The midrash at the beginning of this week’s parsha mentions that the details of all mitzvos were taught at Sinai, making this topic extremely timely…
Question #1: Choosing your Mitzvos
“I don’t have enough money for all the mitzvah objects that I need. Which should I purchase?”
Question #2: Extra Mezuzos
“I have extra mezuzos. May I use them for tefillin?”
Question #3: When Do We Recite a brocha?
“Why don’t we recite a brocha when we put tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we affix a mezuzah to a door?”
The first two of our opening questions deal with a very interesting issue: Are there hierarchies among our mitzvos? In other words, are some mitzvos more important than others?
We do not usually attempt to judge which mitzvah is more important, since it is our obligation to observe all the mitzvos to the best of our ability. Nevertheless, there are occasional circumstances when we must decide which mitzvah is more “valuable.” One example when this could happen is when we must choose between observing one mitzvah and another. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 34b) discusses a situation in which one has to choose whether to spend Rosh Hashanah in a place where there is someone to blow shofar, but no Rosh Hashanah davening, or in another place where there is Rosh Hashanah davening, but no shofar. The Gemara concludes that it is more important to spend Rosh Hashanah in a place where there might be an opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar, than to go somewhere else where there will definitely be davening but no shofar blowing. This is because safek d’oraysa, a possibility of fulfilling a mitzvah min haTorah,carries more weight than definitively fulfilling that which is required only miderabbanan.
A more revealing and detailed discussion is in the Talmud Yerushalmi, at the very end of Mesechta Megillah, which quotes a dispute between Shmuel and Rav Huna concerning someone who has only sufficient money to purchase either tefillin or mezuzah, but not both. The question debated in the passage of the Yerushalmi is: Which mitzvah is it more important to fulfill? The explanations provided in this passage of the Yerushalmi provide insight into other mitzvos, should these rules need to be applied. For example, should someone have to choose between purchasing the four species for Sukkos or materials for a sukkah, which takes precedence? (For simplicity’s sake throughout the rest of this article, I will refer to the purchasing of the four species for Sukkos as simply the mitzvah of “lulav.”) Or, should one have to choose between purchasing a lulav or purchasing tefillin, which takes precedence? This passage of Yerushalmi provides foundation for subsequent halachic discussion on these issues.
Let us quote the passage of the Yerushalmi:
Tefillin and mezuzah, which comes first? Shmuel said, “Mezuzah comes first.” Rav Huna said, “Tefillin comes first.” What is Shmuel’s reason? Because mezuzah applies on Shabbos and Yom Tov. What is Rav Huna’s reason? Because tefillin applies to people traveling on the seas and in deserts. A beraisa (teaching of the era of the Mishnah, but not included in the Mishnah) supports Shmuel, which says that if tefillin have worn out, one may use its parshiyos (written parchments) for mezuzah, but one may not use a mezuzah for tefillin, since we have a general rule that one increases but does not decrease sanctity.
To explain the Yerushalmi’s conclusion: The mitzvah of tefillin requires use of four sections of the Torah, two in parshas Bo, and two others, the first two of the three parshiyos of kerias shma, which are from parshas Va’eschanan and parshas Eikev. A mezuzah includes only these last two sections of the Torah. May one take the pieces of parchment that were used as a mezuzah and use them for tefillin, or vice versa — if they were used for tefillin can they be used for a mezuzah?
Shmuel contends that since mezuzah applies every day of the year, it is a greater and holier mitzvah than tefillin. The Gemara quotes two ramifications of this ruling:
(1) Should one be able to fulfill only one of these two mitzvos, mezuzah is preferred.
(2) Parshiyos once used for tefillin may be used for a mezuzah, but a mezuzah may not be used for parshiyos in tefillin. Since mezuzah is a holier mitzvah, using a mezuzah for tefillin decreases its sanctity, which is not permitted. This is because of a general halachic rule, maalin bekodesh velo moridim:something may be elevated to a use that is of greater sanctity, but it may not be reduced to a lower level of sanctity. For example, a kohein gadol can never return to being a kohein hedyot, a regular kohein. Since the beraisa quoted by the Yerushalmi states that one may not use mezuzah parshiyos for tefillin, the conclusion is, like Shmuel, that mezuzah is more important.
There is a question on Shmuel’s explanation. In what way does mezuzah apply on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when one is not permitted to put a mezuzah on a door on either of these holidays, because of the melacha involved? The answer is that, if someone is required to affix a mezuzah but did not, he is not permitted to spend Shabbos in that house unless he has nowhere else to live (see Pri Megadim, Orach Chaim, Eishel Avraham 38:15; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 285:5). In other words, although one may not install a mezuzah on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the mitzvah still applies on those days.
Understanding Rav Huna
Rav Huna explains that on days that one is obligated to wear tefillin, there are no exemptions from that responsibility. On the other hand, someone who has no residence is not obligated in mezuzah. In theory, one can exempt oneself from the mitzvah of mezuzah by avoiding living in a residence. Therefore, tefillin is a greater mitzvah than mezuzah.
This has two ramifications:
(1) Should one be able to fulfill only one of these two mitzvos, tefillin is preferred.
(2) A mezuzah may be used for parshiyos in a pair of tefillin, but parshiyos used for tefillin may not be used for mezuzah. Since tefillin is a holier mitzvah, using parshiyos of tefillin for a mezuzah decreases their sanctity, which is not permitted.
How do we rule?
The Rosh (Hilchos Tefillin, Chapter 30) rules that the mitzvah of tefillin is more important, and this approach is followed by the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 38:12), the Rema (Yoreh Deah 285:1) and the later authorities. The Rosh explains that tefillin is more important because a mitzvah de’gufei adif, literally “a mitzvah of your body is more important.” What does this mean?
One early acharon, the Beis Hillel (Yoreh Deah 285), understood the Rosh to mean that the mitzvah of tefillin is more important because one puts tefillin on his body, as opposed to mezuzah, which is on one’s house, not body. Based on his reason, the Beis Hillel concludes that tefillin is more important than sukkah or lulav, since neither of these mitzvos is performed on one’s body to the extent that tefillin is. Once the Beis Hillel is discussing which mitzvos are “more important,” he discusses whether tefillin is more important than tzitzis or vice versa, concluding that tefillin are more important, since the name of Hashem is in the tefillin.
However, most authorities understand that the Rosh means something else. They explain that the mitzvah of tefillin is inherently obligatory, whereas the mitzvah of mezuzah is circumstantial. Every weekday there is an obligation for every adult Jewish male to don tefillin. The mitzvah of mezuzah is not inherently obligatory, but is dependent on one’s living arrangements, and can be avoided completely (Gra; Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his notes to Shulchan Aruch and Responsum 1:9; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 285:5). Furthermore, according to most authorities, mezuzah is obligatory min haTorah only if one owns the house in which he lives.
A big difference between these two approaches is germane to the mitzvos of lulav and sukkah. According to the Beis Hillel, these mitzvos carry less weight than tefillin. However, according to those who disagree with him, both of these mitzvos are inherently obligatory, just as tefillin. This would mean that, regarding the Rosh’s criterion, all three of these mitzvos should be treated on an equal footing, and we would need to find other criteria to decide which of them is more important.
Tefillin or Sukkah?
Rabbi Akiva Eiger notes that the above-discussed passage of Yerushalmi provides an answer to this question. There it stated that a mitzvah that occurs more frequently should be prioritized over one that occurs less frequently. Tefillin is far more frequently observed than either sukkah or lulav, and, therefore, should be treated with more priority than they are.
However, notes Rabbi Akiva Eiger, this question is usually moot for the following reason: When one has a mitzvah that he is obligated to observe immediately, he does not wait to fulfill it. Therefore, any time other than erev Sukkos, one who needs to choose between these mitzvos should use the funds to acquire tefillin, since he has that responsibility immediately, and the mitzvos of Sukkos will wait. If the situation occurs during chol hamoed Sukkos, the priority will be: sukkah, tefillin, lulav. This is because the mitzvah of sukkah is, at the moment, definitely min haTorah, whereas even those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed accept that it is disputed whether there is a mitzvah to wear them on chol hamoed. Therefore, sukkah, which is definitely a requirement min haTorah on all seven days of Sukkos, takes precedence over tefillin. Since the mitzvah of taking lulav is min haTorah only on the first day of Sukkos, but afterwards is required only miderabbanan (unless one is in or near the Beis Hamikdash grounds), tefillin will have precedence over lulav for those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed, which is the assumption that Rabbi Akiva Eiger makes.
Tefillin versus tzitzis
Rabbi Akiva Eiger agrees that tefillin is more important than tzitzis, but for a different reason than that provided by the Beis Hillel. Tzitzis is like mezuzah – there is only an obligation if he has a four-cornered garment, but it is not an automatic requirement. Although one is obligated to place tzitzis on any four-cornered garment that one owns and wears, one can avoid wearing four-cornered garments more easily than one can avoid living in a house that one owns. On the other hand, a man is required to wear tefillin every weekday.
Difficulty with the Rosh
Notwithstanding that all later authorities conclude that tefillin is considered a more “important” mitzvah than mezuzah, a difficulty is presented by the Rosh’s conclusion. Why would he rule according to Rav Huna, when the Yerushalmi’s conclusion is, like Shmuel, that mezuzah is a more important mitzvah?
The answer is that the Talmud Bavli (Menachos 32a) states the following: “A sefer Torah that wore out, or tefillin that wore out, cannot be used for a mezuzah, because one is not permitted to reduce something from a greater sanctity to a lower one.” Thus, we see that the Bavli ruled according to Rav Huna, that tefillin is a greater mitzvah than mezuzah, and the halacha follows the Bavli over the Yerushalmi (Beis Yosef, end of Orach Chayim, Chapter 38).
The Magen Avraham (38:15), one of the major halachic authorities, notes that, although the mitzvah of tefillin is more important than mezuzah, in practice it might be better for someone to purchase mezuzos. Someone might be able to coordinate his schedule such that he can borrow tefillin from other people when he needs them for davening every day, something impractical to do with mezuzos. Thus, if he can thereby observe both mitzvos, he should purchase the mezuzos to allow this. This ruling is followed by the later authorities (Shulchan Aruch Harav; Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan).
Nevertheless, the rule has not changed: Someone who will be unable to observe the mitzvah of tefillin should purchase tefillin first and wait until he has more resources before he purchases mezuzos (Shulchan Aruch Harav; Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan).
Choosing your mitzvos
At this point, we can now address our opening question: “I don’t have enough money for all the mitzvah objects that I need. Which should I purchase?”
The halachic conclusion is:
He should first see which mitzvos he can fulfill without purchasing them. For example, he might be able to borrow tefillin, and he also might be able to use someone else’s sukkah. If he lives near someone else who is observant, he should be able to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav with someone else’s lulav. In earlier generations, it was common for an entire community to purchase only one set of four minim, and everyone used that set to fulfill the mitzvah. Mezuzah is more difficult to observe with borrowed items, and, therefore, he might need to purchase mezuzos ahead of tefillin, lulav, or sukkah, notwithstanding that they are obligatory mitzvos to a greater extent than mezuzah is.
Furthermore, which mitzvah he will need to observe first might be a factor, as we saw from Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s discussion about someone who needs to purchase tefillin, sukkah and lulav.
When Do We Recite a Brocha?
At this point, we can discuss the third of our opening questions: “Why don’t we recite a brocha when we put tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we place a mezuzah on a door?”
This question is raised by the Magen Avraham, in his commentary on the following words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 19:1): “Until one dons the garment, one is exempt from putting tzitzis on it. For this reason, one does not recite a brocha when one places the tzitzis on the garment, since the mitzvah is only when you wear it.”
The Magen Avraham (19:1) asks why we do not recite a brocha when putting tzitzis onto a garment, yet we recite a brocha when we affix a mezuzah to a door? The Magen Avraham answers that the reason is practical. Usually, one moves into the house first, before he installs the mezuzah, and, since he already lives in the house, he is responsible to have a mezuzah on the door. Thus, placing the mezuzah on the door is the fulfillment of the mitzvah and warrants a brocha. On the other hand, one does not usually place tzitzis on a garment while wearing it, but before he puts it on, when there is no obligation yet to fulfill a mitzvah.
Based on his analysis, the Magen Avraham rules that should any of the tzitzis tear off a garment while someone is wearing it, and he attaches replacement tzitzis while he is still wearing it, he should recite a brocha prior to attaching the replacement. The brocha he would recite in this instance is Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu la’asos tzitzis, which translates as a brocha “to make tzitzis,” a text that we do not have recorded by any earlier authority.
Notwithstanding his conclusion, the Magen Avraham rules that this is not the preferable way to act, but, rather, he should remove the tzitzis once they become invalid and attach replacement tzitzis without a brocha. On the other hand, the Magen Avraham contends that if a mezuzah falls off or becomes invalid, the occupant is not required to relocate until he can replace the mezuzah. The difference between the two cases is how much tircha the person is required to undergo – one is required to remove a pair of tzitzis, which is a simple act, but not required to relocate himself and his family until he has a chance to replace or reaffix the mezuzah.
The Magen Avraham then suggests that if someone affixed a mezuzah before he moved into a house, he should not recite the brocha when he affixes the mezuzah, but when he moves in he should recite the brocha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu ladur babayis sheyeish bo mezuzah, “to live in a house that has a mezuzah,” again, a new text of a brocha not recorded by any earlier authority.
The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 19:2) disagrees with the Magen Avraham, contending that we should not create texts of brochos that we do not find in early sources. In regard to the Magen Avraham’s question, why do we recite a brocha upon affixing a mezuzah but not upon placing tzitzis, the Birkei Yosef provides a different answer: Chazal required a brocha on the last act that you do to fulfill a mitzvah. In the case of tzitzis, it is when you put on the garment. In the case of mezuzah, it is when you affix it. However, if there is a mezuzah on the door already, one does not recite a brocha upon moving into a house, since one did not perform any act to fulfill the mitzvah.
A famous quotation from a non-Jewish source is: “Is G-d more concerned about what comes into our mouth or what comes out?” This question assumes that some of Hashem’s mitzvos are more “important” for us to observe than others. The Torah’s answer is that it is not for us to decide which of the mitzvos is more important. One grows in one’s relationship with Hashem through each opportunity to perform a mitzvah.