Why is it that when it comes to the mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos, a talmid chacham or an adam chashuv is not permitted to say, “It is beneath my dignity,” whereas when it comes to the mitzvah of returning a lost object to its rightful owner, such a person is exempt if it is beneath his dignity? Could the rav give an example of when returning a lost object could be beneath someone’s dignity? It is hard to think of good examples of this.
There is a basic difference between the mitzva of Shabbos and Hashovas Aveida. The mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos is a declaration that H-shem is the king and the master of the universe, which essentially means that we are all his servants. The Chayei Adom writes “One must do all he can to prepare forשבת as if he were a servant to a human king!”. Therefore when it comes to Shabbos NO ONE is too big to be a servant of H-shem, and to show that he is the king. Hashovas Aveida on the other hand is a mitzva to be considerate to others, which we don’t have to do if it is going to be embarrassing to ourselves.
Here are some examples of returning a lost object and it is embarrassing to do so. Picture a rosh yeshiva or a rabbi returning a lost dog to its owner. He has to hold it by its leash or in his hand… something that is very embarrassing for him to do. Or picture a dignified person returning a big dirty car tire to its owner when he has no car, and he has to walk through the streets with it.
Baba Metzia 30b, Zichru Toras Moshe Siman 2-5.
But when it comes to preparing for Shabbos, the Talmud says explicitly that rabbis who were a million times bigger than any contemporary Rav or Rosh Yeshiva (we are talking about the Tanoim and Amoraim) did things that were not necessarily the most kavodik activities.
Regarding shabbos the Chayei Odomit says that preparing for shabbos is like a servant preparing for his master. We are preparing for the king to visit us, and no one can say they are too dignified. Hashovas Aveida is not this way. It is an issue of caring for another person’s money, and if someone wouldn’t embarrass himself to save his own money this way, he doesn’t have to do it for someone else.
Regarding the question that I asked, what is the difference between hashovas aveida (where if it’s beneath my dignity I am exempt) versus preparing for Shabbos (that one cannot say it is beneath his dignity), this precise question is addressed in a sefer by the son of HaRav HaGaon Shmuel Berenbaum zatzal. It’s a little bit hard to say it over in my own words – if memory serves me right, the idea is that by hashovas aveida, the Torah is not interested that I personally should return the article, rather the Torah desires that the article should be returned to its rightful owner. It is not a chiyuv on me personally, but rather the Torah desires that a certain goal be accomplished.
Whereas, by preparing for Shabbos, it is a chiyuv on me personally (as we see by the Tannaim etc. who personally did things to prepare for Shabbos, even (perhaps) at the expense of their learning and their dignity.
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