It is a matter of dispute whether the rule of “ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot” (do not offend a mitzvah by postponing it) means that one should perform a mitzvah d’rabanan, of rabbinic origin, before a mitzvah d’oraita, of biblical origin, just because the mitzvah d’rabanan first came one’s way.
Take a person who finishes seudah shlishit, the meal eaten before Sabbath ends, at the very moment that Shabbat ends, and he only has one cup of wine. At this point in time, the same cup of wine is needed for two separate mitzvot, Birkat Hamazon, Grace after Meals, and Havdalah, the blessing upon the departure of Shabbat. Birkat Hamazon is a mitzvah d’oraita, whereas making Havdalah over wine is a mitzvah d’rabanan. In this situation, the order of events is as follows: First, one recites Grace after Meals, then Havdalah and then one drinks the wine. Rashi, in Pesachim 103a, explains that this order is dictated by the rule ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot, since seudah shlishit precedes the departure of Shabbat. The fact that Birkat Hamazon also happens to be a mitzvah d’oraita and Havdalah over wine is only a mitzvah d’rabanan is, according to Rashi, entirely irrelevant. Accordingly, it is clear that the origin of the mitzvah, whether d’rabanan or d’oraita, is not a factor to be considered in deciding which mitzvah to perform first. In fact, the very source of the rule “ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot” demonstrates that if a mitzvah d’rabanan comes one’s way first, it should be performed before the mitzvah d’oraita. The source of this rule is that the kohen, on his daily Temple rounds, had to sweep the altar from yesterday’s ashes first and then prepare the Menorah for kindling, even though sweeping the ashes was, according to certain opinions, a mitzvah d’rabanan.
Others argue that the rule ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot has no application in a contest between a mitzvah d’rabanan and a mitzvah d’oraita. What happens, asks the Magen Avraham, when Yom Tov is on Thursday night and Friday and you only have one cup of wine? Do you use it for Yom Tov Kiddush on Thursday night even though Yom Tov Kiddush is only a mitzvah d’rabanan? Or do you keep the wine for Friday night Kiddush, which is a mitzvah d’Oraita? You keep the wine for Friday night, rules the Magen Avraham.
Does the rule “ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot” mean that you must perform the mitzvah that first comes your way even if, as a result, it becomes impossible later to perform a mitzvah of greater halachic consequence? Take, for example, the case of a person who, during the Temple era, was obliged to offer a Korban Pesach, a Paschal Lamb, on the 14th of Nissan. So crucial was the requirement to sacrifice the Korban Pesach on that day that the punishment for unjustifiably failing to do so was premature death at the hand of God, karet. Nevertheless, if a person was confronted with the mitzvah of taking care of the dead prior to the 14th, he was obliged to do so even though he would render himself tamei due to contact with death and, thereby, unfit to offer the Korban Pesach on the 14th. Others, such as the Chayei Adam, disagree and maintain that ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot does not apply in such circumstances. According to this opinion, one may forgo a mitzvah of less halachic importance if performing it first would eliminate the performance of a mitzvah of greater halachic importance.
In a leap year, should the Purim Megillah be read in the first month of Adar, rather than in the second, based on the rule of ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot? The answer is that it should, and it would, were it not for the verse in Megillat Esther (9:29) that mandates that the megillah be read in the second month of Adar.
A mitzvah may be postponed in order to enhance its performance. Accordingly, one who sights the new moon during the week should wait with the Kiddush Levanah blessing over the new moon until Motzei Shabbat, Saturday night, when he is in festive attire and a festive mood, unless he is concerned that it will no longer be visible at such later time.
Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received smichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’’l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” available for purchase at www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed” available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Eyal-Guide-Shabbat-Festivals-Seder/dp/0615118992. Questions for the author can be sent to [email protected]