In Parshas Balak, we find that Bilaam saddled up his own donkey out of enthusiasm for his mission. Chazal note the comparison: Avraham saddled up his donkey himself on the morning he left for the akeidah to demonstrate his enthusiasm for fulfilling the mitzvah. Thus, we have an appropriate place to discuss some of the halachos of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos.
Question #1: The Early Birds
Avraham and Sorah Adler* are celebrating the bris of their firstborn son! Avraham knows that one should perform a bris as early in the morning as possible, and therefore, he would like to schedule the bris for immediately after the "vasikin" minyan, which begins the Shacharis Shemoneh Esrei exactly at sunrise. Sarah feels that she will have no difficulty having herself and the baby ready in time. However, the new grandparents feel that the bris should be scheduled later, so that more guests will arrive. Who is correct halachically?
Question #2: Let’s not inconvenience the family
Rabbi Chessed, who recently took a position a few hours distant from where his family members live, calls me with the following shaylah. Thank G-d, his wife gave birth to a baby boy, and the bris will take place on a fast day, so the bris seudah will take place after the fast. It is a big inconvenience for the family members if we schedule the bris in the morning, since the seudah will be at night. Either they need to choose whether to come for the bris or for the seudah, or they need to spend the entire day here with nothing to do. May we schedule the bris for late in the afternoon, right before sunset, so that the family members may arrive for the bris, wait until the fast is over, participate in the seudah and then head home?
There is a principle of the Torah, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, that one should perform a mitzvah as soon as the opportunity arrives. To quote the Gemara: One may perform a bris milah any time during the day, but one should try to perform the mitzvah as soon as possible (Pesachim 4a). Thus, since the earliest time to make a bris milah is at sunrise, one should perform it as close to sunrise as possible.
As a source for the law of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara mentions that when Avraham Avinu was commanded to bring his son Yitzchak to the akeidah, the Torah emphasizes that Avraham got up early in the morning to fulfill his mitzvah. We also find another Biblical source in which Dovid HaMelech lauds those who perform mitzvos at the first opportunity: I hurried and did not delay to fulfill Your commandments (Tehillim 119:60).
Our enthusiasm to carry out Hashem’s commandments should manifest itself in a desire to perform mitzvos as soon as the opportunity presents itself. We should bear this in mind every time a mitzvah presents itself, whether to perform a chesed or to fulfill any other mitzvah. As an example of zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, the Gemara requires one to check for chometz as soon as the evening of Erev Pesach begins and not wait until later that night.
In a different article entitled Swifter or Better (already posted on the website), I discussed the point that it is more important to perform a mitzvah in a more exemplary fashion, hiddur mitzvah, than to perform it earlier. In other words, hiddur mitzvah takes precedence over zerizim. However, there is a major exception to this rule: If delaying the mitzvah might result in missing the mitzvah altogether, then it is better to perform the mitzvah immediately, even if it means doing so in a less exemplary way.
Berov Am Hadras Melech
We can now analyze the issues involved in our question: When should one schedule a bris? Should one schedule the bris at the first possible moment because of the mitzvah of zerizus, or should one delay the bris in order to have a larger crowd attend, which is itself a halachic preference called berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King. The question is whether berov am hadras melech is similar to performing a mitzvah in a mehudar way, and therefore one should delay the bris so that more people can attend, or is it preferred to perform the mitzvah at the first opportunity?
Why should there be a difference?
Hiddur mitzvah means that there is an improvement in the quality of this specific mitzvah, such as purchasing a nicer sefer Torah or mezuzah, or davening with greater concentration. It is preferable to perform this mitzvah in a more enhanced fashion than it is to fulfill observing the mitzvah earlier. However, berov am hadras melech does not change the quality of the actual mitzvah performed. The bris milah is not a nicer mitzvah because more people attended. Having more people in attendance is a halachic preference, but it does not make the bris into a more mehudar mitzvah.
Zerizim Versus Berov Am Hadras Melech
Can we prove whether one should delay performing a mitzvah in order to accomplish berov am hadras melech? It appears that we can.
The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 32b) teaches that Hallel is always recited immediately following Shacharis, whereas shofar blowing is performed before and during the Musaf davening. The Gemara asks, why do we make sure to recite Hallel early, and yet we delay blowing shofar? At first, the Gemara suggests that the reason shofar is blown during Musaf, and not during Shacharis, is because more people attend Musaf than Shacharis – thus, there is greater berov am hadras melech to blow shofar at Musaf than at Shacharis. The Gemara, however, counters that were this logic true and berov am hadras melech supersedes zerizin makdimim lemitzvos, why is Hallel recited after Shacharis? Should not its correct place be after Musaf so that more people participate?
The Gemara responds that the reason that the shofar is not blown until Musaf is for a completely different, historical reason. Originally, shofar was indeed blown during Shacharis. At one point, the government prohibited the blowing of shofar and posted guards in the shuls to make sure that this “regulation” was being fulfilled. When the guards noted that the Jews were no longer blowing shofar in Shacharis, they dispersed. The Sages then instituted the blowing of the shofar at Musaf. Thus, the practice to blow shofar at Musaf is because of exceptional circumstances unique to shofar that should not be applied elsewhere; otherwise, zerizin makdimim lemitzvos supersedes berov am hadras melech, not the other way around (Rosh Hashanah 32b).
Review of the Rules
Based on all these points, we should prioritize our mitzvah performance in the following way:
1. Hiddur mitzvah is the first choice. When one is certain that one will be able to perform the mitzvah later in a more mehudar fashion, one should delay in order to do so. An example of this is delaying kiddush levanah until motza’ei Shabbos.
2. When delaying may result in missing the mitzvah altogether, one performs the mitzvah as soon as possible. The same is true if delaying the mitzvah for the hiddur may result in a long delay – we perform the mitzvah as soon as possible.
3. Although having many people in attendance enhances the observance of the mitzvah, the idea of berov am hadras melech does not take precedence over performing the mitzvah earlier, and certainly is less important than performing the mitzvah in a more mehudar fashion.
When Should I Schedule the Bris?
I can now discuss Rabbi Chessed’s question about scheduling a bris on a fast day in the afternoon in order not to inconvenience guests from out-of-town.
In this context, I want to share the words of the Aruch HaShulchan, who notes that, when the Mishnah lists mitzvos that can be performed all day long, it omits mention of bris milah. To quote the Aruch HaShulchan:
It appears to me that this omission is intentional, the reason being that, although other mitzvos should be performed as soon as possible, there is not as much concern about delaying the mitzvah a little as there is in regard to mitzvas milah, which is the seal of the holy covenant, and through this mitzvah the child enters sanctity; there is major concern not to delay… we should therefore reprimand those who delay performing the mitzvah for several hours for inane reasons such as not all the invited guests have arrived… and to delay the bris until the afternoon is very sinful (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 262:8).
The Aruch HaShulchan then proceeds to ask why we wait until after davening to perform the bris milah, to which he answers that davening includes several mitzvos, and since there are several mitzvos involved, they should precede the bris milah.
I instructed Rabbi Chessed that he should make the bris in the morning, schedule the seudah for the evening, and tell the various and sundry guests that he did not expect them to be at both occasions, fully understanding that they could not spend the entire day in his community.
We can now address the Adlers’ question. The original and favored practice is to perform the bris immediately after uva letziyon and before aleinu, which accomplishes that all those who attended shul are present for it, accomplishing both zerizin makdimim lemitzvos and berov am hadras melech (Shach, Yoreh Deah 265:24). Thus, Avraham and Sorah are correct that they should follow the precedent of their namesakes and perform their son’s bris as early in the day as they can. Although their parents are correct that, in general, one should try to perform a mitzvah in a way that many people can participate, this does not preempt performing the mitzvah as swiftly as possible.
A Busy Mohel
Sometimes the bris needs to be delayed because the mohel chosen to do the bris is not available earlier as he has, b"H, other brisim to perform. I will leave it for a different article whether this provides sufficient reason to choose a different mohel who is available as early as one wants to schedule the bris.
I would like to note that some yeshivos have rules when brisim can be scheduled; the roshei yeshivah are concerned that the frequency with which brisim occur results in many disruptions in the regular seder hayeshivah. It is certainly within the rosh hayeshivah’s prerogative to make such a rule.
Personally, I think it is halachically preferable that the bris itself take place at the end of Shacharis, as I described above, and have the seudah of the bris scheduled for later in the day, at a time that does not conflict with the Yeshiva schedule.
Our entire discussion revolved around whether and when it is important to perform a mitzvah without delay and/or whether other considerations mitigate delaying fulfilling the mitzvah. The main point is that our attitude towards the performance of mitzvos should be one of enthusiasm – we are overjoyed with the opportunity of fulfilling Hashem’s commandments and therefore rush to perform His mitzvos as soon as we possibly can. This zeal must sometimes be tempered with a different type of passion – the desire to perform the mitzvah in an optimal way. It is wonderful that Jews share these two enthusiastic emotions and try to seek balance between them.
*These are both actual questions that I have been asked. All names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.