Chaviva Mitzva Be-Sha'ata

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Chaviva Mitzva Be-Sha'ata

("A mitzva is precious

when it is performed in its proper time")


by Rav Binyamin Tabory



            A general halakha mandates that all korbanot (sacrifices) must be brought specifically during the daytime.  The gemara (Zevachim 98a) derives this halakha from a pasuk in Parashat Tzav (Vaykira 7, 38), "on the DAY He commanded Bnei Yisrael to bring their korbanot to God."  There is, however, one exception to this rule.  After the avodot involving the blood of korbanot were completed, we may place upon the altar ("hekter") the imurim and eivarim (the parts of the animal which are not to be eaten but are to be placed on the altar) throughout the night.  Chazal derive this halakha from the pasuk (Vayikra 6,2), "this is the ola (korban which is completely burned on the altar) on the flame on the altar all night until morning."  The Rambam ruled (Hilkhot Ma'aaseh Ha-korbanot 4:2) that the rabbanan enacted a provision requiring that these parts of the korbanot are placed upon the altar before chatzot (halakhic midnight), so as to avoid negligence in this regard.  Although Rashi (Mishna, Berakhot 1:1) seems to disagree and does not apply this Rabbinic provision to hekter imurim ve-eivarim, all agree that Torah law allows this ritual to take place throughout the night. 


            It would seem, therefore, at first glance, that the imurim and eivarim of korbanot brought on Shabbat should be placed on the altar after Shabbat.  Needless to say, korbanot brought on Shabbat necessitated performing certain melakhot (proscribed acts of work), but these melakhot are permitted inasmuch as the Torah requires offering these korbanot (see Rashi, Shemot 20:8).  But why should we put the eivarim and imurim on the altar before Shabbat ends?  Should we not wait until nighttime, when it is permissible to do so, and we can thus perform this ritual without suspending the prohibitions of Shabbat?


            Nevertheless, the gemara (Menachot 72a) assumes that we may and in fact should place these items on the altar before Shabbat ends, and brings two opinions as to why this is the case.  Rabbi Shimon says, "This shows how precious it is to perform a mitzva in its proper time."  We permit doing hekter eivarim on Shabbat although it may be done after Shabbat simply because of the immense value of performing mitzvot in their optimum time.  It should be noted that the concept of "chaviva mitzva be-sha'ata" is not the same as "zerizim makdimim le-mitzvot" ("Those who are quick perform mitzvot earlier").  The principle of "zerizin makdimin" refers to mitzvot that can be performed either earlier or later, but some opt to do so earlier.  For example, there is a mitzva to perform a brit mila on the child's eighth day.  Although it may be performed anytime during the day, "zerizim" fulfill the mitzva as early as possible.  The concept of "chaviva," by contrast, involves mitzvot that should be performed at a specific time.  The Avnei Neizer (O.C. 23) explains that there is an absolute obligation to perform the hekter during the daytime.  Although it may be done at night, "chaviva" tells us that we can and should do it in the daytime, even on Shabbat. 


            Rabbi Eliezer, the second view cited in the Gemara, disagrees. He permits performing hekter on Shabbat and accepts the concept of "chaviva," but in his view, "chaviva" is not the reason why we may perform hekter on Shabbat.  Rather, according to Rabbi Eliezer, the Torah permits doing the hekter on Shabbat because the avoda of the korban had already been performed on Shabbat.  He presumably felt that the requirement to bring a given korban on Shabbat amounts to the suspension of all laws of Shabbat with respect to this korban ("hutra," rather than merely "dechuya").  In any event, all agree that "chaviva" exists as an important halakhic concept; they merely argue whether the case of hekter demonstrates the power of this rule to override the prohibitions of Shabbat.


            Another example of the concept of "chaviva" is found in connection with the "korban oleh ve-yored" (a type of korban requiring different standards for people of different financial statuses; see Vayikra 5:5-11).  The Torah told us that in certain cases, a person obligated to bring a "chatat" (sin offering) who can neither afford the purchase of a sheep nor buy pigeons, may bring a cheaper (flour) offering (Vayikra 5:11).  Rabbi Yehuda commented (in Torat Kohanim ad. loc.), "'Chaviva mitzva be-sha'ata' and the (poor) man should bring the flour offering immediately, rather than waiting until he becomes more affluent and can afford a sheep." 


            Some Acharonim prove from this halakha that one should not delay the performance of a mitzva even if he could fulfill the mitzva in a more enhanced fashion later.  Others, however, disagree, and claim that one should preferably delay the mitzva and perform it later with "hiddur" (in a more beautiful and dignified manner).  One practical example of this dilemma is raised by the Terumat Ha-deshen (35), who discusses whether one should recite "kiddush levana" (the berakha over seeing the new moon) at the first available opportunity, or wait until Motza'ei Shabbat when we are still dressed in our Shabbat clothes.  Another example, discussed by the Chakham Tzvi, is a case of a Jewish prisoner whom the authorities permit to leave jail once yearly.  Should he leave as soon as possible, so that he could fulfill the first mitzva that comes his way, or should he wait until he can perform an important mitzva (such as hearing the Megilla on Purim, or going to shul on Yom Kippur)?  Some poskim distinguish between cases where the opportunity for a more enhanced performance will very likely arise, such as waiting until Motza'ei Shabbat, and cases where the arrival of this opportunity is far from certain or a remote possibility (e.g. becoming wealthy is not always likely to occur).  One source for this view is the Ra'avad's comment (in his commentary to Torat Kohanim - Tazria 4) that if one has a good chance of receiving a loan or gainful employment, he should delay bringing his "korban oleh ve-yored" until he can afford the more expensive korban.  (Many sources relevant to this issue can be found in Torah Temima - Shemot 12:17, and Encyclopedia Talmudit V. XII, p. 504.)


            There is another category of "chaviva" which is not really related to the halakhic concepts mentioned and discussed above.  There is a concept of honoring people who are involved in fulfilling mitzvot.  For example, the gemara (Kiddushin 33a) records that although Halakha forbids laborers from interrupting their work to stand for a Torah scholar, all the tradesmen in Yerushalayim would stand to honor those who were bringing "bikkurim" (first fruits). The Gemara explains this distinction based on the principle of "chaviva mitzva be-sha'ata."  The actual performance of the mitzva of bikkurim is of such value that it demands disrupting one's work as a display of honor, something that the presence of a Torah scholar would not mandate.  Of course, this concept of "chaviva" differs from that discussed above.


            In this context, we should briefly discuss the widespread custom to stand when we reach "vayevarekh David" in the Pesukei De-zimra section of the shacharit service.  Some claim that this was the custom of the Ari and hypothesize that he stood up at this point to give tzedaka (Yesodei Yeshurun, vol. I, p.256).  Although the source of this theory escapes me presently, there are those who speculate that the custom of standing for "vayevarekh David" resulted from the desire to honor the gabbai who went around collecting tzedaka at that point in the service. "Chaviva mitzva be-sha'ata" – the performance of this mitzva demands that everyone rise to show honor for the gabbai!