May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Zevachim 51. These are some highlights.
Zevachim 51: Should you choose to daven at the farther shul?
A man lives in a town with two shuls. One is near his home. The other is far from his home. Which shul should he choose to attend regularly?
Magein Avraham (Orach Chaim 90:22) rules that he should daven at the shul farthest away. The more you walk to shul, the greater your reward. Mishnah Berurah (90:37) also rules like the Magein Avraham. A source for this ruling is a Gemara in Sotah (22a). The Gemara relates that an elderly widow came to the yeshiva of Rav Yochanan to pray. Rav Yochanan asked her why she did not pray at a shul closer to her home. She responded that she wanted to earn the merit of many steps. We see that even when you have a shul nearby you gain more by attending the further shul and thus walking more. Gemara Bava Metzia (107) also seems to indicate that it is best to walk far to shul. Gemara Bava Metzia discusses verses of blessing. The Torah promised that if we keep Hashem’s commands, then baruch atah ba’ir—you will be blessed in the city. Rav explained the verse to mean that you will live near a shul. Rav Yochanan did not agree with this explanation. He felt that it would be better to live far from a shul. He believed that the more steps you take to get to shul, the greater the merit. Poskim find this ruling difficult.
Geza Yishai (Ma’arechet aleph entry 27) points out that Gemara Menachot (64b) teaches that the Jews would cut barley from the field closest to Jerusalem for the minchat ha’omer. One of the reasons for this is the rule that ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot, we are not to pass by a mitzvah. When we have a chance to do a mitzvah we need to do it right away. If so, how can Magein Avraham rule that you should attend the farther shul? Isn’t walking by one shul to get to another one a violation of the rule of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot? If there is such a merit in taking more steps, why didn’t they bring barley from the farthest field and take more steps? Geza Yishai argues that you may not walk by a nearer shul to go pray at a farther shul, ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot! He feels that Gemara Sotah was particularly talking about a woman. Women do not have an obligation to pray. Since she was not obligated, she was allowed to walk by a nearby shul to go to the yeshiva of Rav Yochanan. Gemara Bava Metzia, according to Geza Yishai, deals with a place in which there is only one shul. Rav Yochanan is teaching that it is a blessing to have a long walk to that shul. You are blessed if you have a long walk. Each step toward shul is a mitzvah. All who live far from shul will gain a lot of reward. But, if in your town there is a nearby shul and a shul farther away, you should attend the shul that is closest.
Tosfot on our daf might provide an answer for the Magein Avraham (Levushei Mordechai Shu”t Tinyana Orach Chaim Siman 22). Our Gemara derives from a verse that when the kohen gadol would walk out of the heichal carrying the leftover blood from his chatat bull, he would pour the leftover blood on the western base, yesod, of the outer altar. Tosfot (s.v. Asher) ask: Why is there a need for a special verse to tell us that the leftover blood goes to the western base? We have a rule always of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot. The first part of the altar the kohen gadol comes across as he leaves the heichal is the western base. If he would not pour the blood there, he would be violating ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot. Isn’t that a sufficient-enough source? Tosfot answers with a principle: Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot applies when you are faced with two mitzvot. If the kohen enters the heichal and he can clean out the ash of the golden altar or the ash in the menorah, he should first clean the ash of the golden altar because he walks by it first, and ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot. But when there is a single mitzvah and the question is where to establish in a permanent way for a person to perform the service, establishing a more distant spot for the mitzvah is not a violation of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot. Our Gemara is dealing with a single mitzvah, pouring the leftover blood. It is discussing where that one mitzvah should be performed. Without a special verse, we might have said perform it in the further spot and walk by the western base. The more steps, the greater the reward. The Magein Avraham is discussing where to establish your permanent place of prayer. He is not discussing a scenario where you have two separate mitzvot and you want to walk past one to perform a different one. Praying in an established shul is like the pouring of the leftover blood. It is a single mitzvah without a special verse saying do it at the first possible location. Since there is a great merit in walking to shul, Magein Avraham and Mishnah Berurah rule that you should establish the farther shul as your permanent place.
Maharal points out that the Gemara never says you get greater reward for a longer walk to a sukkah. It only mentions this concept in regard to shul. Shul is a place with the presence of Hashem. It is a mini Mikdash. All effort to get to it is effort to get closer to Hashem. Therefore, the more steps one takes, the more effort you invest, the greater the mitzvah. (Mesivta)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.