Talmud, mishna, and other sources reference "maasim tovim" (good deeds) in many places (Avos 4:17 is one example). Do any sources define what this term actually includes?

Some of the possible options are:

  1. Does it include only specific mitzvos to the exclusion of others (for example, only mitzvos ben adam lechavero vs. ben adam leMakom?)

  2. Perhaps it includes general good deeds that are not categorized under any of the 613 mitzvos?

  3. Perhaps it is an all-encompasing synonym for all 613 mitzvos? How would this mesh with the fact that the common expression "leTorah...uleMaasim Tovim" appears to exclude learning Torah from "maasim tovim?"

  • Surmising - "ma'asim tovim" maybe referring specifically to mitzvoth that assist other people such as charity, and other ways that positively affect others.
    – DanF
    Jul 24, 2019 at 20:07
  • @DanF - what is the basis for your idea? What makes charity more of a good deed than taking lulav, for example?
    – user17319
    Jul 25, 2019 at 20:45
  • I'm not comparing on any hierarchy. I'm just surmising that the term "deed", to me, means something that affects others.
    – DanF
    Jul 25, 2019 at 20:54
  • @DanF - I believe "deed" just means any performed action.
    – user17319
    Jul 25, 2019 at 21:06
  • Not an answer, but, perhaps, something to ponder? divreichaim.blogspot.com/2007/08/…
    – DanF
    Jul 25, 2019 at 21:10

1 Answer 1


I asked my rav, and he confirmed my analysis.

Often "ma'asim tovim" is synonymous with the term "mitzvah". However, he's inclined to think that the term "mitzvah" is generic and includes commandments that we must do because G-d commanded them such as eating kosher, observing Shabbat, etc. It includes commandments that are both between man and G-d as well as those between man and neighbor.

"Ma'asim Tovim", the rav feels, refers only to deeds between man and his neighbor that go above and beyond what the Torah commands. For example, the Torah does not command visiting the sick. Doing so is a "mitzvah" (offhand, not sure which ones) but it would also be considered a "good deed" (ma'aseh tov.)

  • What is the textual source or rationale behind this explanation? I don't think visiting the sick example helps your explanation, as many rishonim (Ramban, Rabbeinu Yonah, Tzitz Eliezer, etc.) classify visiting the sick as a biblical mitzvah. It is even codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:1.
    – user17319
    Jul 29, 2019 at 1:28
  • I will have to look at the source in Yoreh Deah. I implicitly trust my rav's knowledge, so he doesn't have to back up his comments with a source as far as I am concerned. Of course, he's human and can make mistakes, as anyone else does. I'll see if I can print that source and ask him about that. He mentioned bikur cholim as an example, and, apparently, it may not be the best one, here. I still don't think it detracts from his general interpretation, though.
    – DanF
    Jul 29, 2019 at 2:28
  • My understanding of this site is that an answer needs to have either a documented source or a logical explanation. Answers based on anonymous rebbeim don't really help. Am I wrong on this?
    – user17319
    Jul 29, 2019 at 12:39
  • You're not completely wrong. I'll see if I can get additional info. May take some time. Your question is a great one. Sometimes, it's just hard to find answers to good questions. I have a number of these, myself.
    – DanF
    Jul 30, 2019 at 0:49
  • Incidentally, someone answered one of my questions, yesterday using an anonymous rav as a source - judaism.stackexchange.com/a/106100/5275. I am fine with this answer. We have had many "anonymous rav" answers. There are many non-anomymous rabbanim cited as sources on this site whom I have not heard of. Even if I were to name my rav, you wouldn't have heard of him, anyway. so I doubt that would alter your confidence. I agree that a written source is better as you can research it further. But, as I've stated, I implicitly trust any rav's word - my own or others.
    – DanF
    Jul 30, 2019 at 13:31

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