Thursday, January 03, 2008

more on the nature of dinim derabbanan: chatzotzros on ta'anis and mitzvos lav l'henos nitnu

Continuing on the theme of the nature of mitzvos derabbanan, the Ba’al HaMaor (daf 7 in R"IF to R”H) writes that someone who is mudar hana’ah from another is still permitted to blow shofar for him on Rosh haShana because mitzvos lav l’henos nitnu. However, he is not permitted to blow chatzotzros on ta’anis as this is only a mitzvah derabbanan. At first glance one would have thought the opposite should be true – if helping someone fulfill a mitzvah d’oraysa which is a serious responsibility is not considered hana’ah, certainly helping them fulfill a less stringent derabbanan should not be considered hana’ah?

R’ Shimon Shkop explains the Ba’al haMaor based on the idea suggested in this previous post. We apply the principle of mitzvos lav l’henos nitnu to mitzvos d’oraysa because the act is inherently defined as a ma’aseh mitzvah. However, a mitzvah derabbanan is not inherently a ma’aseh mitzvah; its performance is just a means to accomplish the goal of obeying Chazal and not violating "lo tasur". Therefore, since the act itself is not a mitvah, the neder is chal.

This is another opportunity to compare/contrast R’ Shimon and Brisk. The Mesorah Journal (vol 5) presents the R’ Solovetichik’s approach to the same Ba’al haMaor. Nedarim prohibit acts done for the sake of hana’ah. RYBS argues (see post here for more on the topic) that where the Torah labels an act as a mitzvah, it cannot be excluded by a neder because it is by definition not an act of hana’ah. However, by dinim derabbanan, the act itself is not defined by the Torah as a ma’aseh mitzvah and therefore the hana’ah received is considered a direct benefit resulting from the performance.

The difference between the approaches is subtle, but I think it is there. R’ Shimon likes to look at causes. What is the goreim, the sibah? Both dinim d’oraysa and derabbanan are “ma’asei mitzvah”, but one is intrinsically wrong and the other is just a means to avoid lo tasur. Brisk is not about underlying causes, it’s about labels. A derabbanan is “ain sh’ma ma’aseh mitzvah klal”, it cannot be labeled a mitzvah act. It’s not enough to say it is a ma’aseh mitzvah but has a different goreim because philosophizing about reasons and causes has no place in the world of Brisk. There is little practical difference between the explanations here, but I think it does reveal different modes of thinking.

On a final note: R’ Shimon does not address the problem, but see the Mesorah Journal article’s explanation on why the Ba’al haMaor calls only tekiyos on R”H d’orasya when themitzvah of chatzotzros is also derived from a pasuk.


  1. Interesting post. Do you take sides in which "mode of thinking" is preferable?

  2. Not at all. I think a person should try to expose themselves to as many approaches as possible. Inevitably I think one's intuition will naturally be drawn to one derech or another, but intellectually one should be able to jump back and forth. Kind of like Edward de Bono's idea of Thinking Hats.

  3. I have to disagree here. I think that some derachim of answering difficulties are not as good as others. In this case, I think R' Shimon's philosophizing is unnecessary in answering the question and therefore not preferable.

  4. It may be presumptious to think I know what R' Shimon would respond, but I think he would tell you that labels alone without deeper understanding are not meaningful.

  5. I agree that this deeper philosophical meaning may have value, but not in relevance to this question being posed. As far as this question is considered we only need to define what is hanaah, what is a mitzvah, and what is the precise relationship.

  6. Speaking as someone who consciously avoided YU's more popular Brisker track in favor of Rav Shimon's talmid, R' Dovid Lifshitz...

    Brisker derekh keeps halakhah and philosophy separate. Kavanah is best served by not keeping them separate. How much meaning does knowing it's a chiyuv cheftzah add to my performance of a mitzvah? When learning Brisker derekh, it is more difficult to answer the question "Does this makes me a better Jew"?

    I would go so far as to say that there is a common cause between the rise of Brisker derekh to prominence and the shift from all the Isms of pre-War Yahadus to the blander, more mitzvos anashim meilumadah, observance of much of contemporary Orthodoxy.


    (Well, I did forewarn you that I'm probably the most anti-Brisk partisan person you're going to encounter. Even counting your BIL.)

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