This one is another ‘more-clever-than-practical’ dvar torah, but there is still much to be gained and understood. We are going to discuss the nature of hiddur mitzvah, and its application to a common halacha of Chanuka. Hiddur mitzvah is the mitzvah to beautify one’s mitzvah; by buying a nice Esrog, nice tallis, etc. The story begins with a gemarra in Shabbes[1], but we need a bit of background first. In bris milah, there are certain parts of the skin that are absolutely essential to be removed in order to fulfil the mitzvah, and there are some other parts of the skin that the mohel should remove, but if he does not then the mitzvah is still fulfilled. The first parts of skin are called tzitzin hame’akvin, and the latter parts are

tzitzin she’enan me’akvin. These tzitzin she’enan me’akvin are called a hiddur mitzvah by the gemarra, which means that if the mohel manages to remove them then this is considered having beautified the mitzvah. We can now approach the gemarra. The gemarra says that there is a distinction to be made between when the mohel is still performing the bris and when he has stopped and taken a step back. If he is still in the middle of performing the bris, he may cut even the tzitzin she’enan me’akvin, but if he has stopped and taken a step back, then as long as he has already removed the tzitzin hame’akvin, he may not continue the bris and remove the tzitzin she’enan me’akvin. Why not? Rashi, the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema[2] all understand this gemarra to be referring to a bris being performed on Shabbes. Normally, a bris would be forbidden on Shabbes because it involves forbidden malachos, but the Torah writes a specific permission for a bris in its correct time (ie an 8-day old child) to be performed on Shabbes. Therefore, if the mohel is still in the process of performing the bris, he can cut off all the necessary skin; even the tzitzin she’enan me’akvin, because that is also part of the bris milah. However, once he has already stepped back after already removing the tzitzin hame’akvin, he has no permission to go back and remove the tzitzin she’enan me’akvin (for a hiddur mitzvah), because the bris has technically and halachically already been performed, so there is no further permission from the Torah to cut any more skin, in violation of Shabbes. Therefore, all the four above opinions understand this gemarra as referring to a bris performed on Shabbes. But as regards a bris performed on a weekday, a mohel who has stopped and taken a step back may even remove the tzitzin she’enan ma’akvin. However, the Rambam disagrees. He writes[3] that the above gemarra is even referring to a weekday bris.[4] This means that according to the Rambam, a mohel who has stopped after having cut off the tzitzin ha’meakvin may not continue to remove the tzitzin she’enan me’akvin, even in a weekday bris. What is the problem; what prohibition is there to go along with this hiddur mitzvah on a weekday according to the Rambam? The Beis Yosef[5] says that according to the Rambam there is no prohibition per se, rather it is advice; i.e. that it is not necessary to go back and cut off the tzitzin she’enan me’akvin. This does not make our question any better; why is it not necessary, and why should the fact that the mohel stopped suddenly render it unnecessary? And besides, from the words of the Rambam it seems that there is a real prohibition involved here, for he uses the same expression as when two halachos later he refers to the same case [mohel stops after the tzitzin heme’akvin] but for a bris on Shabbes, where there clearly is a full-blown prohibition to continue to remove the tzitzin ha’meakvin. Therefore we are back to our original problem; why, according to the Rambam, can a mohel not go back and remove all of the pertinent skin on a weekday, and what is the prohibition involved? We can understand the opinion of the Rambam, as well as why the others disagreed with him, based on two understandings of hiddur mitzvah brought in the Beis Halevi. Is hiddur mitzvah a new independent mitzvah, or does it form part of whatever mitzvah one is currently performing with its hiddurim. In other words, when one uses a hiddur mitzvah set of arba minim, what flashes up on their heavenly mitzvah account under ‘incomes;’ is it the words ‘hiddur mitzvah,’ or ‘mehudar mitzvah of arba minnim.’ There are several differences between these two understandings. Firstly, is it more important to fulfil hiddur mitzvah on more important mitzvahs? Not if you hold like the first option above. A good practical difference is the following case: one has just finished fulfilling one’s mitzvah of arba minim with a normal kosher (non-mehudar) set of arba minim on the fourth day of Sukkos, and along comes your friend who asks you if you want to use his set of mehudar arba minim now for the hiddur mitzvah. Is there any point in using your friend’s set if you have fulfilled your basic mitzvah already? This depends on the above two understandings; if hiddur mitzvah is an independent mitzvah than if you now use your friend’s mehudar arba minim then you get an extra mitzvah of hiddur mitzvah. But if hiddur mitzvah is a part of each mitzvah, then one can only fulfil hiddur mitzvah at the same time as fulfilling the basic mitzvah, and here you have already fulfilled the basic mitzvah, and as such it will not achieve anything to use your friend’s arba minim again today. These two understandings are the root of the aforementioned machlokes (surprise). The Rambam holds that hiddur mitzvah is a part of the mitzvah, and therefore if the mohel has stopped then he can no longer fulfil the hiddur mitzvah because the basic mitzvah and hiddur must come together. So what is the prohibition to go back? Perhaps the prohibition is the prohibition of hurting someone else for no reason. Since there is no mitzvah in going back and removing the hiddur-mitzvah skin, doing so even on a weekday would entail hurting another person for no reason. But the Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Rema, all hold that hiddur mitzvah is an independent mitzvah, and therefore on a weekday there is no problem to go back and remove the hiddur-mitzvah skin, because one can still fulfil the hiddur mitzvah even long after the basic mitzvah (just like the arba minim example), and the only problem will be on Shabbes; the problem of unnecessary removal of the skin.[7] As we promised above, this dispute spills into the halachos of Chanukah. The basic mitzvah of Chanuka is to light one candle each night. With regards to the top level of hiddur mitzvah, contrary to normal practice, Ashkenazim follow the Rambam’s opinion[8] of every member of the house lighting their own menorah, whilst Sefardim follow Tosafos[9] and light one menorah for the entire household.[10] However, all is not so simple; as the Brisker Rav points out;[11] it seems that Ashkenazim are not following the Rambam entirely. When the Rambam refers to the lighting on Chanuka, he always speaks in the singular (‘he lights’); the Rambam holds that though the number of candles and menorahs should correspond to the night of chanuka multiplied by the number of people in the house (12 candles in total on the third night for a 4-member family, for example), the ba’al habayis is to light all the candles. But we have each person light their own menorah. Why do we deviate from the strict opinion of the Rambam? Actually, it is not our fault; it is really the Rema[12] who deviates, because though he cites the opinion of the Rambam for Ashkenazim with regards to the number of candles, he makes the switch from the ba’al habayis lighting all the candles to each person being able to light their own menorah. So why did the Rema make this change? The Brisker Rav says that this is also part of the above machlokes about hiddur mitzvah. You will recall that the Rambam held that hiddur mitzvah is part of each current mitzvah, and this is why he writes that the same person who lights the first light (the basic mitzvah)must light the hiddur candles, because the hiddur mitzvah must be performed together with the basic mitzvah (just like the arba minim and bris cases). However, the Rema in the case of the bris held like the Tur; that hiddur mitzvah is its independent mitzvah, and so there is no problem for one person to light the basic mitzvah and others to do the hiddur mitzvah. And since us Ashkenazim generally follow the Rema, we indeed have each member of the family light their own menorah. We shall end with a nice question and answer. Why, on Chanuka, do we not only find a level of hiddur mitzvah, but there is also mehadrin min hamehadrin (‘super-hiddur level’)? The answer here is that the Chashmona’im performed extra hiddurim in looking for pure oil when they could have used the impure oil there because this was a time of public need. And HaShem accordingly, granted their efforts reward and they were able to light with the pure oil. But why did the Chashmona’im themselves not satisfy themselves with the impure oil they had? Because the Jewish People had just suffered a period of darkness and spiritual persecution, and so they decided that this was the time for a special new effort and new dedication to serving HaShem as best as they could. They wanted to bounce back from the fall and get up strongly. So too whenever we encounter a fall/period of darkness, should we muster up the strength and courage to bounce back up stronger than before. Chanuka Sameach!

[1] Gemarra Shabbes 133b

[2] Rashi Shabbes 133b ‘hamal,’ Tur yoreh de’ah end of siman 264, Shulchan Aruch yoreh de’ah 266;2 and Rema yoreh de’ah 264;5.

[3] Rambam hilchos milah 2;4, kesef mishnah there and beis yosef yoreh de’ah 264 ‘miyri beshabbes’

[4] There are those who ask on this Rambam from the implication of this gemarra Shabbes 133b which he is codifying. The gemarra only brought up this case of the mohel who stopped in order to explain the mishna brought at the bottom of 133a. And it is clear that the mishna is talking about a bris on Shabbes, so surely the gemarra is too? I think it is the beis halevi who answers that at the end of the sugya the gemarra does an ‘about-turn,’ and re-understands this milah case to be referring to a weekday bris. If so, Rashi is not necessarily arguing with the Rambam, because Rashi is only explaining the beginning of the sugya when he said the case was a bris on Shabbes - but the Rambam would agree at that point in the sugya that we understood the gemarra to be referring to a Shabbes bris. It is only at the end of the sugya that we re-evaluate this assumption. Either way, the Tur, Rema, and Shulchan Aruch are definitely arguing with the Rambam.

[5] Beis Yosef yoreh de’ah 264 ‘miyri beshabbes’

[6] Shut Beis HaLevi chelek beis siman 47

[7] The Beis HaLevi asks a tremendous question on this. If, according to the Tur et. al, hiddur mitzvah is an independent mitzvah, why do they allow a mohel who has not stopped to continue and remove the tzitzin sh’enan me’akvin on Shabbes; the Torah only allowed the mitzvah of milah to be done on Shabbes despite its melachos - the Torah never allowed an independent hiddur mitzvah to override Shabbes?

There is what to answer, but there is not enough space to go into everything here.

[8] Rambam hilchos Chanuka 4;1-2

[9] Tosafos Shabbes 21b ‘vehamehadrin’

[10] Normally, Sefardim follow the Rambam and Ashkezanim follow Tosafos. Rav Elon once said that this Chanuka minhag-switch is part of the Shalom of Chanuka (see Rambam hil chanuka 4;14).

[11] Griz al HaRambam hilchos chanuka 4;1

[12] Rema Orach Chaim 671;2

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