Which Mitzvot Take Precedence?
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There are a number of principles that determine which Mitzvah takes precedence over another Mitzvah whenever two Mitzvot come into conflict.
- 1 The more common Mitzvah
- 2 Mitzvah d'gufa
- 3 Mitzvah overet
- 4 Learning Torah and Other Mitzvot
- 5 Middot versus Mitzvot
- 6 Personal Mitzvot versus Other's Mitzvot
- 7 Sources
The more common Mitzvah
- One of the major principles is Tadir VeSheino Tadir, Tadir Kodem; the more frequent of the two mitzvot takes precedence. 
- Examples of this principle can be found in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 10:2 regarding putting on Tallit before Tefillin, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 76:12 regarding saying Mincha before Mussaf, and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:14 regarding the Torah reading for Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh.
- A mitzvah that applies directly to oneself. For example, a father and his son have yet to be redeemed from a cohen(pidyon haben); in the situation where the father only has enough to redeem himself or his son, he is to redeem himself and then his son. 
- A passing mitzvah. For example, when faced with the choice of performing a mitzvah that may be done only within the next five minutes versus one that may be done over the next hour, we are to perform the mitzvah that applies immediately and move on the next.
Learning Torah and Other Mitzvot
- While learning Torah is one of the most important mitzvot if it comes into conflict with a mitzvah that only you can do, the mitzvah takes precedence. If you can get someone else to do the mitzvah, then you can continue learning Torah.
- One explanation for this halacha is that a person's learning should lead up to fulfilling the mitzvot and if a person abandons fulfilling mitzvot in order to learn Torah, it indicates that one's learning isn't done in order to fulfill the mitzvot.
- Another explanation for this is that learning Torah is all encompassing and really one should learn all of the time. If one wouldn't interrupt learning in order to do other mitzvot, one would never get a chance to do any mitzvot which Hashem commanded.
- In a general sense, learning Torah is more important than Kibbud Av VeEm.
Middot versus Mitzvot
- It is better to give up a mitzvah so others can do it rather than fight over it.
- It is worth fighting to be able to do a mitzvah if otherwise no one will do the mitzvah.
- When deciding between two mitzvot generally it is preferable to do the option that will improve one's middot even if it the smaller of the mitzvot.
Personal Mitzvot versus Other's Mitzvot
Putting Oneself First for Mitzvot
- A person can not give up his own mitzvah to enable someone else's mitzvah. One needs to take care of their own mitzvot first.
- If a person is presented with two mitzvot opportunities one which is a great mitzvah and one which is a lesser mitzvah, he should take the greater mitzvah for himself and let his friend do the lesser mitzvah.
- One should sacrifice a tenth of one's time available to learn towards helping teach others who need more help learning Torah. If a person does so with pure intent he does not have to worry about losing out.
Grabbing the Mitzvah or Honoring Another?
- If there is only one object for a mitzvah available and everyone is bidding for it, is it appropriate to honor the rabbi with the mitzvah or should one endeavor to take it for oneself? Some say that it is best to take it oneself since if one needs to take care of oneself first when it comes to one's finances certainly one should do so for mitzvot as well. Others argue that it is best to honor the rabbi or most distinguished torah scholar with the mitzvah.
Sharing Mitzvot and Brov Am
- A person should not be a hog of mitzvot and claim them all for oneself if it is beyond what is normal for one person to do.
Deceiving Others to Get a Mitzvah
- Some permit deceiving someone else in order to get a mitzvah that is ownerless and doesn't "belong" to any individual. This only applies to stealing mitzvot that are personal, however, it is forbidden to deceive someone out of a communal mitzvah.
- If someone has a bird's nest on his property and plans on fulfilling the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird, is another person allowed to send away the mother bird first without trespassing on the person's property or is that "stealing" his mitzvah? Some say that it is forbidden since it is comparable to grabbing a financial opportunity that a person was engaged in pursuing and is a wicked deed (Kiddushin 59a). Others permit taking it since the mitzvah is "ownerless" and therefore a person has the right and ability to put himself first when it comes to mitzvot and it isn't considered taking anyone's else's mitzvot opportunities.
Giving Up One's Hiddur Mitzvah to Enable Someone Else's Mitzvah
- If a person has an opportunity to either fulfill a mitzvah in the most ideal fashion himself or help another person fulfill the mitzvah on a basic level but sacrifice his ideal mitzvah and only fulfill a basic mitzvah, it is preferable to do the basic mitzvah and enable another Jew's mitzvah. This applies whether he is enabling many people to do a mitzvah or just an individual.
- The poskim discuss how this concept differs from another known concept that a Jew should not sin in order to prevent another Jew from sinning (Shabbat 4a). Why isn't it considered sinning to aid another Jew to minimize one's mitzvah? Some answer that it is permitted to minimize one's mitzvah for another Jew's religiosity and it is only forbidden to sin in order to help another Jew. Some answer that one can't sin to prevent another Jew from sinning, but one may sin in order to enable Jew to accomplish a mitzvah.
- A person should do kiruv to teach people about Torah and mitzvot even if that means missing out on davening with a minyan.
- There is a discussion if it is necessary to spend money in order to stop another Jew from sinning.
Sacrificing One's Mitzvah Altogether for Someone's Mitzvah
- If someone could either fulfill a rabbinic mitzvah or enable his friend fulfill a biblical mitzvah he should enable his friend to fulfill a biblical mitzvah.
- If a person could either fulfill a rabbinic mitzvah that he already fulfilled previously and someone else who hasn't had an opportunity to fulfill it at all some poskim hold that he should sacrifice his mitzvah for that other person since enabling his mitzvah is biblical chesed and that trumps the rabbinic mitzvah.
- For the source of this halacha, see Gemara Brachot 27a, 51b, Pesachim 114a, Megillah 29b, Sukkah 54b, and Zevachim (Mishna 10:1).
- Kiddushin 29a
- Kiddushin 29b, Berachot 27a
- Mishna Peah 1:1
- Gemara Moed Katan 9b, Rambam (Talmud Torah 3:4)
- Rabbenu Yonah (Brachot 9b at the top)
- Chida in Chaim Shaal 1:71:2, Gra in Sadeh Eliyahu Peah 1:1
- Gemara Megillah 16b, Rambam (Mamrim 6:13)
- Yoma 39a, Binyamin Zeev 163, Darkei Moshe 53:11, Magen Avraham 53:26, Mishna Brurah 53:66. Machasit Hashekel 53:26 based on Rashi and Tosfot Yeshanim learns that only if one stands to lose out on a partial mitzvah one shouldn’t get involved with something that could lead to a fight. But if he is going to lose out on a real mitzvah he shouldn’t get involved if it is definitely going to cause a fight. The Mishna Brurah understands the gemara to mean even if you’re going to lose a real mitzvah it is worth it not to fight.
- Mishna Brurah 53:66
- The Gemara Bava Metsia 32b establishes that if is a person is confronted with two mitzvot, either unloading an overloaded animal or loading an animal that isn't yet laden, one should do the unloading since it also relieves the animal of pain. Nonetheless, if the owner of the animal which needs loading is one's enemy one should give precedence to that mitzvah in order to overcome one's yetzer hara. Rambam Rotze'ach 13:13 and Shulchan Aruch C.M. 272:10 codify this gemara as halacha.
- Igrot Moshe EH 4:26:4 and OC 5:32:4 based on Kiddushin 29b and Bava Metsia 62a. The Rabbis opinion in Kiddushin 29b, which is codified as the halacha, is that it is more important to learn Torah oneself over affording one's children the opportunity to learn Torah if it is only possible for one of them to learn. If it is true about oneself and one's child that one comes first certainly a person takes precedence over other people. Rabbi Akiva in Bava Metsia 62a holds that it is necessary to save oneself over saving someone else if there's only resources for one to survive. Rav Moshe applies these principles to mitzvot and says that it is obvious that if one has the opportunity to do a mitzvah one should not and may not sacrifice it so that someone else can fulfill it. He quotes a Chatom Sofer who seems to imply otherwise and disagrees.
- Rashi Moed Katan 9a s.v. mitzvah writes that if presented with two mitzvot one should pick the bigger one and leave the smaller one for his friend. See Haarot Rav Elyashiv 9a s.v. lo is bothered that this is obvious and the nuance in the gemara is regarding the other case where no one else will do the smaller mitzvah.
- Igrot Moshe EH 4:26:4 and OC 5:32:4 based on Ervin 54b and Bava Metsia 33a. In Eruvin, Rabbi Perida spent a lot of time teach a student 400 times and when he didn't understand it another 400 times. Bava Metsia 33a establishes that although a person may take care of their own monetary needs before others, he shouldn't be too exacting upon taking care of himself otherwise he'll abolish the principle of chesed. Rav Moshe says that although there is no fixed amount of time to allot to teaching Torah to those who need it, it is reasonable that a tenth of one's time is appropriate just like we find in the area of giving maaser of one's money to tzedaka. He adds that whereas for tzedaka it is recommended to give up to twenty percent of one's money, there is no such recommendation with regards to teaching since one needs to learn himself.
- Yad Melachim p. 95 agrees with Rav Moshe and discusses the proof from Eruvin. Yalkut Gavriel Tzedaka 249:26 p. 39 quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Sicha p. 509) that one doesn't have to chase this opportunity but if approached one should give a tenth of one's time to teach in line with Rav Moshe. Yisrael Arevim 16:22 quotes that Rav Shimon Schkop (Intro to Shaarei Yosher) gave one tenth of his time to teaching. Shaarei Mechila v. 2 p. 326 quotes that he heard directly from Rav Ovadia Yosef that he agreed with Rav Moshe and also commented that Rav Ovadia personally followed that ruling. Teshuvot Vehanhagot 5:281 agrees with Rav Moshe and quotes it from Rav Shneider as well.
- Igrot Moshe EH 4:26:4 and OC 5:32:4. See Tzror Hamor (Devarim 6:5) who notes that the first paragraph of Shema is in singular and the second is in plural. He explains that the first one is about a person who serves Hashem purely out of love for Him and so he is able to serve Hashem together in unity with all Jews. However, the second paragraph address a person who serves Hashem for reward and to avoid punishment; as such, he is in constant competition with other Jews for mitzvot and therefore the Torah's language is written in plural. See Lehavat Dovid v. 2 p. 217.
- Shaarei Knesset Hagedola (on Bet Yosef 660:1) writes that his father once one Chazon Ovadia Yom Tov p. 368 cites this and also cites that the Chida in Peni Dovid (Shelach n. 10) agrees. A proof for this approach is Yoma 22a that the Trumat Hadeshen was originally given to the one who would run up the ramp the first and not based on merit. See Rav Chaim Palagi in Lev Chaim 1:91. Chazon Ovadia (sh"t 2:46) cites the Bikkurei Yakov 656 and Chachmat Adam 8:2 who agree with the Knesset Hagedola.
- Yavetz Brachot 660 based on Megillah 32a that states that the most distinguished talmid chacham should be honored with gelila. Chazon Ovadia cites Bet Yehuda OC 58, and Machaneh Chaim 3:19 who support this approach.
- Yoma 26a explains the dispute between the Rabbis and Rabbi Elazar Ben Yakov whether the same kohanim who brought the korbanot halfway up the ramp should bring it completely up the ramp or they should get new kohanim. The rabbis hold it is better to get new kohanim because of the principle of brov am hadrat melech (Heb. ברוב עם הדרת מלך; tran. with the multitude of people the king is honored), mitzvot are better done with lots of people. Rabbi Elazar differs and holds that it is preferable to do the mitzvah with the same kohanim so it doesn't appear as though the first kohanim aren't interested in completing the avoda they started.
- Sukkah 52b tells about the son of Marta Bat Baytus, a very strong man, who wanted to take an extra large portion of a korban to the mizbe'ach and the rabbis did not let him because he should have shared it with others. Gevurat Ari Yoma 26b s.v. aval, Sfat Emet Sukkah 52b, and Meromei Sadeh Sukkah 52b all agree to this point that it is wrong to take more than a normal share of mitzvot. See Sfat Emet who says that the rabbis broke up the mitzvah of bringing the korban to as many parts as possible in order to facilitate as many people taking part in the mitzvah. However, at some point where multiple kohanim would carry a small piece of the korban that wouldn't be considered a mitzvah at all, they had one kohen do that job.
- Another aspect can be gleaned from Magen Avraham 147:11 who says that if one is unable to do the mitzvah of hagbah and gelila oneself one should honor someone else with the gelila and he should do the hagbah. This implies that it were to be possible to do it oneself one should do so in order not to give up a partial mitzvah that could easily be done by oneself. Mishna Brurah 147:19 codifies the Magen Avraham.
- Shaarei Teshuva 482 quotes the Igeret Shmuel on Rut 4:5 that it is permitted to deceive another Jew into missing a mitzvah opportunity and doing it oneself. The Igeret Shmuel learns this from his interpretation that Boaz intentionally told Ploni hinted that he should not marry Rut since she is from Moav and potentially it is forbidden to marry a convert from Moav. Chazon Ovadia Yom Yov p. 368 quotes this and cites that the Maharam Aramah on Ovadia 1:10 explains why Yakov stole Esav's bracha in the same manner. Titen Emet Lyakov siman 5 quotes Rav Elyashiv about a comparable case and he seemed to accept the Shaarei Teshuva, though he rejected the particular application. The case discussed there was lying that a friend already invited the rabbi to stay at his house when he knows that although he originally invited him, afterwards he feel sick and no longer was having the rabbi. The deceit was in order to "steal" the opportunity of inviting the rabbi oneself. Rav Elyashiv felt that was a bona fide lie unlike the Shaarei Teshuva which was a truth lacking the details.
- Stealing a mitzvah that belongs to a person is forbidden and there is a penalty imposed by Rabban Gamliel to pay 10 gold coins (Chullin 87a).
- Shaarei Teshuva 658:12 writes that it is only permitted to deceive someone to take a personal mitzvah, however, regarding communal mitzvot obviously the mitzvah should be given to the greatest individual deserving of the mitzvah.
- Vayishma Moshe 6:164 quotes Rav Wosner as holding it is forbidden like Kiddushin 59a and Rav Mendel Shafran and Rav Shamay Gross as permitting since the mitzvah is ownerless (See Tosfot Kiddushin 59a).
- Magen Avraham 658:12 writes a case in which a person has a personal etrog that he could use for the mitzvah and another town doesn't have any etrog. If he could still borrow an etrog for someone in his town and fulfill his basic mitzvah he should donate his etrog to the other town.
- The Bet Yakov 114 posits that this is only true if his donation would enable many more Jews to fulfill a mitzvah, but if it is a choice between keeping his etrog or donating it to an individual who otherwise couldn't fulfill the mitzvah at all and him just borrowing, it is better to keep his own etrog. His logic is based on the answer of Tosfot Shabbat 4a that one can do a minor sin to help out a multitude of Jews. The Eliya Rabba 658:12 disagrees and thinks that it is always best to donate the etrog to enable another Jew's mitzvah even if it is an individual Jew as long as he could still borrow an etrog. He adds that this is only true if that individual wasn't negligent. Furthermore, regarding chanuka candles, the Magen Avraham 671:1 comments that it is better to give up some of one's oil for another Jew to fulfill the basic mitzvah even if that means he too will fulfill the basic mitzvah as opposed to him selfishly doing the enhanced mitzvah himself. Chemed Moshe 671:2 disagrees with the Magen Avraham's application in Chanuka because he holds it is in fact mandatory to light according to the number of the night. Chazon Ovadia Chanuka p. 23 sides with the Magen Avraham and quotes that most poskim agree with the Magen Avraham including Yad Aharaon, Chayei Adam 154:48, Moed Lkol Chay 27:48, Bet Ovad 671:5, and Mishna Brurah 671:6.
- Shevet Halevi 6:36 from Sdei Chemed Aleph 257 Peot Hasadeh 57 writes that we say that a person should miss out on mitzvah in order to save his friend and the gemara was only saying you can’t sin to save your friend but to miss a mitzvah you certainly can. Shevet Halevi rules that way in order to say that you should go to do kiruv in a town without a minyan to help them avoid aveirot. Sdei Chemed quotes Nechmad Lmareh who disagrees. Mahari Ben Lev 4:4 is a proof for the Sdei Chemed and Shevet Halevi. (See Rashi Pesachim 95a s.v. shein and Likutei Halachot who might support this approach.)
- Chazon Ovadia Chanuka p. 24 explains why the Magen Avraham 671:1 isn't an issue of chateh bishvil she'tizkeh (Heb. חטא בשביל שתזכה; tran. sin in order to earn merit) based on the Mizrachi on Smag (Hilchot Shofar 54b) that it is permitted to teach children how to blow shofar on Shabbat even though it is a sin since it enables them to do a mitzvah and it isn't similar to sinning to prevent your friend's mitzvah. He supports this from the Ateret Yisrael Bdarkei Avot 237b, Ritva Eruvin 32b, Binyan Tzion 1:124, Limudei Hashem 4a, and Mishnat Chachamim 113b. He notes that this isn't unlike Tosfot Pesachim 59a and Tosfot Shabbat 4a. Chazon Ovadia (sh"t 2:46) quotes the Nodeh Beyehuda OC 3 who clearly disagrees with the Mizrachi as he rule that a person is forbidden to delay to make a minyan for those who are davening later since he should daven as early as possible and he should not sin to compensate for their negligence. Rav Ovadia notes that the Mizrachi would permit this since it is enabling them to fulfill a positive mitzvah.
- Shevet Halevi 6:36 based on the based of chateh bishvil she'tizkeh.
- Chazon Ovadia (sh"t v. 2 p. 419) quotes and seems to accept the Mahari Vayil 157 who proves from Sanhedrin 73a that you only need to spend to save someone’s life but not to stop him from sinning. See Yad Eliyahu 30:3.
- Chazon Ovadia (sh"t 2:46) writes that it is preferable to give up one's kezayit of matzah for afikomen to enable another Jew to fulfill the basic mitzvah of eating one kezayit since his deoritta mitzvah is more important than your derabbanan mitzvah. Although we generally not allow a person to sin to help his friend, here since the outcome of his friend's mitzvah is much greater than his fulfillment it is permitted (Tosfot Shabbat 4a, Magen Avraham 254:21). He quotes Minchat Elazar 2:38 who says the same about giving up one's matzah for the second seder to enable someone to eat matzah at the first seder.
- Michtam Ldovid OC 6, Chazon Ovadia (sh"t v. 2 p. 819). Chazon Ovadia quotes the Maharam Shik OC 322 that enabling someone to do a mitzvah is considered a chesed for the one enabling the mitzvah. This is also the opinion of the Michtam Ldovid. Chazon Ovadia quotes the Divrei Malkiel 4:15 and Pri Megadim EA 442:5 who classify not stopping someone from doing a sin as lifnei iver even if one did nothing to cause the sin (see Moed Katan 5a). He also cites Michtam Ldovid Chasan 46a who disagrees.
- See Meiri Pesachim 4b s.v. hamaschir and Meyuchas Lritva Bava Metsia 29b s.v. salka daytach who agree that someone who lends out a sefer to be learned if another person learns from it the owner does not get a mitzvah of enabling a mitzvah when the second person learns Torah.