– Author: Rav Jonathan Gilbert

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai teaches in the Midrash that Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to Israel: “Honor my mitzvot since they are my emissaries, and an emissary is like the sender himself. If you honor them, it is as if you honored Me. But if you dishonor them, it is as if you dishonored Me.”[1] What is the proper way to honor the mitzvot? What does it mean to dishonor them?

One description of dishonoring mitzvot can be found in the Gemara Chullin. The Gemara quotes a baraita dealing with the mitzva of covering the blood of a slaughtered animal (kisui hadam) that states the following principle: “And he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth,” [this verse] teaches us that what poured out the blood [i.e., one’s hand] shall cover it [the blood], and not the foot, in order that mitzvot not be contemptible to a person.”[2]

Expounding on the rationale of the baraita (and in accordance with the abovementioned Midrash), the Rambam states that “when a person covers the blood, he should not cover it with his feet, but with his hands, a knife, or a utensil, so that he will not treat it with disdain and regard the mitzvot with scorn. For the honor is not for the mitzvot themselves, but rather for the One who commanded them.”[3] The Maggid Mishneh adds that the honor of the mitzvot is the honor of the Almighty since they are His emissaries.[4] e

The principle given here concerning how to treat the mitzva of kisui hadam properly serves as a paradigm for other mitzvot as well. The Gemara derives the prohibition of benefit from sukka decorations or Chanuka candles during the duration of the holiday from here.[5] The same idea can also be extended to all other mitzvot; they should not be treated with contempt.

Of course, this principle requires considerable elaboration. How exactly is contempt defined? Does it apply equally to all mitzvot? The subject is quite vast, and this essay will focus on the following question:  What happens when the mitzva object is no longer in use? Can one just throw it away, or is there still an obligation to treat the object with respect and honor?

Tashmishei Mitzva and Tashmishei Kedusha

A first and foremost distinction must be made between what is called tashmishei mitzva and what is known as tashmishei kedusha. The Sages teach in a baraita in the Gemara that articles used in the performance of a mitzva (tashmishei mitzva) may be thrown out after use, while articles associated with the sanctity of God’s name (tashmishei kedusha), even after they are no longer used, must be interred in a respectful manner.  A sukka, a lulav, a shofar, and tzitzit are considered tashmishei mitzva, while cases of Torah scrolls/tefillin/mezuzot, containers for Torah scrolls, a cover for tefillin and their straps are considered articles of sanctity and must be buried.[6]

What is the distinction between tashmishei mitzva and tashmishei kedusha and how do we determine which articles are classified in each category? Rav Herschel Schachter notes that the difference between mitzva and kedusha articles is that the latter either contain or serve pieces of the written Torah.[7] Rav Schachter quotes the Nefesh HaChaim that any sanctity derives from the sanctity of Torah. Rav Schachter explains how this is true even for less evident cases, such as a shul (whose sanctity derives from the Torah scrolls within), the Beit HaMikdash (sanctified by the aron and the luchot) and Eretz Yisrael (originally sanctified by the journey taken with the aron and the luchot).

Therefore, any object containing words of the written Torah (e.g., tefillin) or serving them directly (e.g., tefillin cases) cannot be disposed. Other objects used for keeping mitzvot, such as a shofar or a lulav, can be thrown away once they have accomplished their purpose but, as stated earlier, should still not be treated with contempt.

Based on the above distinction, the Shulchan Aruch rules that tzitzit strings that are no longer in use [e.g., they have ripped or fallen off] may be thrown into the garbage, because tzitzit is considered tashmishei mitzva. On the other hand, the Rema adds that some say that even after they are no longer in use, although they do not need to be kept, we do not treat them scornfully by throwing them into a disgusting place. The Rema also writes that others are scrupulous to inter them in the ground, known in halachic terminology as geniza.

This principle is derived from the Gemara in Berachot where Rav Ami and Rav Asi would take the bread used for the eruv and recite a bracha on it at the beginning of the meal. The reason given is that since it was used for one mitzva, let it be used for another one.[10]

It is unclear, though, just how binding this principle is. Is it merely a “nice” idea? Or should we make an effort to reuse our mitzva objects as many times as possible? How does it work vis-à-vis other principles in halacha?

Rav Betzalel Stern notes that the actual case of Rav Ami and Rav Asi was not codified by halachic authorities.[11] In siman 168, the Shulchan Aruch brings all of the factors to take into account regarding preferences for what type of loaf of bread to use when reciting a beracha (i.e., large, clean, complete, wheat, barley, etc.). Yet, this factor of the bread having been used previously for a mitzva is not brought there, nor is it brought anywhere else. Therefore, concludes Rabbi Stern, this law is not relevant apropos the laws of preference in bread.

How does this principle of reusing mitzva objects apply when it comes into conflict with the value of hidur mitzva (beautification of mitzvot)? Is it better to perform a mitzva using a previously used mitzva object or a more beautiful one? For example, if a person somehow manages to keep his four-minim fresh for a whole year, should he use them again on the following Sukkot? Or should he go out and find even fresher ones?

It seems from the Rema that hidur mitzva is preferable, since he states that the custom is to take a new arava on every day of Chol Hamo’ed, since this is a hidur mitzva.[12] Had the principle of reusing mitzvot been preferable, it would have been better to keep the old arava, as long as it was still kosher for the mitzva. Even the Be’er Heitev, who disagrees with the custom of changing aravot, does so only because of the concern that a person may rip the leaves of the arava.[13]

On the other hand, it seems that the Shulchan Aruch holds the opposite, that using a previously used mitzva object is preferable even at the expense of a more beautiful object, as we shall see in the following paragraphs.

There is a discussion regarding the usage of hadasim from the four-minim for smelling during the Havdala ceremony. While the Tur reports the custom to do so since it was already used for a mitzva once, Rabbeinu Efraim (also quoted by the Tur) holds that this is not proper since “it has no smell.”[14] Might the dispute here revolve around which of the two principles should be preferred? The answer is that this depends upon how we understand the opinion of Rabbeinu Efraim.

The Bach[15] interprets Rabbeinu Efraim to hold that even if the hadasim were used for the mitzva, it is better to use items with a nicer fragrance for besamim. The Tur, in turn,  says that as long as there is some smell, it is better to take the hadasim previously used for a mitzva, especially since this was “minhag avoteinu” (the custom of our forefathers) and there is an allusion to it from a pasuk.[16]

The Beit Yosef, however, understands Rabbeinu Efraim differently.[17] He suggests, in the name of Maharik, that they would not use kosher hadasim for havdala, since they would keep these for the four-minim from year to year, and they would hide them to preserve them as much as possible. But had they used hadasim of the four-minim, Rabbeinu Efraim would agree that these are preferred over the more fragrant spices. According to this understanding, both the Tur and Rabbeinu Efraim agree that it is preferable to reuse a mitzva object even when it is less mehudar, and their disagreement pertains only to non-previously used mitzva objects.

The Shulchan Aruch states that the custom is to use the hadas of the four-minim for as long as possible (which is agreed upon by both the Tur and Rabbeinu Efraim, according to the Beit Yosef’s understanding).[18] If so, it seems that the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch is that it is preferable to reuse a mitzva object, even at the expense of a regular hidur.[19]

A similar tension may be discerned regarding the minhag brought by the Magen Avraham (in the name of the Mateh Moshe) to use leftover wax from lighting candles in shul to light Chanuka candles.[20] Is this practice preferable to using olive oil (which the Rema considers the best way to fulfill the mitzva)[21] due to the fact that the wax is a previously used mitzva object and this overrides a regular hidur mitzva? Or is it only because, as the Rema himself acknowledges, the custom was to use wax because its light is as good as that of oil?

Continuing the Same Mitzva

Even if we accept that hidur mitzva is preferable, as seems evident from the minhag of changing aravot every day of Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot, the B’tzel HaChochma suggests that perhaps that is true only when performing a new mitzva that is different from the one that the object originally fulfilled.[22] If, however, it is a continuation of the same mitzva, it may be preferable to reuse the old mitzva object.[23]

As proof for this approach, the B’tzel HaChochma quotes a very creative solution written by the Chatan Sofer in name of his grandfather, the Chatam Sofer, to the following difficulty: The Gemara[24] attempts to determine where the melacha of untying took place in the mishkan. It suggests that this was done when they tied parts of the curtain improperly, but then rejects this based on the principle that something that would not be fit for a human king (fixing a curtain and leaving a mark, instead of purchasing a new one), is definitely not proper for the Almighty. However, a few lines later, the Gemara accepts the idea that the melacha of tearing was done in the mishkan when a moth would attach itself to the curtain and the piece had to be torn apart and sewed again. Why, asks the Chatam Sofer, did the Gemara not reject this suggestion as well based on the principle that it is not fit even for a human king? He answers that when sewing the curtains, they were still new and there was no need to reuse the mitzva article. But in the case of the moth on the curtain, the curtain was already being used in the Mishkan, and we must keep the old curtain, even if a new one would be more beautiful.

We see from here that with regard to continuing the same mitzva, using the old mitzva object overrides the hidur of using a more beautiful object. If this is the case, we could argue, for example, that keeping old kosher tzitzit strings would be preferable than tying new, more beautiful ones. However, the Magen Avraham says explicitly that it is permissible to remove the tzitzit in order to put on nicer ones.[25]  Even those who disagree with him do so since they hold it would be disrespectful to untie the strings and not to use them for a new garment, and not because of the principle of continuing a mitzva with the same article.[26]

Reusing Mitzva Objects

Aside from some of the questions discussed above, the preference of safeguarding tashmishei mitzva for use in fulfilling other mitzvot may apply to other cases. For example, the Rema mentions a minhag to save the hoshanot for use in lighting a fire to bake matzot.[27] Although not many people light stoves with wood and hoshanot these days, it is widely practiced that people use their old four-minim when burning chametz. There may be creative ideas to use other commonly disposed mitzva materials such as sukka walls and schach as well. However, this should not be done if there is risk that the tashmishei mitzva would be kept in a dishonorable way.[28] As mentioned at the beginning, the purpose of the halacha of proper disposal of mitzva materials is to give honor to Hashem through His “emissaries” and to avoid any scornful behavior towards them.

[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Vayigash 6

[2] Chullin 87a

[3] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shechita 14:16

[4] Magid Mishneh, ibid.

[5] Shabbat 22a

[6] Megilla 26b

[7] Rav Herschel Schachter, Mipeninei HaRav, p.427

[8] Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 21:1

[9] Sefer Maharil, Minhagim, Hilchot Tzitzit Utefillin, #3

[10] Berachot 39b

[11] Responsa B’tzel HaChochma 3:68

[12] Rema, O.C. 654:1

[13] Be’er Heitev, O.C. 654

[14] Tur, O.C. 297

[15] Bach O.C. 297

[16] see Yeshayahu 55:13 and 56:2, cited by the Tur.

[17] Beit Yosef, O.C. 297

[18] Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 297:4

[19] However, one could deflect the proof since, as the B’tzel HaChochma suggests, perhaps any smell would suffice to accomplish the purpose of “returning the soul” after Shabbat, and there is no real hidur in taking better spices.

[20] Magen Avraham, O.C. 673:1

[21] Rema, O.C. 673:1

[22] Changing aravot is considered a new mitzva, as there is a separate obligation of taking the four-minim every day (and we therefore recite a bracha every day).

[23] Responsa B’tzel HaChochma 3:68

[24] Shabbat 74b

[25] Magen Avraham, O.C. 15:2

[26] Mor Uketzia, O.C. 15

[27] Rema, O.C. 664:9

[28] Aruch Hashulchan, O.C. 664:9

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