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Which Mitzvah Comes First?


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This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.

The Gemara in Pesachim 58b derives from the pasuk in this week’s parshah,V’arach aleha ha’olah” that the tamid must precede all other korbanos. The drasha is from the letter “hei” that signifies the known one – in this scenario, the korban that is known to be the first korban. The Gemara in Zevachim 99 derives that the korban tamid must be the first korban from a different pasuk,milvad olas ha’boker, asher leolas hatamid.” On this Tosafos asks the following question: Why are there two drashos that seemingly teach us the same halacha? Tosafos answers that one pasuk teaches us that the haktarah of the korban tamid must precede the haktarah of all other korbanos, while the other pasuk teaches us that its shechita must precede the shechita of all other korbanos.

We learn from this halacha the rule of tadir veshe’eino tadir, tadir kodem – the more frequent must precede the less frequent. The reason why the korban tamid preceded all other korbanos was because it was the most frequent korban, as it was brought every morning.

The Magen Avraham (684:2) discusses whether something more frequent will not only precede something less frequent, but whether it will replace that other thing. For example, if one only has the opportunity to perform one of two mitzvos, should he perform the more frequent one or does the frequency not play a role in deciding between the two mitzvos? Perhaps the only attribute of the more frequent mitzvah to precede a less frequent mitzvah is when there is an option to perform both mitzvos. When one only has the opportunity to perform one mitzvah, perhaps we do not take the frequency into account.

The Magen Avraham quotes Tosafos in Sukkah 54b (d”h v’amai) that seems to imply that when a mitzvah is more frequent, it can replace another mitzvah in a situation where only one mitzvah can be performed. However, the Magen Avraham seems to conclude that a more frequent mitzvah would not take precedence if that would replace another mitzvah, and that there would have to be other considerations taken into account in order to determine which mitzvah would outweigh the other. One such consideration could be this: if one of the mitzvos would accomplish pirsumei nisa (publicizing a miracle). The Gemara in Shabbos 23b says that a mitzvah that accomplishes pirsumei nisa takes precedence over other mitzvos, even if that would eliminate the other mitzvah. It is for this reason that if one only has one candle and he can use it for either Shabbos or Chanukah, he must light it for Chanukah – not for Shabbos. This is because the mitzvah of Chanukah accomplishes pirsumei nisa.

The question remains whether a more frequent mitzvah would take precedence and eliminate another mitzvah if all other aspects of the mitzvah are equal. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Teshuvos 1:9) says that we can draw a proof from the Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi in Megillah 4:12 says in the name of Shmuel that if one only has enough money to buy either tefillin or a mezuzah, he should buy the mezuzah. Why? Because mezuzah is applicable even on Shabbos and Yom Tov, while tefillin are not. This halacha is brought in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah by the Rama in siman 285:1. Rabbi Akiva Eiger suggests that the reason why one should buy the mezuzah and not the tefillin is because the mitzvah of mezuzah is more frequent. Therefore we see that if both mitzvos are otherwise equal, the frequency will determine which mitzvah will eliminate the other.

There is another interpretation of the Yerushalmi that would counter any proofs to this ruling. Perhaps when the Yerushalmi said that he should buy the mezuzah because it applies even on Shabbos and Yom Tov, the reason was not because mezuzah is more frequent. Maybe the Yerushalmi meant that the mitzvah of mezuzah is not a mitzvas assei she’hazman grama (time-sensitive mitzvah) from which women are exempt. Since women are obligated in the mitzvah of mezuzah, it has another benefit because it applies to more individuals. This concept, shaveh l’kol nefesh, is perhaps an overriding factor as to why one should purchase a mezuzah over tefillin.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger quotes the ruling of the Rush in Shabbos 2:12: the more frequent mitzvah will eliminate another mitzvah if all else is equal. The Rush proves this from the Gemara in Shabbos that discusses which mitzvah would eliminate the other – Shabbos candles or Chanukah candles. The Gemara concludes that Chanukah candles should eliminate Shabbos candles because, as previously mentioned, it accomplishes pirsumei nisa. From the fact that the Gemara discussed this question and raised the possibility that the more frequent mitzvah would eliminate the less frequent one shows us that if not for the fact that Chanukah candles accomplish pirsumei nisa, the more frequent mitzvah would eliminate the less frequent mitzvah.

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