???). He was not feeling well one Sukkos day, but was entertaining a guest in the Sukka. He excused himself from the guest and told the guest that he had to lay down in the house - because he was a 'miztaer'. After a few minutes he returned. When questioned by the guest, the godol answered that by the mitzva of Sukka, there is a p'tur of miztaer. But there is no such p'tur when it comes to hachnosas orchim!

    Also, b'michilas k'vodcha, the idea of quantifying the object as an "aveida" based on the status of the finder is rachok me'od min haseichel, and has no comparison at all to the din of "hinuach" - where that is an indication that the object was never "lost".

  2. Maybe you can use the idea from Rabbi Sacks to answer thequestion. The m'chayeiv of bikkur cholim is v'ahavta l'rayacha but the parameters are defined by looking at examples. If HKBH went out of his way to visit Avraham we see that there is no such thing as it being aino l'fi k'vodo. If it was proper for Hashem the ultimate Melech to do it then it is proper for anyone to do it.

  3. I was wondering about the first point as well, but it seems this is not an isolated gezeiras hakasuv but a binyan av that kavod habriyos is doche a mitzva, see Tos in B.M. 30b.
    Forget the comparison to hinuach - you can't hear saying that the din of aveida is mufka from the object? Another example of similar lomdus: R' Scheinberg asks in Mishmeres Chaim how does osek b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah work by a perutah d'rav yosef (b. k. 56) where a shomeir is watching an object - osek b'mitzvah only takes off an aseh, but tzedaka also entails a lav of lo te'ameitz es levavcha? Seems to me the answer is that if you are a shomeir aviedah, then this poor person does not have the din ani which is mechayeiv tzedaka. I guess you won't like that one either, but other people I have bounced it off have, so I guess it is a matter of taste.
    The more important question is what other sevaras can you use to answer the kashe if you avoid v'halachta b'derachav as the source of bikur cholim? Suggestions?

  4. Previous comment was directed to Bill's comment.
    Chaim M. - you are essentially coming back to the shita mekubetzet's answer, but why would you use v'halachta b'derachav just to teach you parameters but not as the source of the chiyuv? Once you are learning from Hashem's middot, why not go all the way?

  5. Anonymous1:25 PM

    Rav Aharon Soloveichik discussed this issue in an article in Beit Yitzchak about bikur cholim. He said (based on the Rambam at the end of hilchot melachim) that, unlike vahavta lreacha, vhalachta bidrachav would also apply to acts of chesed that are perforemd on behalf of gentiles. Rav Aharaon Lichtenstein made a similar point in an article that was published in a Gush journal -- he said that one fulfills two mitzvos when one performs chesed on behalf of a Jew (vahavta lreacha and vhalachta bidrachav) and one fulfills one mitzvah when one performs chesed on behalf of a gentile (vhalachta bidracahav).

  6. The only problem is such a statement appears to fly in the face of a mefurash gemara (gitin 61a) that says we do bikur cholim for an aku"m because of darkei shalom. Are you suggesting that darkei shalom is itself a kiyum of v'halachta b'derachav and not just a b'dieved m'shum eivah type halacha to avoid strife (R' Wurtzberger tries to develop a similar approach in his book on jewish ethics)? Seems a bit of a stretch.

  7. Anonymous2:58 PM

    That is certainly the view of RAS and RAL -- I think that RAS quotes other sources that seem to say the same thing. The Rambam certainly seems to hold that way as he quotes the pasuk of "tov hashem lakol vrachamav al kol maasav" when discussing chesed on behalf of gentiles. Perhaps the Rambam views darchei shalom as itself a form of vhalachta bidrachav based on the pasuk of drachehah darchei noam. Also, I think that there are many sources that state tzaar baalei chaim is a fullfilment of vhalachta bidracahav -- it would be hard to understand why it would be a fulfillment of the mitzvah in the case of chesed performed on behalf of an animal but not in the case of a gentile (at least in the case of a non-idolatous gentile).

  8. That diyuk based on the pasuk the Rambam quotes is brought by R' W. Wurtzberger in his book as well. Would like to see your makor for v'halachta bderachav as the source for tza'ar ba'alei chaim. Point of fact is if the animal is owned by an aku"m and carrying the burdens of an aku"m the Rambam says you should unload it because of aivah (hil rotzeiach 13:9) - according to your approach, why indeed is this not listed with the other mitzvos of darkei shalom/v'halachta b'derachav even in the Rambam's formulation? I was never particularly convinced of the diyuk based on the pasuk tov Hashem lakol - I think you need more evidence. Which cheilek of Beis Yitchok is it in? Maybe I have it at home.

  9. Anonymous5:12 PM

    I think that it was between 1988 and 1992 -- probably 1990. I will check at home.

    One further point -- the Netziv's hakdama to sefer Breishis seems to contemplate that acts of chesed (even for idolaters) constitute a lchatchila. He does not quote a source but it might be based on general principles of vhalachata bidrachav.

    I also find it hard to understand Sefer Breishis if chesed for an idolater is not something intrinsically positive. Isn't Avraham our model of chesed -- yet the stories of chesed that we are supposed to emulate generally deal with idolaters. It would be strange to say that Avraham's actions were really assur but were only permitted because of eivah. One might repsond by saying that chesed on behalf of idoalters was a positive pre-mattan torah and a negative (absent eivah considerations) post matan torah. The difficulty with that is I am not aware of any source that makes that distinction and one would think that there would be a source (if it is true) as we are constantly told to look to maaseh avos in order to emulate their chesed.

    As to tzaar baalei chaim being based on vhalachta bidracahav, I will have to check the sources. There is a gemara (I don't remember the cite) in which a tanna was punished for not having mercy on a weasel and the gemera cites vracahamav al kol maasav as the reason why he was punished.

  10. It's the gemara with Rebbi and yisurim. Anyway, you see from the miyut of reiacha that an aku"m is excluded if not for darkei shalom/eivah, so that's the makor. R' Ahron discusses the Rambam in Perach Mateh Ahron vol i p. 68, but does not mention aku"m/ I wouldn't frame the issue as good thing vs. bad thing, but as mitzvah vs. reshus, which is a different discussion. Let's put it this way - would you say osek b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah if you were engaged in doing chessed for an aku"m (assuming a chessed that you are indispensible for)?

  11. Re: the point of R'Ahron Soloveichick, when I heard it the missing piece is combining the rambam at the end of hilcos melachim which quotes the ve-rachamav al kol maasav for darchei shalom combined with the Rambam at the end of hilchos avadim, which again incorporates verachamav in the context of being nice to eved kenaanim because of the tzivui le-hedamos (i.e. vehalachta bedrechav)to HKBH. I was metzaeker so I hope this was still clear - but again see the rambam at the end of hilchos avadim.

  12. Re: the point of R'Ahron Soloveichick, when I heard it the missing piece is combining the rambam at the end of hilcos melachim which quotes the ve-rachamav al kol maasav for darchei shalom combined with the Rambam at the end of hilchos avadim, which again incorporates verachamav in the context of being nice to eved kenaanim because of the tzivui le-hedamos (i.e. vehalachta bedrechav)to HKBH. I was metzaeker so I hope this was still clear - but again see the rambam at the end of hilchos avadim.