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B"H, I did - or almost did - a good deed. (It will be finalized bez"H in a mazeldiker shoh.) However, when I found out a few months ago that a good result from my actions was on the horizon, I decided in my mind that I would like the z'chus for this action to go to another person who had a hand in it, and who probably needs the z'chus more.

I know that this "transferring the z'chus" can be done. It's an old Jewish concept; I can't give a single source because it is everywhere. But I'd like to know a little more about how it is done, and whether I have done it successfully.

1) If one wants to give the z'chus of a deed to someone else, how does one enact this? Should one pronounce words (to G-d, to others, or to the person), or is it enough just to think of it?

2) After you have given the z'chus to someone else, how much credit can you continue to take and how much benefit in this world can you continue to derive from the action you did? Is it permissible for me to tell others that I did it -- or even, more generally, that I have done an action of this type? Or it it more proper for me to disclaim involvement altogether?

If it is traditional to pay someone when they have done this action for you, may I accept the payment, or should I give it to her?

3) Can you give the z'chus away before the action is finalized?

4) In various situations with possible mitigating factors -- the mitzvah wasn't finalized when you gave the z'chus away; you failed to make a pronouncement; you really really need the z'chus now (just kidding) -- can you take the z'chus back? How?

This is a totally serious question and I hope no one would think otherwise.

  • @ShmuelBrin Interesting but don't get it at all. Is this not a zevulun - yisachar arrangement? What could be wrong with it?? And what exactly is meant by the house and love analogy – SAH Aug 16 '18 at 3:41
  • Someone can pay you to help your Torah study, but can't buy the merits afterwards. Presumably, the same would apply to Mitzvos. So the Gemara would imply that Mitzvos aren't transferable like "property". – Shmuel Brin Aug 16 '18 at 3:45
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    See this: rationalistjudaism.com/2018/05/booyah.html – robev Aug 16 '18 at 3:58
  • @ShmuelBrin But what is "house" and what is "love"? – SAH Aug 16 '18 at 4:10
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As noted by Rabbi Natan Slifkin, there does not appear to be much early precedent for such an idea, at least as you're describing:

In my essay "What Can One Do For Someone Who Has Passed Away?" I noted that classically, one's mitzvos are only a credit to those people who had a formative influence on you. One's mitzvos cannot help the souls of other people. Rashba cites a responsum from Rav Sherira Gaon on this:

"A person cannot merit someone else with reward; his elevation and greatness and pleasure from the radiance of the Divine Presence is only in accordance with his deeds." (Rashba, Responsa, Vol. 7 #539)

Maharam Alashkar cites Rav Hai Gaon who firmly rejects the notion that one can transfer the reward of a mitzvah to another person and explains why this is impossible:

"These concepts are nonsense and one should not rely upon them. How can one entertain the notion that the reward of good deeds performed by one person should go to another person? Surely the verse states, 'The righteousness of a righteous person is on him,' (Ezek. 18:20) and likewise it states, 'And the wickedness of a wicked person is upon him.' Just as nobody can be punished on account of somebody else’s sin, so too nobody can merit the reward of someone else. How could one think that the reward for mitzvos is something that a person can carry around with him, such that he can transfer it to another person?" (Maharam Alashkar, Responsa #101)

The same view is found explicitly and implicitly in other sources, as I noted in my essay. There is simply no mechanism to transfer the reward for one's own mitzvos to other people. It seems that only very recent mystical-based sources claim otherwise.

Now, I don't see any reason why there should be any difference if the person that one is trying to help is deceased or alive. Nor do I know of any source in classical rabbinic literature that one can do a mitzvah as a merit to help someone that is sick. Prayer, yes. And Tehillim are also a form of prayer (though it may depend upon which Tehillim are being recited). But I know of no classical source that one can honor one's parents or learn Torah or send away a mother bird as a merit for somebody else.

(The most common example of people attempting to do this may be the custom of women to separate challah on behalf of a sick person. Here too, though, it appears that the classical basis of this is not that the mitzvah of separating challah is crediting the sick person, but rather that the person separating the challah thereby has a special time of power/inspiration, which makes their prayer more powerful.)

If I'm wrong in any of the above, I'll be glad to see sources showing otherwise. But so far, I have found that while people are shocked when one challenges the notion that you can learn Torah on behalf of someone who is sick, nobody has yet actually come up with any classical sources demonstrating otherwise. Furthermore, if this indeed was a part of classical Judaism, we would certainly expect it to have prominent mention in the writings of Chazal and the Rishonim. We appear to have another situation of something widespread that is believed to be an integral and classical part of Judaism, and yet is actually a modern innovation that has no basis in classical Judaism whatsoever.

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    Ok but I'm sure she wants to know according to those that subscribe to this concept how it works; but I doubt there are halachos. – robev Aug 16 '18 at 4:05
  • @Loewian Thanks for this answer. It gives me a lot to think about. I have trouble believing that this concept originated in "recent" mystical sources because I have heard about it not only in well-known Baal Shem Tov stories (irony point), but in a tefilla from 1610 (Maaneh Loshn). There is also a standard Yiddish term for the concept which I don't think was innovated by Yiddishists – SAH Aug 16 '18 at 4:09

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