No Pain, No Gain? A Halachic Analysis of When to Perform Mitzvot Asei that Cause Pain, Part II by Netanel Lederer


We continue our discussion of the extent to which the Halacha obligates us to tolerate discomfort or illness in order to fulfill Mitzvot Asei (positive Mitzvot).

Eating Something Harmful

Teshuvot Maharam Schick presents an interesting discussion regarding whether eating something that damages the body is defined by Halacha as an act of Achilah, eating.[1] He cites Yoma 80b which states that if a non-Kohen eats Terumah (tithed food permitted only to a Kohein) in a way that is an Achilah Gasah (eating when one is already fully satiated), that person is excused from the usual punishment of a non-Kohen who eats Terumah. Since the Torah describes the consumption of Terumah by a non-Kohein as “Ki Yochal,” “when one eats” (Vayikra 22:14), it exempts someone who damages his health by eating, because, as Rambam explains, this type of harmful eating is not defined as Achilah.[2] However, the Maharam Schick asks: how do we reconcile the idea that eating in a harmful manner is not considered Achilah with the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (mentioned in last week’s article) that one must risk bringing pain upon himself to fulfill the Mitzvah of consuming the Arba Kosot? Does the presence of pain exempt a person from Achilah or not?

Maharam Schick resolves the question by distinguishing between the two cases: if the consumer will be harmed immediately, eating is not considered Achilah; however, if he will be harmed only later on, it is classified as Achilah. Therefore, in the cases we noted last week where Tana’im drank wine of the Arba Kosot despite the wine causing a lingering headache, their drinking was proper Shetiyah (consumption) because it did not cause immediate pain.[3]

According to this logic of the Maharam Schick, someone who would have an immediate sickness-inducing reaction after eating Matzah or performing any food-related Mitzvah would be excused because even if such a person was to eat, the eating would not have a Sheim Achilah.  However in the case that the food only induced a delayed reaction, he would be obligated. Maharam Schick concludes by saying that, in fact, one is obligated to eat in order to perform a Mitzvat Asei unless there is concern for Sakanat Nefashot (danger to life).


The Mishnah[4] states that sick individuals and those who take care of them are excused from Sukkah. The Gemara[5] explains that the Mishnah excuses even a Choleh SheEin Bo Sakanah (a sick individual whose life is not endangered), including someone whose eyes or head hurt. The Gemara proceeds to quote Rava who asserts that even a Mitzta’eir (one who experiences discomfort) is excused from the Sukkah. Mitzta’eir is what we (in last week’s article) classified as a Category 5 type (the mildest category--one suffering mild to moderate pain), while sick people would be classified as Category 4 type (one who would become temporarily bedridden if he performed the Mitzvah). Shulchan Aruch codifies that those who are ill or Mitzta’eir are excused from the Sukkah.[6]

Teshuvot Besamim Rosh explains that, according to Rava, the reason a Mitzta’eir is excused from the Sukkah is the rule of “Teishevu KeEin Taduru,” that one residing in the Sukkah should do so in the same manner as he lives in his home. Since a person who is uncomfortable in his house would move somewhere else, such a person may also move out of a Sukkah. This rule is specific to Sukkah, and does not teach us about Mitzvot in general. However, when the Mishnah excuses sick individuals and their attendants from the Sukkah, it teaches a rule that applies not only in regard to Sukkah but to all Mitzvot: any Mitzvat Asei that would cause someone to fall into a Category 4 type of illness would not need to be followed![7] This view is also supported by some other Acharonim.[8]

Similarly, the Radbaz permits a Mitzta’eir to get a haircut on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, even though we generally do not get haircuts during Sefirat HaOmer. Radbaz argues that the Minhag (custom) to refrain from haircuts from Pesach to Lag BaOmer is obviously no more stringent than the Mitzvah DeOraita (Torah law) of Sukkah, from which a Mitzta’eir is excused.[9]

In addition, a Teshuvat HaGe’onim states that someone who is in pain is excused from Tefillah (prayer). This ruling is also based on the Halacha in regard to Sukkah.[10]

However, the more accepted understanding of the sick individual’s exemption from the Mitzvah of Sukkah is that it, like the exemption of a Mitzta’eir, is based on “Teishevu KeEin Taduru”–since people will not live in an place that makes them sick, they are excused from Sukkah. Since the overwhelming majority of Poskim[11] adopt the position that the reason both a Mitzta’eir and a sick person are excused from Sukkah is solely the principle of Teishevu KeEin Taduru, a rule unique to Mitzvat Sukkah, this exemption cannot be extrapolated to other Mitzvot.


The Shulchan Aruch states that someone who has a stomach ache or is Mitzta’eir is excused from the Mitzvah of donning Tefillin. The reason for this is either that Tefillin requires one who wears them to have a Guf Naki (clean body) or that a Mitzta’eir will not be able to concentrate properly on the Tefillin.[12] We see that this is a clear exemption for Category 5 (the mildest category--one suffering mild to moderate pain). However, this exemption is clearly due to a reason intrinsic to Tefillin and cannot be extrapolated to other Mitzvot.

Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur, one is obligated to fast; however, if he is faced with Sakanat Nefashot (danger to life), he must eat. In general, if a Mitzvat Asei will cause a Category 4 type of illness, Rav Shlomo of Vilna writes that everything depends on how much pain the Choleh (sick individual) will experience. If he will experience substantial pain, he is not allowed to perform the Mitzvat Asei. Even if the Choleh thinks he will remain in good health but the doctor tells him that it may cause him great harm, he is not permitted to perform the Mitzvah. The reason for this is that there is no more stringent Mitzvat Asei than the Mitzvah of Inui (discomfort and affliction) on Yom Kippur, a Mitzvat Asei SheYeish Bo Karet (a positive Mitzvah which involves a severe punishment of Kareit if violated), yet a Choleh must refrain from Inui if it would damage his health. Rav Shlomo argues that even though on Yom Kippur, only a sick individual whose life in endangered is exempt, by more lenient Mitzvot Asei that do not bear punishments of Kareit, one may adopt a lenient approach and exempt a sick individual whose life is not endangered.[13]The Tzitz Eliezer presents Rav Shlomo of Vilna’s opinion as authoritative.[14] This exemption seems to encompass even the Category 4 type (one who would become temporarily bedridden if he performed the Mitzvah). It is interesting to note that these authorities do not differentiate between Mitzvot DeOraita and Mitzvot DeRabannan.


Next week we will conclude our discussion by examining the relevance of the Halacha of a twenty percent maximum expenditure for a Mitzvah to our issue.

[1] Teshuvot Maharam Schick Orach Chayim 260.

[2] Rambam Yad HaChazakah Hilchot Terumot 10:8.

[3] This distinction is also presented by Derech Emunah on Rambam in Hilchot Terumot 10:2.

[4] Talmud Bavli Sukkah 25a.

[5] Ibid. 26a.

[6] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 640:3-4.

[7] Besamim Rosh Siman 94. Although the Sefer Besamim Rosh is known for its controversial status, many Acharonim who address this issue cite the Besamim Rosh and discuss whether his logic can be applied to other Mitzvot.

[8] HaRav Rosh Yosef (quoted by Birkei Yosef 472:10) and Chelkat Yo’av (Dinei Ones Anaf 7) both appear to subscribe to the Besamim Rosh’s view.

[9] Teshuvot HaRadbaz 2:687.

[10] Teshuvat HaGeonim is cited in Kovetz Shi’urim 2:46. Kovetz Shi’urim rejects this ruling.

[11] Ritva Sukkah 26a, Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 325 and Bartenura to Sukkah 2:4. Mikra’ei Kodesh (Sukkot 1:35) notes that this is also the opinion of Tosafot and Me’iri. Among the other authorities who subscribe to this stricter approach are Mishnah Berurah 640:6, Sha’ar HaTziyun 640:9 citing Rabbeinu Mano’ach 6:2, Birkei Yosef 472:10, Or Samei’ach to Rambam’s Hilchot Sanhedrin 15:1, Teshuvot Binyan Shlomo Orach Chayim 47, Chazon Yechezkeil to Tosefta Sukkah 2:2, Teshuvot BeTzeil HaChochmah 5:72, Kovetz Shi’urim 2:46, and Rav Scheinberg in Halachah URefuah vol. 4 pp. 129-130.

[12] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 38:1, 38:9.

[13] Teshuvot Binyan Shlomo Orach Chayim 47. It is a bit difficult to understand how the Binyan Shlomo extrapolates from a case of danger to life to lesser gradations of sickness (even if the other cases are lone Mitzvot Asei).

[14] Tzitz Eliezer 14:27 and 19:22.

No Pain No Gain? A Halachic Analysis of When to Perform Mitzvot Asei that Cause Pain, Part III by Netanel Lederer

No Pain No Gain? A Halachic Analysis of When to Perform Mitzvot Asei that Cause Pain: Part I by Netanel Lederer