Can a person accomplish two goals with one act? That is the question raised on today’s daf by the students of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai.
A pure nazir and a leper, what is the halakhah? May he shave one shaving and it will count for him for this and for that?
Both a nazir at the end of his naziriteship, and a leper at the end of his period of impurity, must shave their heads. But what if the nazir and the leper are the same person? Can such a person shave one time to fulfill both obligations?
He said to them: He may not shave once.
They said to him: Why?
He said: If (the aim of both shavings were the same), this one to grow and that one to grow, or this one to remove and that one to remove, you have spoken well. Now, a nazirite shaves to remove and a leper shaves to grow.
The leper is in the process of ridding himself of an affliction. He shaves in order to regrow hair that will have to be shaved again after a period of days without leprosy. On the other hand, the nazir shaves only once at the end of his naziriteship to mark having left behind the restrictions he had assumed as a nazir. He is not purging himself of anything, but rejoining society. (Though there is some debate about what it means for a nazir to cut their hair at the end of their naziriteship, for our purposes it suffices to say that the nazir’s purpose in shaving is different from the leper’s.)
Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai’s response implies that if this were not the case, if the shavings were in fact for the same purpose, one could count one act of shaving for both. But because they are for different purposes, one cannot count one shaving for both.
Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfield, a Polish rabbi in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, cited the discussion on today’s daf in his book of responsa, Dovev Meisharim, when asked about the permissibility of reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for more than one person. Must each deceased person have a dedicated person reciting Kaddish on his or her behalf, or can one person say Kaddish for two people? His answer is that one may say Kaddish for more than one person provided the intention is to remember both people. The situation mentioned on our daf, Rabbi Weidenfield argues, serves two different purposes. But reciting Kaddish serves just one purpose: To give credit to the departed souls.
Rabbi Weidenfield goes on to say that he understands why one may think a person should not recite Kaddish for more than one person at a time, giving each deceased individual his or her due. While the memories of each individual are certainly different and unique, he nevertheless concludes that the purpose of Kaddish itself is the same in each case.
We know from our own lives that a particular action can have different meanings in different contexts. The question raised here is where we draw the line. Can one action count for different purposes or must we have full intentionality for each action we perform? The answer presented in our Gemara and in the responsa of Rabbi Weidenfield offer us one approach: If the intent is similar enough, one action is sufficient. But where the goals diverge, even if the same action is required to achieve those goals, we must focus on one at a time.
Read all of Nazir 60 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 24th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.