By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
An acquaintance remarked that this year in Judaism is “the year of the cow.” I did not have the faintest idea of what he was talking about until he explained: “This is the year of two udders (Adars).” Since Purim is such a long way off due to the leap year, people need to amuse themselves even with corny jokes.
If we would pasken like Rebbe Eliezer the son of Rebbe Yose, we wouldn’t have to wait any longer than usual this year for Purim. He holds that the reading of Megillas Esther and the celebration of Purim should take place in Adar Rishon, the month immediately after Shevat. However, the Gemara records that the halachah was decided in favor of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, that the Megillah and Purim celebrations should take place in Adar Sheini. Hence, this year being a Jewish leap year, we have to wait an extra month for Purim.
What is the basis of the dispute? The Gemara says that Rebbe Eliezer’s opinion is perfectly understandable. There is a concept of “Ein ma’avirin al ha’mitzvos,” not passing up the opportunity to perform mitzvos. Faced with the choice of observing the mitzvos of Purim in the first Adar or the second Adar, we certainly should choose the first Adar. Rashi cites a source for this concept: The pasuk states, “U’shmartem es ha’matzos,” “you shall safeguard the matzos” (to prevent them from becoming chametz). The Mechilta homiletically interprets this verse as “U’shmartem es ha’mitzvos,” safeguard the mitzvos. Don’t allow the mitzvos to grow old; grab the first opportunity to perform them.
Rebbe Tavi explains that Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel counters that we want to celebrate Purim as close to Pesach as possible. We want to observe one season of geulah, redemption. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel agrees in theory with the concept of ein ma’avirin al ha’mitzvos. However, he holds that the preference of celebrating Purim and Pesach closer together overrides that consideration. (See Kidshei Dovid 25:1.)
The Magen Avraham (147:11) suggests that the reason behind ein ma’avirin al ha’mitzvos is that people should be always engaged in mitzvah activity. If the choice arises between performing a mitzvah now or later, we instruct the individual to do the mitzvah now. Later, the individual will, we hope, find another mitzvah to be involved with.
The Radvaz (c. 1479—1573) was sent the following query from a prisoner: “My jailer agreed to allow me a one-day furlough per year. Which day should I choose?” A different rav had advised the prisoner to select Yom Kippur or Purim. The Radvaz emphatically disagreed and said that the prisoner should choose the earliest available day that allows him to perform a mitzvah that is unavailable to him in jail. He should grab the opportunity to perform a mitzvah now! He shouldn’t wait until Yom Kippur or Purim.
Rabbi Yehuda Shmuel Ashkenazi (1780?—1849) challenged the Magen Avraham’s reasoning of ein ma’avirin in his sefer Geza Yishai. In Yoma (58b) the Gemara discusses the Kohen Gadol’s service on Yom Kippur. One aspect of the service involves the Kohen Gadol placing the sacrificial blood of an ox and a goat on the corners of the Altar that is located in the Heichal. There is a dispute regarding which corner of the Altar the service should begin on. Rebbe Akiva’s opinion is that the Kohen began the service at the southeast corner and then proceeded to the southwest corner.
Rashi explains that Rebbe Akiva’s opinion was that upon exiting from the Kodesh Kadoshim, the Kohen Gadol found himself closest to the southwestern corner of the Altar. Based upon a verse that the Gemara expounds, there was a requirement that he had to first walk past the entire Altar before starting the service. Following that dictum, the Kohen Gadol found himself at the southeastern corner of the Altar, and that is where he began his service. Rebbe Akiva says that the Kohen Gadol next proceeded to the southwestern corner and not the northeastern corner, even though the two were equidistant.
One explanation is that since he passed by the southwestern corner without performing the avodah there, he must now return to it because ein ma’avirin al ha’mitzvos. The concept of ein ma’avirin tells us not only to do the first mitzvah that we approach, but also that we have to choose that mitzvah even if we already passed it. Here the Kohen Gadol would be involved in mitzvah activity regardless; he would be placing sacrificial blood on one of the four corners. Yet we direct the Kohen to return to the corner he passed by. This demonstrates that ein ma’avirin al ha’mitzvos is more pervasive that just directing us to being involved in mitzvos. If faced with a choice of performing two mitzvos, we should choose the one that we had the opportunity to perform first. To not do so may be reckoned a disgrace of that mitzvah.
Perhaps the following example is a demonstration of this concept. Generally, a man puts on his tallis before his tefillin. This is the preferred order because tefillin possess a greater sanctity than a tallis. We would like him to follow the dictum of “ma’alin b’kodesh,” of following a path of increasing sanctity. What happens if a man is ready to don his tallis and tefillin but finds his tefillin first? The Shulchan Aruch rules that he puts on his tefillin before his tallis. What would happen if a man walked into shul and walked right past his tefillin to get to his tallis, and he then stopped and realized his error. Should he proceed to his tallis and follow the preferred order, or return to his tefillin? Based on the Gemara in Yoma, it would seem that he should return to his tefillin. Ein ma’avirin directs us even to return to a mitzvah that we already passed. However, the Mishnah Berurah (25:5) writes that if you already actually have the tallis in your hand, you certainly should not put the tallis down and rectify your error of passing the tefillin. This would be disgracing the mitzvah of tallis by actively putting it down in favor of another mitzvah. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.