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Follow up to this M.Y. question.

In summary, Pirkei Avot says that we should not compare "major" vs. "minor" mitzvoth for we don't know the reward given to mitzvoth.

Frequently, we actually DO equate two mitzvoth. If one is in a situation where he has to violate a mitzvah, one is Rabbinical and one is Torah-based, usually, one violates the Rabbinical one. Generally, less importance is placed on the Rabbinical mitzvoth than the Torah ones.

My rav explained to me that because of this perceived lack of importance, there are many cases where the rabbis placed heavy or more emphasis on performing a rabbinical mitzvah over a Torah-based one.

An example that I can think of - There are some opinions that state that the mitzvah of studying Torah is from the Torah. Reading the Megillah on Purim is Rabbinical. However, O.C. (I'll edit location, later, B"N) says that one needs to stop studying Torah in order to read the Megillah when the time to do so has arrived.

So, in general, if one has a choice (unlike, the above example, where no "choice" is given) between performing a Rabbinical or Torah mitzvah, does the adage of Pirkei Avot that one should not equate the two apply to this choice as well? Or should one favor the Torah-based one at all times?

  • Mid'oraisa, mid'rabanan...What's the difference between a mitzvah and a mitzvah? However, to the random downvoter: why did you not leave a comment when you downvoted? – ezra Jun 4 '17 at 6:43
  • @ezra There is a difference, as I mentioned in the question. And, in fact, we do prioritize, often. In terms of the context of this question, it appears that making this priority may be a contradiction of the adage. – DanF Jun 5 '17 at 14:19
  • When I think major mitzvos, I think of mitzvos like tefillin, taharas mishpacha, Shabbos...When I think of minor mitzvos, I think "do not muzzle the oxen" and "do not shave between your eyes." – ezra Aug 23 '17 at 18:58
  • @ezra See the question that I linked to. It's a different angle than the one, here. – DanF Aug 23 '17 at 19:00
  • @ezra Perhaps the downvoter was motivated by the numerous mistakes in the question. I will list those that come to mind: 1) Studying Torah is a mitsvah d'orayta according to all opinions, (a side point). 2) Torah study being nidhe to Megillah reading is a horrible example of the relative merits of biblical and rabbinic mitsvot, as Torah study is nidhe to every mitsvah, biblical or rabbinic that cannot be performed by others. – mevaqesh Aug 23 '17 at 19:33
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With regard to the specific example in the question--the Gemara Megilla 3a says that

כהנים בעבודתן ולוים בדוכנן וישראל במעמדן כולן מבטלין עבודתן ובאין לשמוע מקרא מגילה מכאן סמכו של בית רבי שמבטלין תלמוד תורה ובאין לשמוע מקרא מגילה קל וחומר מעבודה

Priests at their [Temple] service, Levites on their platform, lay Israelites at their station — all desist from their service in order to come and hear the reading of the Megillah. It was in reliance on this dictum that the members of the house of Rabbi were wont to desist from the study of the Torah in order to come and hear the reading of the Megillah. They argued a fortiori from the case of the [Temple] service.

There is a dispute between Ran and Taz how to understand the Gemara. According to Ran (among others) this does not mean that if one must choose between the two, one reads the Megillah, but rather that one reads the Megillah first, and then performs the other mitzvah. If one could perform only one, it would be the avodah, and not Megillah. However, Taz (OC 687) disagrees and maintains that the Megillah has priority even when one can only perform one mitzvah. Even according to Taz, this is a special rule regarding Megillah, but it does not apply to other mitzvot derabbanan. Taz explains that Megillah has the status of a Biblical mitzvah because it is mi-divrei kabbalah--prophetically sanctioned--and not an ordinary rabbinic mitzvah. Thus, we see that in the case of an ordinary rabbinic mitzvah, one would not prioritize it over a biblical mitzvah.

Seemingly, then, the Mishnah in Avot does not mean that one can prioritize rabbinic mitzvot over biblical ones. Rambam in his commentary on the Mishnah cites the rule of העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה, one who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from another mitzvah, as a corollary of the principle of this Mishnah. With regard to העוסק במצוה, R. Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Shiurim 2:32) is unsure whether this applies to a mitzvah derabbanan as well. Even if we assume it does, though, this would not mean that one can give the rabbinic mitzvah priority when one is not yet involved in it.

(Chida, in his commentary Z'roa Yemin on the Mishnah suggests the following interpretation as well: הוי זהיר במצוה קלה--be scrupulous about a rabbinic mitzvah, such as the restriction about blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah that falls on Shabbat, כבחמורה, as for a biblical mitzvah such as shofar itself; והוי מחשב שכר מצוה כנגד הפסדה, and keep in mind that the risk of violating the rabbinic command may be greater than the reward of fulfilling the biblical mitzvah...)

  • The bounty period is about over. I usually wait until near the end to see who else answers. Well, you have no competition, here. Besides that, you're answer is "stellar" showing great research. I'll try to view the Chida, later. He seems to be one of the few that addressed exactly my question. Chazak Ve'ametz. – DanF Aug 29 '17 at 19:39

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