In One’s Grasp
‘Ein Ma’avirin Al Hamitzvos’
The Gemara presents a general principle that “ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos” – we may not skip over mitzvos. This principle has wide-reaching applications. When one has the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, one must not pass it by even if one intends to perform the same mitzvah at a later time, a different place, or with a different object. One may not even skip a mitzvah in order to perform a different mitzvah.
We find this principle at work every morning when we remove our tallis and tefillin from their bag. It is proper to first put on the tallis, and then the tefillin. For this reason, halacha dictates that the tallis be placed closer to the opening of the bag. Had the tefillin been closer, we would have had to put them on first, rather than passing over them to reach the tallis because of the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos (Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 25:1).
Cutting the Omer
Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos applies even when only one mitzvah is in question. One must perform the mitzvah at the first possible opportunity (Menachos 64b, see Tosefos at Megilla 6b s.v. “Mistaber”; Birchei Yosef O.C. 25; Magen Avraham O.C. 147:11). Because of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos (among other reasons), we also cut the barley that grew closest to Yerushalayim when harvesting for the Korban Ha’Omer.
Cutting the Bottom Challah First
The Mechaber and Rema (O.C. 274:1) write that on Shabbos night, the bottom challah should be sliced first (for kabbalistic reasons). The Bach challenges this ruling, claiming that it contradicts the principle of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos. The top challah is closer to one’s reach, and should therefore be cut first. Many explanations have been offered to counter this claim. Here, we cite just two of them.
Draw the Bottom Challah Closer
The Taz explains that in order to fulfill both the kabbalistic advantage of cutting the bottom challah, and the halachic advantage of cutting the closer challah, a simple compromise can be made. The bottom challah should be drawn closer to the body. Thereby, one fulfills both principles in the most le’chatchilah manner.
Switching the Challos for Hamotzi
The Magen Avraham (s.k. 1) suggests that when reciting kiddush, one should leave the challos on the table with the challah one intends to slice first on top. Later, when it comes time to say Hamotzi, the challos should be switched, moving the one to be sliced to the bottom. Apparently, the Magen Avraham understood that since the bottom challah was originally on top, it retains its precedence status even after it is moved to the bottom.
This assumption touched off a heated debate among the poskim. If a person passes over a mitzvah and now is confronted with a different mitzvah, does ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos require him to go back to the first mitzvah? Or perhaps just the opposite: since he is now confronted with a different mitzvah, ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos would require him to tend to the second mitzvah before returning to the first.
The Turei Even (ibid.) followed the apparent position of the Magen Avraham that one must return to the original mitzvah. The Divrei Malkiel (8), however, held that a person should proceed with the mitzvah that is now before him rather than return to the first one. This is also the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah in regard to a person who passed over his tefillin to take his tallis. He should not go back to his tefillin (25:5).
Switching Challos after Lifting Them
One can explain the Magen Avraham’s position about cutting challos in such a manner, though, that it has nothing to do with the question of whether ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos requires a person to return to a skipped mitzvah before fulfilling the one presently before him. We can explain that the reason one is not violating ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos when cutting the bottom challah (if it was originally on top before the challos were picked up) is because neither challah can be considered “closer” once the challos are in someone’s hands (see Avodas Mikdash, Menachos 4b).
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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