Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kidush HaShem:Mesiras nefesh which ignores consequences?

This is a continuation of the post regarding Berachos (20a). The Shaloh seems to be rejecting the premise of the gemora that one should act quickly with mesiras nefesh and not worry about the consequences and as a result you will have your prayers answered. The Shaloh criticizes Rav Ada for not thinking the matter over carefully before he acted. On the other hand the Yaavetz & Ben Yohoyada praise self sacrifice for kiddush haShem without concern for the negative consequences. In other words the Shaloh possibly doesn't view it as a kiddush hashem if it results in a major mistake while the Yaavetz & Ben Yohoyada assert that the "damn the torpedoes" approach is viewed by all as a kiddush haShem. This debate seems to anticipate the debate in the religious community of acts of kana'os (zealotry) whether they are praiseworthy because of their motivation to improve religious observance or whether they are perceived as a disaster because of the insensitivity displayed and the negative view of religion created. This also seems related to this issue of yashrus - in particular the Netziv's criticism of the tzadikim in the Second Temple who ignored the negative consequences of their piety.

Shaloh (Sha’ar HaOsiyos Mem Masun patience 3-4): 3) Dovid (Tehilim 119:59) said, “I have evaluated my path and I have returned my feet to Your testimonies.” Dovid was saying, Every path that I wish to travel and everything which I wish to do, I first evaluate it prior to doing it. It is good and upright in G‑d’s eyes and that of mankind than I do it or go in that path. On the other hand if it appears to me that the path is not good than I leave it for another - because in everything there are alternatives. In this manner I always turn my feet to Your testimonies. Therefore a person should always attach himself to this approach and it should become second nature to him. He should not do anything in the world – whether great or small or any word at all and even if he hears insults - until he has thought clearly about the matter and decided what is the best course of action. And he should remember G‑d and His holy Torah and keep that in front of his eyes and then he will be secure in his path and will not stumble. 4) This applies not only concerning issues left to personal discretion but even concerning mitzvos. He should do them deliberately and with care. For example the incident recorded in Berachos (20a) where Rav Ada was punished 400 zuz. He said to the woman he embarrassed by acting hastily, “Masun masun is equal to 400 zuz.” This was concerning a matter of mitzva and kiddush haShem in which Rav Ada tore a cape from a woman who was wearing it in the market thinking she was Jewish. Even though it says that a diligent person does mitzvos as soon as possible and it is necessary to be swift – that is only regarding mitzvos which are well known and understood thoroughly such as going to the synagogue or yeshiva and fulfilling all the mitzvos involving deeds mentioned in the Torah. However those things which require thought and understanding – such as a person who is planning to distribute a purse full of money to the poor and he meet a group of poor people – he should not be hasty. He first needs to ascertain which of the poor are more deserving than others. The same is true of many other things. And surely this deliberation is necessary in matters left to personal discretion. Nothing should be done or any words said until he has thought carefully about the matter. These considerations apply infinitely more so to a deed or word concerning a prohibition such as hitting or disputes etc. He needs to be deliberate and patient and review the matter from all sides. Only then will he have peace and tranquility and quiet all of his days from troubles and in addition he will find have grace intelligence in the eyes of G‑d and man.
Ben Yohayada (Berachos 20a): Rav Ada bar Ahava thought the woman was Jewish. The question arises as to why he decided to be moser nefesh since he thought she was Jewish? It appears to me that even though he thought she was Jewish, he hadn’t conclusive evidence and he was aware of the slight possibility that she was not Jewish. Nevertheless he acted based on the following reasoning. If in fact she was Jewish he did the right thing by removing the red cape. And even if she was not Jewish - and as a result of his action he would have to pay money or even endanger his life from physical punishment if she was a member of the ruling class - he would still benefit from the fact that he was doing a kiddush haShem by this act. That is because those who heard about what he did would say how careful the Jews are to observe their mitzvos that this Torah scholar was so zealous for the sake of G‑d to the point of endangering his life and didn’t worry that perhaps the woman was not Jewish and that she might be a member of the ruling class that would result in a very severe punishment. Thus we learn from this to be moser nefesh for kiddush haShem.

Yaavetz(Migdal Oz – Even Bochen 21): There is another type of kiddush haShem and that is to place oneself in danger in order to establish proper Jewish observance and to attack sinners. For example Pinchas and Rav Ada bar Ahava mentioned in Berachos (20a), “Why did miracles happen to earlier generations? Because they gave themselves completely for kiddush haShem.” Included in this is for a person to tell the people what is the correct and good path to follow and not to be concerned about himself or his money. His only consideration should be to improve his fellow man and to honor G‑d. There is no greater kiddush haShem than this.


  1. Yelling at a Japanese person in French when your native language is English isn't going to convey your message, no matter how eloquent you happen to be.

    It doesn't matter what your motives are when you yell, spit on, throw rocks at, and generally belittle the person to whom you are trying to convey the message of Halachah to. If you aren't communicating, you aren't performing a Kiddush Hashem.

    On top of that, when your actions belittle Torah and those who follow Torah, it's a Chillul Hashem in actuality, no matter what the intent was.

  2. "Who is wise? He who can see the consequences of his behavior" (Tamid 32a).


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