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Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai | 5768

Passing Over Tefillin to Put on the Shel Yad First

Ask the Rabbi

Question: Is it true that if one picks up his tefillin shel rosh before his shel yad that he should put the shel rosh on first? How does this affect the order of berachot?
Answer: What you apparently heard is not correct according to the consensus of opinions. Let us examine the issues and see where the concept you have heard of does apply.
The gemara (Yoma 33a) explains some of the order of service in the Beit Hamikdash based on a rule called ein ma’avirin al hamitzvot (we do not pass over mitzvot). In other words, if one plans to do two mitzvot and one presents itself to him before the other, he should do the immediate mitzva before the other one. Rashi (ad loc.) says that this is derived from the pasuk that one should guard the matzot from waiting around and becoming chametz, which can also be read as teaching that no mitzva should be “passed over” and thus “put on hold.” There is a dispute whether this concept is from the Torah or is rabbinic, but either way, it plays a role in various cases.
The gemara (ibid. 33b) says approximately as follows: because of ein ma’avirin,“passing over the tefillin shel yad for the tefillin shel rosh is forbidden.” Rashi explains that since one comes to his arm before his head, he should lay the shel yad first. Based on this, one might suggest that if someone picked up the tefillin shel rosh first, he should put it on before the shel yad. However, several Rishonim posit that the gemara cannot be understood this way for the following reason.
The gemara (Menachot 36a) says that the tefillin shel yad should be put on before the shel rosh because the Torah mentions the two tefillin in that order. The shel rosh should even be taken off first so that it not remain on the body alone. Tosafot (ad loc.) is bothered by the above gemara (Yoma 33a). Why does it need the rule of ein ma’avirin to explain why the shel yad should not be passed over if it is anyway supposed to be put on first? The first answer is that the gemara is instructing not to put the shel yad deeper into the tefillin bag than the shel rosh. This is because it would force him to pass over the shel rosh to put on the shel yad, which compromises the issue of passing over mitzvot. Tosafot’s premise, which is accepted as halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 25:6), is that ein ma’avirin does not justify putting the shel rosh on before the shel yad (against what you heard). The question about berachot should thus not arise in this context. If an Ashkenazi mistakenly puts on the shel rosh (presumably with the beracha of “al mitzvat tefillin,”) he would make the beracha of l’hani’ach tefillin when putting on the shel yad.
A similar application, where ein ma’avirin does apply, is in regard to the order of tallit and tefillin. Our practice is to put on a tallit before tefillin (see Beit Yosef, OC 25 who cites reasons for this, including that tzitzit, which is worn everyday, is more common (tadir)and therefore comes first). However, if when one reached into his tallit/tefillin bag he grasped the tefillin, he would have to put the tefillin on first because of ein ma’avirin. (The level of contact with the tefillin that gives it precedence over the tallit is a matter of dispute- see Magen Avraham 25:1; Mishna Berura 25:3). Why does ein ma’avirin takes preference regarding tallit and tefillin and not regarding tefillin shel yad and shel rosh? Tallit and tefillin is an example of two independent mitzvot (even though they often overlap), in which case ein ma’avirin is unimpeded from setting precedence. However, regarding tefillin, where the Torah instructs the way the two are to be preformed in tandem, a general rule of precedence, such as ein ma’avirin, does not alter the proper performance.
Other applications of ein ma’avirin are beyond our present scope.
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