The Talmud in Nedarim 33b, brings up the discusson of “Yosef’s Prutah.” A prutah is the tiniest form of currency, like a penny. The concentpt of Yosef’s prutah is in connection with somone on the way or in the middle of being on mission of a mitvza or engaged in a mitzva. The term is “osek b mitvza, patur men ha mitzvah” or if you are engaged in doing some critical mitzva you are exempt from other mitzvos. A classic example is when you are saving a life, you dont have to stop and say the shma.
The “yosef pruta” is the money or charity you are exempt to give to a poor person who you might come across as you are engaged in a mitvza. Thus the “exemption of giving charity” gives a benefit to the person who is engaged in the mitzva or on a mission to a mitva. The Gemara rejects this. Really! is it so hard to stop and give a quarter when you are on the way to do a mitva?
Are we so one minded? So unable to multitask our mitvot. Clearly the talmud here rejects this and says, such an occurreence is not common. The Shikkerdovid thinks this raises a bigger issue.
The bigger question is how we measure our Mitzvot and how they dominate our existence. Are doing mitvat in purely quantative fashion, measure to be tallied up at the end of our lives? Are we measuring them as if they were on a ledger or balance sheet? Or are they more fluid? Is the concept of a mitva more elastic so as not to enter this calculus, that I am on the way to a mitzva, I am therefore exempt from giving a quarter?
The Shikkerdovid would like to answer that question. In typical Jewish fashion, the answer is: It depends. Yes,some of our mitvzot are measured as an accountant would “bean up” the money. But once in a while, we are overcome with the emotion of love, closeness and devokut to Hashem and the mitva flows out of us with ease and fervor.
The Shikkerdovid woulk like to suggest that Mitvot initially begin as Yosef’s prutah and then flourish with emotion and energy. You need to start with measurements and rules to build to the sublime. It all starts with a penny.