וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו
The Gemora in several places teaches a halacha that although the posuk here would seem to imply that any time on the eighth day of a baby’s life is fitting to carry out Bris Mila, there is a preference in doing so as early as possible in the day. The source for this halacha is from Avraham Avinu, who when carrying out the command to offer his first-born son on the alter, wasted no time in arising early in the morning, saddling his donkey and making his way to Har Ha’Moriyah, as the posuk says,וישכם אברהם בבקר. This serves as a paradigm that we should always endeavour to carry out Mitzvos at the earliest possibility of doing so. This halacha is known famously as זריזין מקדימין למצוות, those who are alacritous rush to carry out Mitzvos.
The commentaries discuss the nature of this halacha, and the status it holds. There seem to be three schools of thought as to the importance of this halacha, the first of these represented by the Meiri. In his commentary to Yoma 28b he states explicitly that this halacha is not learned out from the issue of Bris Mila by coincidence. The reason that the Gemora encourages us to carry out the Bris Mila as early as possible in the morning is in order that we do not delay the Bris Mila due to being overly compassionate for the baby. Rather we should be willing to do the Mitzva as early as possible. As to the Gemora’s finding a source from Avraham Avinu, the Meiri states that just as Avraham went as quickly as possible to fulfil H’s command despite knowing full well that this would only bring about Yitzchak’s death sooner, so too we should adopt the ways of our Forefathers and carry out the Mitzva of Mila as soon as we can. In other words, the Meiri understands this halacha to be nothing short of a Minhag, or Righteous Practise, and certainly carries with it no obligatory requirements.
The later commentaries provide two justifications for the stance adopted by the Meiri on this issue. Firstly the posuk of Avraham and the akeida takes place before the giving of Torah at Sinai and we have a principle that we do not learn any obligations from p’sukim before Matan Torah. Secondly, the phraseology of the Gemora does not seem to imply an absolute obligation, rather it has the connotation of being merely a suggestion; a good idea for those who take Mitzvos seriously would be to do them at the earliest opportunity.
The next level understood by the commentaries is led by the Turei Even. He understands that this halacha does indeed carry with it certain obligations when it comes to the fulfilment of Mitzvos. However, any obligations with regard to this halacha are only of a Rabbanic nature. The final level in this issue is presented by the Radach. He understands that not only does this halacha that provide certain obligations, but he also states that this is a halacha on a Biblical level, and carries as much weight as any other Biblically mandated halachos.
There are some exceptions to this rule, one of which concerns the recitation K’rias Shema in the moning. The proper time given to recite the Shema is from dawn but the Shulchan Aruch, Aruch Chaim 58:1 states that one should delay reciting Shema until just before sunrise in order to say Shema just before the Amida without interruption. The Mishna Brura §10 says that if one will be unable to do this, he should recite Shema as close to dawn as possible in order to fulfil the fulfilment of זריזין מקדימין למצוות..