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Shiur #04: Zerizin

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #04: Zerizin

By Rav Moshe Taragin



            Two different gemarot (Pesachim 4a, Yoma 28b) point to the quality of zerizut – alacrity - as an ideal that upgrades the performance of a mitzva.  Based upon the example of Avraham awakening early to ascend to the akeida, the gemara recognizes that rapid performance of mitzvot is an ideal.  For example, although the entire eighth day is suitable for a circumcision, the principle of zerizut encourages us to perform the brit as early as possible. 


            What happens if the value of zerizut conflicts with an alternative value?  For example, the Terumat Ha-deshen (siman 35) inquires about someone who views the new moon on a weeknight fairly early in the current month.  Should he immediately execute the mitzva of Kiddush levana as a "zariz" or should he delay until motzei Shabbat, when his Shabbat attire and hygiene may enrich the mitzva?  Can zerizut be suspended in favor of a different manner of upgrading the mitzva? The Terumat Ha-deshen rules that zerizut can be waived under certain conditions. 


            Though this logic is attractive, a gemara in Yevamot (39a) indicates otherwise.  Having established that performance of yibbum (levirate marriage) is preferable to chalitza and that involvement of an older brother is more desirable than that of a younger brother, the gemara questions a situation in which an older brother offers chalitza while a younger one promises to perform yibbum – but only after he matures past 13.  Should we expedite the process by choosing the chalitza of the older brother or should we wait until the younger brother matures, thereby facilitating a superior performance of yibbum as opposed to chalitza?  It would appear that we are faced with a conflict between zerizut diligence and a different ideal, the preference for yibbum, which may campaign against early expedition. 


The gemara is clear that "shihu mitzva lo meshahinan" - we will not delay the mitzva - and immediate chalitza is demanded.  This gemara seems to prioritize zerizut even at the cost of choosing an inferior mitzva performance! This would seem to contradict the theory of the Terumat Ha-deshen that zerizut may be suspended for the sake of enhancing the mitzva.


            To defend the Terumat Ha-deshen, it is necessary to differentiate between a general instance of clashing ideals and the example from the gemara in Yevamot. One strategy suggests a hidden reason for the gemara's rushing of chalitza.  The Shevut Yaakov (Rabbi Jacob ben Joseph Reischer, a 17th century Rabbi) claims that the gemara is more concerned about the potential for iguna, that a woman will remain unable to remarry, than it is about general alacrity in mitzvot.  Under normal circumstances, halakha allows a delay in performance if it serves to upgrade a mitzva as the Terumat Ha-deshen assumed.  In this particular instance, given the frightening prospect of iguna, the gemara preferred a quick solution, although inferior.  In general, zerizut may be superceded by other mitzva enhancing factors, but in this particular case, we "rush" to avoid a difficult situation.


This approach, which limits the gemara's policy to iguna and maintains the Terumat Ha-deshen's general allowance for mitzva delay, seems to counter the simple reading of the text, which makes no allusion to iguna and asserts its policy in global terminology. 


            A different tactic is proposed by the Terumat Ha-deshen himself.  The example posed by the gemara is not "pure."  It does not constitute an unadulterated contest between alacrity and an alternate preference.  Perhaps the preference for immediate resolution in the yibbum case is driven by the fear that DELAY will cause NEGLECT.  For example, the brother who is a minor, while currently in favor of yibbum, may reconsider when an adult.  Alternatively, he may disappear before performing yibbum.  Based on these fears, the gemara endorsed immediate and imperfect chalitza over delayed but preferable yibbum.  In a situation in which delay may not yield to neglect, perhaps we should delay in order to upgrade the caliber of the mitzva. 


Based on this reading, the Terumat Ha-deshen proposed that if there remain multiple opportunities for kiddush levana even after motzei Shabbat, the mitzva should be deferred.  Even if it is not recited on motzei Shabbat, it can still be performed subsequently.  However, if the duration of kiddush levana recital (until the 15th of the month) will expire soon after Shabbat, the mitzva should not be delayed even until motzei Shabbat, because in this instance, as in the gemara in Yevamot, a delay may indeed lead to omission. 


            In fact, the Terumat Ha-deshen's position is commonly implemented when performing a brit - ironically one of the mitzvot about which Chazal advanced the principle of zerizut.  We routinely delay a brit from the early morning hours of the eighth day to allow more people to attend and achieve a situation of be-rov am hadrat melech (a larger attendance at the mitzva).  This decision is based upon the calculus of the Terumat Ha-deshen, that zerizut may be suspended in favor of other mitzva enhancing factors. 


            We can explain the gemara in Yevamot in an additional manner.  We may be permitted to delay a mitzva and perform it subsequently under more propitious conditions, but we cannot pass entirely on a mitzva and choose a different one – even if it is superior.  The gemara in Yevamot explores a case in which we may chose between two different mitzvot - one superior and one inferior – each of which accomplish a similar task.  Once presented with an opportunity to fulfill chalitza, zerizut does not allow us to ignore the moment simply to wait for the emergence of a yibbum option.  In contrast, we may be able to delay recital of kiddush levana or mila to allow performance of the same mitzva later on under more preferable conditions. 


            A different distinction concerns the different role of zerizut when reciting kiddush levana as opposed to performing chalitza.  The source of the principle of zerizut is either the early rise of Avraham to perform the akeida or his rise to pray after Sedom was destroyed.  In both instances, Avraham arises to encounter Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu.  In this particular context, zerizut flavors that encounter with an eagerness that alters the fabric of the Divine human interaction.  The Torah Kohanim in parashat Tazria applies zerizut to brit mila, which again consists of an opportunity to accelerate toward an encounter or covenant with Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu.  From this standpoint, we may limit the entire rule of zerizut to prayer and other forms of mitzvot (mila, kiddush levana) that entail some encounter with Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu.  Many gemarot in Yoma apply zerizut to the avoda in the Mikdash, which may further corroborate its limited scope to Human-Divine encounters.


            An apparent problem with this theory arises from the gemara in Pesachim, which applies zerizut to the Rabbinic scheduling of bedikat chametz.  Presumably, this mitzva does not facilitate an audience with Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu any more than any other mitzva entails a general mentality of serving Hashem.  By extending zerizut to bedikat chametz, we clearly stretch the concept beyond "encounters" with Hashem.  However, even if we embrace zerizut for bedikat chametz, the idea of zerizut may only apply to mitzvot bein adam la-Makom – which, in a general sense, capture the sense of encounter.  


            Yevamot speaks of the process of releasing the childless widow through one of two mitzvot, which also transform her status.  This cannot be compared to mitzvot which incorporate a Divine encounter, nor even to mitzvot bein adam la-Makom.  Perhaps the notion of zerizut would not apply in such a case.  In fact, the gemara uses a different formula - "shihu mitzva lo meshahinan" (we do not delay mitzvot) – as opposed to "zerizin makdimim le-mitzvot."  Perhaps this different syntax implies a different process.  We are not accelerating the encounter with Hashem through performance of a mitzva, but rather exercising good logic in diligently performing mitzvot and avoiding procrastination.  This speaks more about personal responsibility, conditioning, and religious integrity and less about the caliber of our encounter with Hashem.


            Since Yevamot is driven by a factor parallel to, but distinct from, zerizut, it may be governed by different criteria.  The religious conditioning that diligent alacrity provides may NOT be overridden by alternate concerns.  When faced with an opportunity to condition religious integrity by hurrying a mitzva, as in the yibbum case, I do not have the right to pass on that opportunity to acquire a different religious trait in the form of superior mitzva performance.  However, zerizut in the world of bein adam la-Makom fundamentally affects the nature of my encounter with Hashem.  When given the opportunity to enrich that encounter through alternate means, I may choose them even at the cost of zerizut. 


Zerizut is not merely an opportunity to build religious discipline.  It animates the encounter with Hashem that certain mitzvot enable.  Upgrading that encounter by inviting more people to a brit (be-rov am) or by waiting until motzei Shabbat to recite Kiddush levana (finer personal hygiene) are not displacements of zerizut, but enrichments of the encounter through superior ALTERNATE means.