By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 46 – The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts, Or is it?
The Gemara is trying to prove that the word lokeh can sometimes be used to refer to a monetary penalty. The source that it brings to this end is discussing the halachos of arachin. If a person makes a neder to hekdesh by saying, “I accept upon myself to donate the value of so-and-so,” he or she has to pay according to the value assigned in the Torah based on gender and age.
But what if someone were to say “I accept upon myself to donate half the value of so-and-so”? What then? This is where the proof about the usage of the word lokeh comes in. Rabi Yosi the son of Rabi Yehudah holds, “Lokeh v’nosein eirech shaleim, he is smitten and has to pay the subject’s full value.” Rav Papa explains that Rabi Yosi obviously does not mean that the person who made the neder gets malkos! Rather, he is smitten, according to Rabi Yosi, by having to pay the whole amount, even though he only made a neder on half.
And why is that?
Because Rabi Yosi is gozeir on a case of one who said “I accept half his value” so that it not get confused with a case of “I accept the value of half of him”. Although that sounds like a hair splitting nuance of semantics, there is actually a wide legal difference between the two. When one says “half his value”, what that means is that there is a particular, assigned value in the Torah, and he is accepting upon himself to donate half that amount. However, if one says “the value of half of him”, what that means is that he is accepting upon himself to donate whatever the value of half of that person is.
And that value is the total amount.
This is the rule of eiver sheh’ha’neshama tluyah bah, an indispensable component without which the individual would not be able to live (e.g. any vital organ). Even though it is not his whole, it is nevertheless treated as such.
This concept drives the home the importance of each vital part of a whole. True, without the whole that part would not be able to do much, or anything at all, by itself; but the fact still remains that it is part of that greater whole, and the critical contribution that it makes thereto confers upon it the significance of that whole.
This brings to mind a statement of the Chafetz Chaim regarding free loan funds. In Ahavas Chesed (2:16) he writes as follows. “Since many people do not have the means or time to maintain a free loan fund, everyone should pool their resources to create a communal gemach. Maintaining this communal gemach is a much greater mitzvah than chesed that an individual does from time to time, for numerous reasons. A) Individuals doing a mitzvah cannot be compared to the many who do a mitzvah together. Even though the fact that it is a communal gemach means that in each loan his personal share therein will be very small, nevertheless Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu considers it for each and every person who keeps money in the gemach as if he alone was the one who performed this act of chesed. The reason for this is that without every individual’s participation, those in need would not be able to get the loans that they need.”
You can take a look there in the Ahavas Chesed to see the continuation of his words, but what is relevant to our discussion is that first reason. It’s a phenomenal thing. You could have a multi-million dollar gemach, issuing hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of loans per year, and someone who keeps even just a few dollars therein is credited with the zechus of every single one of those loans as if he alone was the one who did it! And the reason, explained the Chafetz Chaim, is that every single person’s participation in the gemach is indispensable to the ability of the gemach to function. Each person by himself would not have been able to generate or maintain such a gemach. They all needed to come together to make it happen. Therefore, every single one of them gets the inestimable zechus as if he alone performed the tremendous chesed of issuing the loan.
Obviously, this is not a concept that is limited to the halachos of arachin and loans. It applies to everything we do. Take matza baking, for example. Each person in the production line has a particular task that he (or she) performs. Isolated, that task may not appear to be so grand. But without it, the matza would not be. Period. So who gets the full credit for baking and providing this matza? Every single person involved!
Basically, the point is that there are a whole lot of things that we do whose true significance is far greater than what may appear to our mere mortal eyes. Being aware of that fact can be a source of tremendous simcha in our avodas Hashem, and can provide us with a positive impetus to keep up the good work.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.