Thursday, November 17, 2011

the cheftza shel mitzvah of milah

Rashi explains that Avraham had Eliezer take hold his milah when he took his oath to go only to Avraham's family to find a wife for Sarah because a shevua requires taking a cheftza shel mitzvah in hand.  Why is the makom milah considered a cheftza shel mitzvah?  The milah was done already -- how is it different than holding a person's arm after he has removed his tefillin? 

R' Noson Gestetner in his l'Horos Noson suggests that this Rashi supports the view of the Or Zaru'a who understands that the mitzvah of milah is not the act of cutting, but rather the mitzvah is being in the state of not having orlah (the result).  The Ohr Zaru'a brings three other examples of this phenomenon, each of which is interesting in their own right (and which I wish I had more time to discuss): 

1) Talmud torah -- the mitzvah is not the act of teaching, but rather the mitzvah is to see that your kids become educated.  If that means paying tuition, that's your kiyum mitzvah. 

2) Building a sukkah -- interesting that he counts this as a mitzvah, but he defines it as having a sukkah, the result, rather than the act of actually building one.   Rashi (Makos 8) also seems to hold building a sukkah is a mitzvah, but Rashi refers to even chopping wood as part of the mitzvah, proving that the act of building is the key.

3) Wearing tefillin -- this one was the biggest surpirse to me, but then I remembered that we discussed this idea in the past (see here).    Rav Soloveitchik reads the Rambam as holding that there is an additional kiyum in having tefillin on, aside from the mitzvah one gets for the act of donning them.


  1. Anonymous4:54 AM

    >>> shevua requires taking a
    cheftza shel mitzvah in hand

    why necessarily milah itself (however understood) as the mitzvah in this context?
    perhaps the makom milah is the cheftza here for p'ru u'r'vu? Avraham could consider himself either as 1) a progressive
    Noachide, commanded to breed with the the latest sign-object*, or as
    2) a proto-Jew who was implicitly commanded by G-d to father Yitzchak (17:16,19)

    *signed object?

  2. I saw an interesting question, from Rav Shmuel Deutsch in hi ssefer Birchas Kohein on the parsha. Eliezer also had a bri smila, so why couldn't Eliezer hold onto his own mila? He answers based on a Malbim at the end of Lech Lecha that an eved is not chayav to give himself a bris mila-it is a chiyuv in hilchos avadim and is on the adon similar to a chiyuv a person has to make sure his animals rest on Shabbos. The mila of an eved does not make him into a ben bris. M'meilah teh mila of the eved is not a cheftzah shel mitzvah.

    Of course this whole question of what is the geder of milah of an eved is a machlokes. But this is the mehalach of the Malbim.

  3. "R' Noson Gestetner in his l'Horos Noson suggests ..."

    How about a link from HebrewBooks:

    "... the Or Zaru'a [...] understands that the mitzvah of milah is not the act of cutting, but rather the mitzvah is being in the state of not having orlah (the result).".

    This only seems to fit with the Tosafot's understanding of the Baraita, starting at the bottom of Shabbat 134b( the Tosafot itself in Shabat 135a s.v. Lo Nechlequ; though, the Pisqei Tosafot no. 444 gives them as saying, in accordance with Halakhot Gedolot, that a Ger sheNitgayer kesheHu' Mahul does require a Hatafat Dam), that neither the Nolad Ma'hul( one who is born without an 'Orlah), nor the Ger who was circumcised prior to his Giyur, need a Hatafat Dam.( halkhah leMa'aseh, both require Hatafat Dam: Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Milah 1:7,Shulchan 'Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 263:4 and 268:1).

    Otherwise, according to the Or Zaru'a, why would they need it ? They already are "in the state of not having orlah".

  4. The result of being mahul even according to the O.Z. may count only if accomplished through a ma'aseh milah. It's not that no act is required -- it's that the action is significant only in so far as it is instrumental in producing the required result. Nolad mahul happened m'meila, and therefore doesn't count for anything. It could be that it is impossible to fulfill the mitzvah of milah in these cases, not that there is already a kiyum mitvzah (IIRC the Sha'agas Arye discusses this point).

    Were the result all we were concerned with, then why disqualify milas aku"m -- so long as the orlah is removed, who cared how it was accomplished (compare to sukah, where an aku"m can in fact build your sukkah).

    C.M. -- an eved I guess could not serve as a mohel for someone else then?

  5. Anonymous11:06 PM

    The B'nei Keturah also had a Bris (and according to some this was without Priya). Was this Bris a cheftza shel mitzvah? Certainly in the sense that they were commanded, one could say Metzuveh (because they were part of Avraham's Bayis), but Mila with Priya has an extra dimension, that of an Os Bris which indicated Kedushas Yisrael. The Os Bris is not something which comes and goes with the doing of the Bris. Certainly T'fillin, if worn all the time are also an Os, however, the arm is perhaps only the enabler, like the frame on a Succah.

    (Yes, I know about the Machlokes Rashi and Ramban about whether the offspring of Yishmael were also metzuveh. The Ramban is hard to understand)

  6. Anonymous12:42 AM

    that the baby who dies before day 8
    should yet be circumcised(YD 263:5)
    for techias hameisim, whereby the
    act of milah is in itself uncalled for, but the result has(hoped-for) merit, would seem to support the Ohr Zaru'a

  7. Anonymous1:30 PM

    (since comments have been scarce
    for hours now...) the makom milah
    as cheftza p'ru u'r'vu is
    inclusive of milah, milah as
    hechsher-- the device, by
    circumcision, is certified for use

    (from such a perspective, p'ru
    u'r'vu is hechsher for talmud Torah, which is hechsher for the educated son donning tefillin & building/having a sukkah... finally, of course, all the mitzvahs taken together are hechsher for olam haba; a related theme: "lech lecha", seemingly said to Avraham, is actually directed to each Jew of all time, upon completion of his latest mitzvah..."to the land that I will show you", to your next mitzvah, to olam haba)

  8. C.M. -- an eved I guess could not serve as a mohel for someone else then?

    correct. However, even if you hold an eved has a status of a ben bris you could argue he can't be a mohel due to the gezeirah shava of lah-lah. ayin Rabbi Akiva Eiger Yora Deia Hil Avadim

  9. Anonymous1:29 PM

    >>> 3) Wearing tefillin -- this one
    was the biggest surpirse

    what may be even more surpirsing
    is this sevara as to why we wear
    tefillin: as a reminder of, & as a "tikkun"* for, Yaakov's wearing the goathides on arm/hands & neck!

    now, should the wise son reading this ask, 'but tefillin is worn on
    only one arm/hand, while Yitzchak was deceived by two?!', from here we learn a not trivial detail: Hashem's judgment of the goathair
    ploy-- He only partly disapproves/
    approves, enough that only one arm
    is "guilty"; similarly, the head-knot rests above the hairline, but
    not on the naked nape as did the goatskin-- partial guilt, no more, no less; how Yaakov stood before/served Yitzchak, with trepidation, with intense concern & focus, so should we stand, so should we serve, while wearing tefillin before HKBH...

    *smooth side facing out! (smooth-
    skinned like Yaakov)

  10. Anonymous4:21 PM

    >>> with trepidation, with intense concern & focus(comment 9)

    included here, purity of intent (how much this weighed on Yaakov, how much must kavannah be pure while wearing tefillin!)[sorry for the nuisance character of this note]

  11. shoyn6:42 PM

    see LS from LR vol 3 P757-765 available on hebrewbooks