Latest update: May 27th, 2013
Lulav, Shofar, Bris
“His Hand Is Not At Rest”
Our Gemara discusses cases of transferring items from hand to hand. Our Gemara discusses all objects. On Rosh Hashanah and on Sukkos, we can clearly specify an object that would be given from hand to hand. When Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbos, we do not blow shofar. On Shabbos of Sukkos, we do not shake our lulavim. The concern that we might carry a shofar or lulav on Shabbos was so great, that our Sages deemed it preferable to forbid the performance of these mitzvos altogether.
A Shabbos Bris?
On the other hand, we find in the sugya at Shabbos 131b that a bris milah may be performed on Shabbos, if it is the eighth day after the child’s natural birth. The accepted halacha follows Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, that it is a Torah prohibition to carry a knife through the reshus harabim to the site of a bris milah. Why did our Sages not forbid bris milah on Shabbos, to prevent the mohel from accidentally carrying a knife, just as they forbade lulav and shofar?
The Rishonim address this question in various places throughout Shas, and offer a variety of answers. Tosefos (Megillah 4b, s.v. vaya’’avirena) explains that the mitzvah of bris milah has preeminent importance, since Hashem sealed thirteen covenants with Avraham Avinu in its merit, as we learn from the pesukim beginning, ““This is My covenant with you,”” (Bereishis 17). Furthermore, Tosefos explain that every Jew, regardless of the level of his Torah knowledge, must perform the mitzvos of shofar and lulav. Therefore our Sages were concerned that an unlearned Jew might accidentally come to carry. However, bris milah is only performed by a skilled mohel, who is presumably knowledgeable enough to refrain from carrying on Shabbos.
Communal vs. Individual
The Ran (Rosh Hashanah, on the Rif 8a) explains that on Yom Tov, the entire Jewish people are busy performing the mitzvos of the day, therefore they cannot be expected to keep an eye out to prevent one another from carrying. However, when a bris milah occurs, only the mohel is busy in performing the mitzvah. The other Jews assembled will be free to prevent the mohel from carrying his knife.
An Overriding Mitzvah
Other Rishonim (Ritva, Succah 43a; Meiri, Megillah 4b) explain that in contrast to the mitzvos, the bris milah itself involves a Torah prohibition. If not for the pasuk that orders us otherwise, it would be a violation of meleches choveil (wounding) to perform a bris milah. Since the Torah instructs us that bris milah takes precedence over a definite violation of meleches choveil, our Sages did not forbid it.
An Eight Day Count
The Ritva (ibid.) adds another explanation. As we know, outside of Eretz Yisrael, two days of Yom Tov are observed, since the messengers from the Beis Din in Yerushalayim were unable to reach Chutz La’’Aretz in time to inform them when the new month began, and on which day to observe Yom Tov. As a result, they observed both days just in case. Our Sages forbid shofar and lulav in favor of guarding Shabbos, since shofar and lulav might be observed on the wrong day. The certainty of Shabbos observance took precedence over the possibility of shofar and lulav. Even in places where they were familiar with the fixed lunar cycle, and knew which was the correct day for Yom Tov, our Sages made no exception. They wished to preserve one consistent set of rules for all Jewish communities throughout the world. Bris milah, on the other hand, does not depend on a lunar date. The certainty of bris milah performed on the correct day, eight days after birth, takes precedence over Shabbos.
Doubt and Negligible Doubt
The Chasam Sofer (in his commentary on Shabbos 131b), discusses bris milah as also involving an element of uncertainty. Unbeknownst to us, the child may have been born with health complications, G-d forbid, which would classify him as a neifel, whose bris does not preempt Shabbos. He states that a question of the correct date is a justified concern, since the Bnei Chutz La’Aretz observed both days, without knowing which was the Yom Tov medeoraisa. However, only a small minority of babies are neifels, therefore it is a negligible doubt, which would not justify preempting the bris.
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