Shiur #69: Birkot Ha-Mitzvot (5) The Laws of Hefsek (Interruptions) for Birkot Ha-Mitzva
In memory of Rebbetzin Miriam Wise, Miriam bat Yitzhak veRivkah z”l,
whose yahrtzeit is on 9 Tevet.
By Rav Yitzchak and Stefanie Etshalom
This week, we will discuss the topic of “interruptions.” The notion of “interruptions” applies to all types of blessings, including birkot he-nehenin and various birkot ha-shevach. A times, an interruption may invalidate the blessing and a person must repeat the blessing before performing or continuing to perform a mitzva. We will discuss various situations in which one might be required to repeat the birkat ha-mitzva.
Hefsek Before Performing the Mitzva
The Talmud mentions a “hefsek,” an interruption due to which one might be required to repeat the blessing, appears in two separate contexts.
In one place (Berakhot 40a), the Talmud discusses one who speaks in between saying a blessing and eating food:
Rav said: [If the host says to his guests,] “Take, the blessing has been said; take, the blessing has been said,” he [the host] need not say the blessing [again]. If he said [between the blessing and the eating], “Bring salt, bring relish,” he must say the blessing [again]. R. Yochanan, however, said that even if he said, “Bring salt, bring relish,” the blessing need not be repeated.
The Talmud assumes that if one interrupted for no reason, one must say the blessing again. If, however, one’s interruption relates to the meal, the blessing is not repeated. Accordingly, the Shulchan Arukh (167:6) rules:
One should eat immediately and not speak between the berakha and eating. If he spoke, he must repeat the blessing, unless he spoke regarding that which he said the blessing. For example, if he said the blessing over the bread and before he ate he said, “Bring the salt or relish, give the food to this person, give the food to the animal, etc.,” one need not repeat the blessing.
Thus, if one interrupts after saying the blessing and asks for salt or asks his guest to wash his hands, one need not repeat the blessing. The Rema adds that preferably, one should not interrupt at all. We discussed the laws of interruptions between the blessing and eating elsewhere.
In another place (Menachot 35a; see also Chullin 86b – 87a), the Talmud discusses speaking in between different parts of a mitzva:
R. Chisda said: If a man spoke between the putting on the [hand-] tefilla and the [head-] tefilla, he must make another blessing.
The gemara refers to one who says the blessing before putting on the tefillin shel yad (hand-tefillin), put on the tefillin, and then spoke before donning the tefillin shel rosh (head-tefillin), who needs to say another blessing. (Incidentally, the Rishonim debate whether one generally says one blessing, “le-haniach tefillin,” over the tefillin shel yad, and a different blessing, al mitzvat tefillin, over the tefillin shel rosh, and if he interrupts, he must say both blessings before continuing [Tosafot, Menachot 36a, s.v. lo], or if one generally recites only one blessing before the tefillin shel yad over both tefillin, unless he interrupts, in which case he says “al mitzvat tefillin” before donning the tefillin shel rosh.)
The Rishonim (see, for example, Rashi and Tosafot, Menachot 36a) understand that these two passages relate the same, universal principle: if one speaks between the blessing and its action, one must repeat the blessing. The Rishonim debate whether responding to Kaddish and Kedusha also constitutes an interruption (see Rosh, Hilkhot Tefillin 15; Mordekhai, Menachot, Halakhot Ketanot; Teshuvot Ha-Rashba 5:13; Shulchan Arukh 25:9-10).
Although the Talmud only mentions speaking (sicha) as a form of hefsek (interruption), the Rishonim and Acharonim discussion whether there are other possible interruptions. For example, the Acharonim (see Shulchan Arukh 8:13; Magen Avraham, ibid. 17; Taz, ibid. 11; and Be’ur Ha-Gra, ibid. 25) debate whether the blessing one says at home over the tallit katan may cover wearing the tallit gadol as well after walking to synagogue. In other words, does walking from one place to another constitute a hefsek between the blessing and the performance of the mitzva? Similarly, the Magen Avraham (ibid. 14) notes that a long pause (hefsek gadol) would also cause one to repeat the blessing, although he does not define what constitutes a long pause.
Hefsek in the Middle of a Mitzva – Bedikat Chametz
The sources mentioned above relate to interrupting between the blessing and the ma’aseh ha-mitzva. The Rishonim discuss whether one who interrupts in the middle of a mitzva must repeat the blessing. Generally, speaking during the performance of a mitzva is permitted, such as while wearing tzitzit or tefillin or while sitting in a sukka, and even when it is prohibited, such as during the recitation of Hallel (see Berakhot 14a), the reading of the Megilla, or during the blowing of the shofar, it is not viewed as a “hefsek.” Therefore, a new blessing is not required.
There may be exceptions to this rule, which may depend more upon the definition of the mitzva than the rules of interruptions. For example, the Rishonim discuss whether or not one may talk during bedikat chametz (search for chametz) after one has already said the blessing and started the search. The Rosh (Pesachim 1:6) cites three opinions. According to the first view (R. Hai Gaon), one should not speak during the search, but if he does, he does not need to repeat the blessing. According to the second opinion (R. Sa’adia Gaon), one who speaks during the search must repeat the blessing. According to the third view, that of the Rosh himself, one may talk during the search, but he should try not to engage in idle chatter so that he will focus in the mitzva. Although the Shulchan Arukh (432:1) rules in accordance with the third opinion, that of the Rosh, the Taz (ibid. 3) accepts the second view and explains that unlike the case of sukka, “as long as he has not finished, it is considered to be the beginning of the mitzva.”
Although intriguing, this debate reveals more about the mitzva of bedikat chametz than the laws of interruptions. According to the Taz, one has apparently not fulfilled the mitzva until the search for chametz is complete, while according to others (see Arukh Ha-Shulchan 432:3) the mitzva is fulfilled during the entire search. One might argue that one who is distracted from the search for an extended period of time must repeat the blessing, but that is not due to the laws of hefsek; we will return to that question next week.
Hefsek in the Middle of a Mitzva – Concluding a Mitzva (Gemar Ha-Mitzva)
At times, an interruption may constitute a “conclusion” of the mitzva, and the one who wishes to continue fulfilling the mitzva must say another blessing. This may depend upon the nature of the specific mitzva at hand.
For example, some maintain that an action may constitute an interruption, even if one still intends to continue fulfilling the mitzva. The Talmud (Sukka 46a) relates:
R. Mari the son of Shmuel’s daughter remarked: I noticed that Rava … [would rise] early, he would go to the bathroom, emerge, and wash his hands, put on his tefillin, and recite the blessing, and when he had to attend to his needs a second time, he would go to the bathroom, emerge, wash his hands, put on his tefillin, and recite the blessing again.
The Beit Yosef (OC 8:14; see Shulchan Arukh 8:14) derives from this passages that even though Rava clearly had in mind to put his tefillin on again, the act of removing them constituted an interruption, which required him to say another blessing when he put his tefillin on again. Similarly, he discusses whether one who removes his tallit, even though he intends to put it back on, should say the blessing again when he does so. Other Acharonim (Darkhei Moshe, ibid., and Bayit Chadash, ibid.; see Rema, ibid.) disagree and explain that according to Rava, entering a bathroom constitutes a hefsek, as one is not permitted to enter a bathroom while wearing tefillin. However, one who interrupts a mitzva – for example, if he removes his tallit with the intention of putting it on again immediately – does not say another blessing.
Interestingly, the Rishonim (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, 6a s.v. ve-amar; Nemukei Yosef, Hilkhot Tzitzit 12) also discuss whether one whose tallit falls off must say the blessing before putting it back on. They apparently disagree as to whether this too constitutes an interruption. The Shulchan Arukh (8:15) rules that if ones tallit falls off completely, he should repeat the blessing. The Mishna Berura (39) explains that this case is worse than the previous case, in that he did not explicitly have in mind to continue the mitzva. He adds (41) that according to some Acharonim, even if his tallit falls off of his shoulders but remains in his hands, he must still say the blessing again.
Although one is generally permitted to talk during the performance of a mitzva (see above), Rabbeinu Tam (cited by Rosh, Chullin 6:6; Tosafot, Chullin 86, s.v. u-mekhasei disagrees) rules that one who speak in between slaughtering animals must say another blessing. He explains that “when he interrupted and spoke in between, he completed the mitzva upon which he blessed and he must say another blessing.” Rabbeinu Tam limits this chiddush to certain mitzvot, those that one can complete at any moment, excluding shofar, Hallel, and Megilla. This discussion is continued by the Acharonim (see Shulchan Arukh, YD 19:5; Taz 9; Shakh 7; and in Nekudot Ha-Kesef, et. al.).
Next week, we will conclude out discussion, as we discuss the role of “da’at” in the laws of interruptions.