Birkat Ha-Mitzvot (Sukka 39a)

  • Rav Baruch Weintraub
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

 

Gemara Sukka
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Shiur #27: BIRKAT HA-MITZVOT (SUKKA 39a)

 

Rav Baruch Weintraub

 

 

BEFORE IT (HALLEL) – THERE IS A MITZVA TO RECITE A BLESSING

 

            The Mishna on pg. 38b states that he who reads Hallel recites a blessing in accordance with local custom. In a place where it is customary to recite a blessing, he recites a blessing, and in a place where it is not customary to recite a blessing, he does not recite a blessing. The Gemara on pg. 39a records the view of Abaye that the Mishna's ruling applies exclusively to the blessing recited after Hallel, but regarding the blessing that comes before Hallel, "there is a mitzva to recite it." To support his position, Abaye cites what Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel, that regarding "all mitzvot, one recites a blessing over them prior to their performance (over le-asiyatan)." The Gemara continues with a discussion about how we know that the term "over" means "before."

 

            A fundamental question may be raised: Shemuel says that one must recite a blessing prior to one's performance of a mitzva. It is not clear from what he says whether the requirement that the blessing be recited prior to the mitzva is part of the very essence of the obligation to recite a blessing, or whether we are dealing with two different rules: first, that one must recite a blessing over a mitzva; and second, that the blessing must be recited prior to the performance of the mitzva, not as an essential element of the blessing, but because of a separate law.

 

            This question has practical ramifications regarding Abaye's understanding of the Mishna. If we say that there is no essential difference between a blessing recited prior to the mitzva and a blessing recited after it, we can understand that Abaye comes to exclude the possibility that in a place where it is not customary to recite a blessing after Hallel, no blessing whatsoever is recited. He therefore says that one should indeed recite a blessing, and in such a case the blessing should be recited prior to Hallel. But regarding a place where it is customary to recite a blessing after Hallel, Abaye said nothing, for the bottom line is that a blessing is recited, and the custom to recite the blessing after Hallel supercedes the law to recite it before Hallel. But if we say that, by its very essence, a blessing recited over a mitzva must be recited prior to the performance of the mitzva, then Abaye comes to say that the Mishna speaks exclusively about the blessing recited after Hallel, and does not relate at all to the blessing recited before Hallel, which, as we have explained, is a blessing that is different in its very essence.

 

            How we understand the words of Shemuel will, of course, depend on how we understand the law of birkat ha-mitzvot. Most of this week's shiur will be devoted to this issue. After we have considered the various possibilities, we will go back and examine Shemuel's law, and through it Abaye's understanding of the Mishna, and also the meaning of the various blessings of Hallel.

 

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BLESSING AND THE MITZVA

 

            We must first ask what is the connection between the blessing and the mitzva. That is to say, does the blessing join with and became part of the performance of the mitzva, or does it stand on its own, only that the mitzva is the cause of its recitation.

 

One practical difference between these two understandings is whether one can fulfill the mitzva without reciting its blessing. On the face of it, if we say that the blessing is part of the mitzva, there is room to say that the blessing is indispensable, so that if it is not recited, the mitzva is not fulfilled. If it is a separate entity that stems from the mitzva, there is no reason to say that it should be indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva.

 

The question as to whether or not reciting the blessing is indispensable for fulfilling the mitzva rises directly from the Gemara in Berakhot 15a. The Gemara there deals with the disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yose whether a person reciting a blessing must recite it loud enough that he be able to hear it. The Gemara brings the Mishna in Terumot (1:2) which states that a deaf person who can speak but not hear must not set aside teruma, but if he set aside teruma, it is valid. The Gemara argues that this Mishna follows the view of Rabbi Yose, for the problem concerning a person who can speak but not hear is that he cannot hear his own blessings, and according to Rabbi Yose, such a person is regarded as one who is incapable of reciting a blessing, and therefore, lekhatchila, he should not set aside teruma. The Gemara continues and says that while according to Rabbi Yose there is no blessing, nevertheless the teruma is teruma, for blessings are obligatory only by rabbinic law, and the validity of the teruma does not depend on the blessing.

 

This Gemara may be understood in one of two ways. According to one possibility, the blessing is indeed part of the fulfillment of the mitzva, but since it is only by rabbinic law, it is not indispensable. According to a second possibility, the fact that the blessing is by rabbinic enactment informs us about the nature of the blessing, that it is not part of the mitzva, but rather a separate entity that stems from the mitzva. It is possible, however, that even if the blessing would be required by Torah law, recitation of the blessing would still not be indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva.

 

This second understanding might help us resolve a difficulty raised by the Acharonim with respect to the Yerushalmi. As we shall see below, the Yerushalmi maintains that blessings are required by Torah law, but nevertheless, it states at the beginning of the second chapter of Berakhot, that recitation of the blessing is not indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva. We must say then that the Yerushalmi thinks that even though Torah law requires a blessing, it is not indispensable, because the blessing is not part of the mitzva, but merely stems from it.

 

THE BLESSING AS STEMMING FROM THE MITZVA

 

            As was stated earlier, it is possible to understand that the blessing recited over a mitzva is not part of the mitzva, but rather a separate entity that stems from it. What is the essence of this law?

 

            The Gemara in Pesachim 104b discusses the blessing "ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-chol" (havdala), and asks why doesn't it conclude with the formula, barukh atah HaShem, etc. The Gemara explains that the havdala blessing is similar to a blessing recited over a mitzva, in that both involve thanksgiving, and that just as a blessing recited over a mitzva does not have to close with barukh, so too the havdala blessing does not have to do so.

 

            According to this, a blessing recited over a mitzva involves thanksgiving. But this too is difficult – if it is thanksgiving, it should be recited after the fulfillment of the mitzva, and not prior to it, just like birkat ha-mazon, whose objective is thanksgiving, and it is by Torah law, and it must recited after eating and not prior to it.

 

            Two suggestions may be put forward to resolve this difficulty. One answer is that the thanksgiving does not relate to the fulfillment of the mitzva, but to the commandment to fulfill it. This is also the plain sense of the blessing – we thank God for having sanctified us through His commandments and for having commanded us to perform specific mitzvot. The thanksgiving is for our being commanded, and therefore it is expressed prior to the performance of the mitzva.

 

            A second possibility is to distinguish between two types of thanksgiving. The Gemara in Berakhot 48b deals with the question from where do we know that a blessing must be recited prior to eating. The first source suggested by the Gemara is a kal va-chomer argument: if a satiated person must recite a blessing, then all the more so must a hungry person do so. At first glance, this is difficult, for it is perfectly clear why the satiated person must thank God for having brought him to satiety, but for what should a hungry person express thanksgiving before he eats? Even if we say that the blessing is recited over his having been provided with food, this blessing is no more obvious than the blessing recited by the satiated person, such that it should necessarily follow from a kal va-chomer argument!

 

            We are forced then to say that the blessing recited prior to eating contains an additional element that goes beyond the expression of gratitude for God's goodness. This element emerges explicitly from the famous passage in chapter Keitzad mevarchin (Berakhot 35a):

 

Our Rabbis have taught: A person is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world without a blessing, and whoever derives pleasure from this world without a blessing is guilty of trespass… Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel: Whoever derives pleasure from this world without a blessing is as if he derived pleasure from that which was consecrated to God. As it is stated: "The world and its entire contents belong to the Lord"… Rav Chanina bar Pappa said: Whoever derives pleasure from this world without a blessing is as if he stole from the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel…

 

            That is to say, unlike the spontaneous thanksgiving following a meal, through which a person expresses his gratitude for all the good that he had received, the blessing prior to eating is thanksgiving to God that has an objective – to permit eating. We might say that the hoda'a (thanksgiving) before eating is similar to the hoda'a (admission) of a debta person admits to God that everything is His, and then he is permitted to eat.

 

            The Rambam at the beginning of Hilkhot Berakhot writes:

 

By rabbinic decree, one must first recite a blessing over any food [that he wishes to eat], and then he may enjoy it. Even if he intends to eat or drink only a minute amount, he must first recite a blessing, and then he may enjoy it. And similarly, if he smells a pleasant scent, he must recite a blessing, and then he may enjoy it. Whoever derives pleasure without a blessing is guilty of trespass… And just as one recites a blessing over pleasure, so too one recites a blessing over each and every mitzva and then he performs it. (Hilkhot Berakhot 1:2-3)

 

            The Rambam's wording implies that birkat ha-mitzvot is not merely a statement of praise, but rather it permits the performance of the mitzva, just as the blessing recited prior to eating permits the food.

 

THE POSITION OF THE YERUSHALMI

 

            We have seen then that birkat ha-mitzvot can be understood as stemming from the mitzva (and not as part of it) in two ways – either as an expression of thanksgiving for the giving of the mitzva or as an instrument that permits performance of the mitzva. Regarding thanksgiving, we asked why the blessing does not follow the performance of the mitzva, and we offered an answer. To complete the picture, we shall now examine the Yerushalmi's position on the matter.

 

            The Yerushalmi (Berakhot 6:1) explicitly inquires about the source of birkat ha-mitzvot, and offers an answer very different from that of the Bavli. According to the Yerushalmi, birkat ha-mitzvot is derived by way of a gezera shava from birkot ha-Torah. In order to understand the nature of birkat ha-mitzvot according to the Yerushalmi, we must first examine birkot ha-Torah.

 

            As is well known, over the study of Torah we recite three blessings which are actually two blessings. The first blessing (ve-tzivanu la'asok) is similar to a regular birkat ha-mitzvot. To this blessing we adjoin a blessing which is sort of a prayer (ve-ha'arev na). And the third blessing is a blessing of praise (asher bachar banu).

 

            We must ask then, which blessing over the Torah does the Yerushalmi use to derive birkat ha-mitzvot? Is it from the first blessing, in which case we can infer nothing about the nature of the blessing, or perhaps from the third blessing, in which case we can decide our issue and say that birkat ha-mitzvot is a blessing of praise similar to birkat ha-mazon. Indeed, we find that the people living in Eretz Israel were accustomed to recite the blessing over tefillin after removing them. The Gemara in Nidda 51b states that it was their custom to recite "asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu lishmor chukav." The Rishonim disagree about how to understand the practice of those living in Eretz Israel.

 

            According to Rabbenu Tam (ibid., Tosafot s.v. ve-livnei ma'arava), we are dealing here with a blessing unique to tefillin. The custom was to recite the blessing of tefillin over their removal close to sunset, for there is a positive precept not to wear tefillin at night – "ve-shamarta et ha-chuka." But the objection may be raised, why didn't the people living in Eretz Israel recite the blessing before removing their tefillin, as is the case with other mitzvot?

 

            This question is further strengthened according to the Ramban and the other Spanish Rishonim, who disagree with Rabbenu Tam and say that the people of Eretz Israel would recite a blessing after the completion of every mitzva, and not just the mitzva of removing tefilin.

 

            However, if we understand that the people of Eretz Israel agree with the position of the Yerushalmi, that birkat ha-mitzvot is a blessing of thanksgiving, the answer is clear – just as we offer thanks following a meal, the people of Eretz Israel would offer thanks following the completion of a mitzva.

 

            In effect, the rule established by Shemuel and accepted without question by the Bavli, that birkat ha-mitzvot is recited prior to the performance of the mitzva, is subject to disagreement in the Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi in Berakhot (9:3) records a disagreement between Rav Huna and Rabbi Yochanan whether birkat ha-mitzvot is recited prior to or during the performance of the mitzva. Moreover, the Yerushalmi argues that according to Shemuel the blessing is recited during the performance of the mitzva, as opposed to his position as cited in the Bavli.

 

            Among the Posekim, there is one Rishon who partially agrees with the Yerushalmi, namely the Ravya in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak bar Mordechai. In Hilkhot Lulav (no. 691), the Ravya brings the view of his master, that whatever is stated in the Bavli about reciting a blessing prior to its performance, comes to exclude reciting a blessing after its performance, but lekhatchila one should actually recite the blessing during the performance of the mitzva. That is to say, he understands that we are dealing with a blessing of praise, which should be recited at a time when there is cause for praise.[1] Only that according to him, the Bavli and the Yerushalmi disagree on the question whether a blessing over praise was enacted even after the performance of the mitzva, and on this point he rules in accordance with the Bavli. The Ravya himself disagrees with this and rules that birkat ha-mitzvot should be recited prior to the performance of the mitzva, in accordance with the simple understanding of the Bavli.

 

            The Or Zaru'a (I, no. 25), as well, implies that birkat ha-mitzvot is a blessing of praise, and he writes that it is rooted in the obligation to cherish mitzvot (chibuv mitzva). In this manner he also explains why over some mitzvot we recite a blessing, while over others we do not – regarding mitzvot that are constantly with us there is less cherishing than regarding mitzvot that are less common. We have already explained earlier that even according to those who understand that we are dealing with a blessing of praise, there is no need to say that the blessing must be recited during the performance of the mitzva, for it is possible to understand that the praise is offered for the command.

 

            To summarize what we have seen thus far, if we wish to understand birkat ha-mitzvot as stemming from the mitzva but not actually being a part of it, we can choose between two explanations – the blessing as praise or the blessing as permitting performance of the mitzva. These two explanations might correspond to a disagreement between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi, and to a later disagreement among the Posekim between the Rambam who understands the blessing as permitting the performance of the mitzva, and the Ravya's teacher and the Or Zaru'a who understand it as praise.

 

BIRKAT HA-MITZVOT AS PART OF THE MITZVA

 

            Let us now examine the second avenue suggested above – understanding birkat ha-mitzvot as part of the mitzva. This approach also divides into two possibilities, both of which arise in the Ritva in Pesachim 7b. The Ritva explains why the blessing must be recited prior to the performance of the mitzva:

 

The Rit z"l writes: The reason that Chazal said to recite a blessing over the mitzvot prior to their performance is that a person should first sanctity himself and reveal and inform that he is performing [the mitzva] because of God's command. And furthermore, because the blessings are service of the soul, and it is fitting that service of the soul should precede the action which is service of the body.

 

The Ritva advances two rationales. According to the first, the blessing is part of the act of the mitzva, and it is meant to bestow intention upon the action. According to the second rationale, the blessing is an additional element in the fulfillment of the mitzva, constituting a spiritual act that parallels the physical act.

 

Before we examine the question whether birkat ha-mitzvot is part of the act of the mitzva or part of its fulfillment, we should note that according to the understanding that the blessing constitutes the intention of the action, we can easily understand the talmudic passage in Berakhot 15a cited above.

 

As it may be recalled, the Gemara in Berakhot 15a states that were blessings obligatory by Torah law, they would be indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva. We already noted that it is difficult to understand why these two issues should be dependent upon each other. If, however, we understand that a blessing is meant to establish intention, then were the blessing obligatory by Torah law, this would mean that mitzvot tzerikhot kavana, "mitzvot require intention," and thus intention would be indispensable for the fulfillment of the mitzva.

 

In any case, we are dealing with the question whether the blessing is part of the act of the mitzva or a separate act that is part of the fulfillment of the mitzva. It may be suggested that this question has direct ramifications regarding the blessing recited over a lulav, discussed in our chapter.

 

The Tosafot (39a, s.v. over le-asiyatan) discuss the question how to arrange the blessing over the lulav so that it may be recited as close as possible to the taking of the lulav. They suggest several possibilities:

 

1)         Taking three species, reciting the blessing, and then taking the etrog.

2)         Taking the etrog not in the manner that it grows, reciting the blessing, and then turning the etrog over.

3)         Taking the etrog having in mind not to fulfill one's obligation, reciting the blessing, and then proper intention.

4)         Taking the lulav, reciting the blessing, and then shaking the lulav.

 

These four suggestions may be divided into three categories – impairing the act of the mitzva, impairing the fulfillment of the mitzva, and adding an action. We discussed the third suggestion at length in our shiur regarding "shaking the lulav" and we will not discuss it again now. The disagreement between the two first suggestions may be seen as a disagreement whether the act of the mitzva of lulav is the taking or the holding. If we understand that the act is the taking, then if someone takes the lulav having in mind not to fulfill the mitzva, and then afterwards holds the lulav having in mind to fulfill the mitzva, he has not fulfilled the mitzva. We also dealt with this issue in that earlier shiur.

 

It is possible, however, that all agree that the mitzva of lulav may be fulfilled merely by holding it, and that the disagreement relates to the laws governing birkat ha-mitzvot. For if we say that the blessing itself constitutes the intention to fulfill the mitzva, then it is impossible to recite the blessing and at the same time have in mind not to fulfill the mitzva. But if we say that the blessing is service of the heart that parallels the physical act of the mitzva, we can understand that a person can recite a blessing and serve in his heart, having in mind to delay the physical act of the mitzva until he completes the service of the heart, which, as the Ritva argues, should come first.

 

KARPAS AND MAROR IN A SINGLE EATING

 

            Another passage that is connected to the relationship between the blessing and intention is found in Pesachim 114b-115a. There the Gemara deals with a person who eats the same vegetable for karpas and for maror. There are two stages in that passage, and the Rishonim disagree about the relationship between them. The Mishna says that the vegetable is dipped twice, once for karpas and a second time for maror. The Gemara understands as a simple matter that the law is the same even if we are dealing with the same vegetable.

 

            In the first part of the passage, on p. 114b, Resh Lakish says that it may be inferred from the Mishna that mitzvot tzerikhot kavana, and therefore one can eat the same vegetable, once with the intention of karpas, and a second time with the intention of maror. For if mitzvot would not require intention, then one would fulfill both mitzvot with a single eating. The Gemara rejects this argument and says that indeed this may be true: mitzvot do not require kavana, and a person fulfills both obligations with the first eating. The second eating is necessary not for the mitzva of maror, but as another change that is made for the sake of the children. In the end the Gemara concludes that this issue is subject to a Tannaitic dispute.

 

            In the second part of the passage, which begins at the bottom of pg. 114b and continues on p. 115a, Rav Huna and Rav Chisda disagree about the blessings to be recited by one who has only one vegetable for both karpas and maror. Rav Huna says that he should first recite bore peri ha-adama, then eat, then recite al akhilat maror, and eat again. Rav Chisda says that both blessings should be recited over the first eating.

 

            The Meiri understands that the two parts of the passage depend upon each other. That is to say, Rav Huna maintains that mitzvot require intention, and therefore a person can recite the bore peri ha-adama blessing, eat the vegetable without having in mind to fulfill the mitzva of maror, recite the al akhilat maror blessing, and then eat the vegetable for the sake of maror. Rav Chisda is of the opinion that mitzvot do not require intention, and therefore a person must recite both blessings prior to his first eating, for he fulfills his obligation to eat maror with that eating, even if he has no intention to do so.

 

The Tosafot disagree. According to them, both Rav Huna and Rav Chisda agree that mitzvot require intention. They disagree about an entirely different issue: when a person performs an action of a mitzva and then repeats it later, should he recite the blessing over his first performance of that action or over the main one?

 

Of course, Tosafot's understanding is impossible if we say that birkat ha-mitzvot provides the action with intention, for in that case it would be impossible to recite the blessing prior to the first eating, but only fulfill one's obligation with the second eating. On the other hand, the Meiri's tying together of the two disagreements points to the connection that he sees between the action with which a person intends to fulfill his obligation and the action over which he must recite the blessing.

 

A BLESSING AS PERMITTING PERFORMANCE OF A MITZVA

 

            Let us review what we have seen thus far. There are two possible ways of understanding birkat ha-mitzvot; one way, as stemming from the mitzva, and a second way, as part of the mitzva. If we say that the blessing stems from the mitzva, it can be understood as praise or as permission to perform the mitzva. If we say that it is part of the mitzva, it can be understood as part of the action of the mitzva or as an independent action which is part of the fulfillment of the mitzva.

 

            Let us now consider the Mishna in Terumot 1:6. The Mishna states that there are five people who should not set aside teruma, but if they did so, their teruma is valid teruma – a mute, a drunk, a naked person, a blind person, and a ba'al keri (one who had an emission of semen).

 

            The Yerushalmi explains that we have here two sets of people who lekhatchila should not set aside teruma. One set is comprised of the drunk and the blind person. They should not set aside teruma because the teruma will not be of the highest quality. A second set is comprised of the mute, the naked person and the ba'al keri. They should not set aside teruma because they cannot recite the required blessing.

 

            Granted if we say that the blessing is an independent obligation stemming from the mitzva, but not part of the mitzva - then we understand why lekhatchila a person should not put himself into a situation that he is obligated in a mitzva, but unable to fulfill it. But if we say that a blessing is part of the act, then at least with respect to the mute, he does whatever he can do; why then should he not fulfill the mitzva to the best his ability?

 

In order to answer this question, we must first consider a dispute among the Acharonim connected to birkat ha-mitzvot. The Magen Avraham at the beginning of sec. 8 infers from the wording of the Shulchan Arukh that one should stand while reciting birkat ha-mitzvot. But he raises an objection from an explicit Mishna in Berakhot 24a which states that a woman can set aside challa while sitting. The Magen Avraham answers that a distinction must be made between tzitzit, where the blessing is over an obligatory mitzva, and challa, where the blessing is over something that merely permits eating or the like.

 

It follows from the Magen Avraham that there are two kinds of blessings – a blessing over a mitzva and a blessing over something that merely permits eating or the like. It stands to reason that a blessing over something that permits eating or the like is exclusively a blessing of praise, for in the case of something that confers permission we cannot talk about intention of mitzvot or service of the heart. In the case of an obligatory mitzva, the blessing is part of the action of the mitzva or part of its fulfillment.

 

We can now resolve the difficulty from the Mishna in Terumot. It is true that in other mitzvot a person who is unable to recite the blessing is nevertheless told to fulfill the mitzva to the best of his ability, even if he is unable to fulfill the part that is in his heart (unless we are talking about temporary incapacitation, i.e., a ba'al keri). In the case of teruma, however, which is merely an instrument to permit eating, and its blessing is a blessing of praise, there are two elements in his disfavor, for he does not fulfill a mitzva, and he becomes obligated to praise God, but cannot fulfill that obligation. Thus it would appear that the Mishna's ruling that it is better not to fulfill a mitzva if one cannot recite the blessing, is limited to mitzvot similar to the mitzva of setting aside challa.

 

TWO LAWS

 

            what we said above regarding a blessing over that which serves as an instrument to permit eating or the like as opposed to a blessing over an obligation, allows us to understand that birkat ha-mitzvot can have more than one reason. For example, it is possible that birkat ha-mitzvot serves both as permission and as service of the heart, or as both praise and as intention. Such an understanding is suggested by the words of the Rambam. The Rambam in Hilkhot Berakhot (11:5) rules that even though lekhatchila one must recite the blessing prior to one's fulfillment of the mitzva, nevertheless if one failed to do so, he may recite the blessing as long as "its performance continues." For example, the Rambam writes that one who wrapped himself in a talit without reciting the required blessing, may recite the blessing as long as he is still wrapped in it. But if he slaughtered an animal and remembered afterwards that he had failed to recite the blessing, he can no longer recite the blessing.

 

From what the Rambam writes later (halakha 15), however, it follows that there is a difference between a blessing recited prior to the action and a blessing recited afterwards. The wording of the blessing prior to the action is "le-hit'atef be-tzitzit," whereas following the action it is "al atifat tzitzit." The Ra'avad disagrees with the Rambam on this point, and argues that a distinction must be made between tzitzit and tefillin, in which one remains obligated the rest of the day, and therefore the blessing is "le-hitatef" even after the action was performed, and lulav, where his taking exempts him from further obligation, and there he agrees with the Rambam that following the taking (while he is still holding the lulav) one should say "al netilat lulav."

 

It stands to reason both according to the Rambam and according to the Ra'avad that birkat ha-mitzvot is governed by two laws, which express themselves in the two formulations. They disagree, however, on the essence of these two laws. According to the Rambam, one law is that of permitting the performance of the mitzva, as we saw earlier, and that does not apply after one has already wrapped himself in his talit. After he is already wrapped, there is only the second law, and the formulation is "al atifat tzitzit." It is difficult to decide what that second law is, but the Rambam's formulation suggests that it is praise over the performance, similar to birkat ha-mazon (the need for the performance to continue can be understood as paralleling the need to recite the blessing over food before the food is digested – as long as the action's effects are still evident, we can talk about it). But when a person recites the blessing prior to his fulfillment of the mitzva, he fulfills both elements.

 

According to the Ra'avad, on the other hand, the first law is praise for the command, as we suggested over the course of our discussion regarding seeing the blessing as praise. Therefore, as long as a person is obligated, he can recite the blessing over his obligation. The second law might parallel the Rambam's understanding, or else some other understanding. There is no conclusive evidence from the words of the Ra'avad himself.[2]

 

THE LAW OF SHEMUEL

 

            Over the course of the shiur we analyzed the foundation of birkat ha-mitzvot, and we saw that that there are four possible understandings which divide into two groups:

 

1)         Birkat ha-mitzvot as stemming from the mitzva:

a)       Praise for the action or for the commandment.

b)       Permission to fulfill a mitzvah.

2)         Birkat ha-mitzvot as part of the mitzva.

a)       Intention of the action.

b)       An additional action of service of the heart which is part of the fulfillment of the mitzva.

 

It might be remembered that at the beginning of the shiur, we raised the question how are we to understand Abaye's explanation of the Mishna, according to Shemuel. Abaye said that the law taught in the Mishna, that in a place where it is customary not to recite a blessing one does not recite a blessing, is correct only with respect to the blessing recited following Hallel, but not with respect to the blessing recited before it. The question that we asked was whether Abaye comes to teach that even in a place where a blessing is not recited, one is obligated to recite at least one blessing, and that should be prior to the performance of the mitzva, or does he come to say that whatever the custom regarding the blessing after the Hallel, one must not omit the blessing prior to the mitzva. We hung these two possibilities on the question whether the law that birkat ha-mitzvot must be recited prior to the performance of the mitzva is an essential element of the blessing or something external.

 

From among the various explanations that we have proposed, it stands to reason that according to the understanding that birkat ha-mitzvot serves as permission, the requirement that it be recited prior to the performance of the mitzva is part of its very essence. This can also be argued according to the understanding that the blessing comes to confer intention. According to the other possibilities, reciting the blessing prior to the performance of the mitzva is less essential, and it can be argued that it is an element external to the very obligation of the blessing. As we said at the beginning, this question has ramifications regarding the relationship between the two blessings recited over Hallel, before and after its recitation.[3]

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

SOURCES FOR NEXT WEEK'S SHIUR

 

            Next week's shiur will deal with the law of "hana'atan u-bi'uran shavin." Please read through from the Mishna on pg. 39a to the Gemara on pg. 40a, "… bein le-ma'aser bein le-shevi'it," regarding handing over money that has the sanctity of shevi'it to an am ha'aretz, and establishing the year of produce based on when the fruit assumes form or when it is picked. We shall focus on the next passage that deals with the law of "hana'atan u-bi'uran shavin."

 

1)         Sukka 40a, "ta'ama de-lulav," until 40b, "…ikka nami mishra ve-kibusa," and the parallel passage in Bava Kama 101b, "Rava Rami," until 102a, "…ikka nami mishra ve-kibusa."

2)         Rashi, Sukka 40a, s.v. shani hatam; she-hana'ato u-bi'uro shave. Which two laws does Rashi learn from the verse, "Shabbat ha-aretz lakhem le-okhla"? Does Rashi imply that there is a connection between these two laws? What is the view of Tosafot, s.v. hakhi garsinan in Bava Kama on this issue? See also Ramban, Hasagot to Sefer ha-Mitzvot, forgotten positive precept 3, and Chazon Ish, Shevi'it 14, 10 (see below). Based on this position, is it possible to see a connection between the two laws?

3)         Two similar laws of allowance and prohibition exist also with respect to the betrothal of a woman – allowance to her husband and prohibition to the rest of the world. What is the relationship between the two there? See Shita Mekubetzet, Ketubot 7b, s.v. ze lashon shita yeshana (see below), and the Mishna in Gittin 83a.

4)         The definitions of consumption and pleasure – Rashi in the two passages (Sukka and Bava Kama), Tosafot, Sukka, s.v. yatz'u.

5)         The disagreement between the Sages and Rabbi Yose – Rashi in both passages.

6)         Wood stands for burning – see Rashi in Sukka, and Ritva (see below). What is the practical difference between them? What is the basis of the disagreement?

7)         The position of the Rambam, Hilkhot Shemita ve-Yovel 10:1, 10; Kesef Mishne on halakha 10. What is the difference between produce standing to be eaten and other sabbatical produce? This issue is discussed by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his shiurim on Sukka (see below).

 

Chazon Ish, Shevi'it 14, 10:

"ירושלמי פ"ח ה"ב אין מחייבין אותו לוכל לא פת שעיפשה וכו' לכאורה אין חיוב לעולם לאכול פירות שביעית שאינן כשלמים שיהיה מצוה באכילתן... ראיתי בספר מגילת אסתר בהוספת עשין של הרמב"ן עשה ג' שפירש בדעת הרמב"ן היפוך מזה, אבל כוונת הרמב"ן דאיסור סחורה הוא ממניין עשין כמבואר בדבריו ז"ל, אבל אין עשה באכילתן... ולמדנו מזה גם דין שביעית שאין בהן כלל מצוה באכילתן אלא איסור הפסד דאין איסור להניחן שיירקבו מעצמן.”

 

Shita Mekubetzet, Ketubot 7b:

"זה לשון שיטה ישנה ואסר לנו את הארוסות וכו' אסר לנו את הארוסות מדכתיב חופה באורייתא כדדרשינן לקמן מאורסה לא נשואה  כדאמרינן מאי נשואה אילימא נשואה ממש וכו' אלא שנכנסה לחופה ולא נבעלה ש"מ דאכתי מחסרה מסירה וכיון דבעיא מסירה  לחופה ש"מ דלא קניא לה לגמרי הילכך הויא לה כארוסת אחר לגביה ואסירא ליה כדין אשת איש כך פירשו הרא"ה והרשב"א ז"ל.  ורש"י ז"ל פירש ואסר לנו את הארוסות דרבנן הוא שגזרו על הייחוד של פנויה אף ארוסה וכו' ע"כ."]

 

Ritva, Sukka 40b:

"סתם עצים להסקה הם עומדין פירוש  ובתר רובא אזלי' ושרי' אפי' מיעוטו דקיימי למשחן שלא חלק הכתוב בהם"

 

Shi'urei ha-Grid, Sukka 40b:

"... ונראה שלדעת הרמב"ם שונים מאכלי אדם ביסוד דינם משאר גידולי שביעית. במאכלי אדם החפצא של הפירות ניתנו לאכילה, שתיה, סיכה וכו'. ה' תשמישים אלו מהווים קיום מצוה בעצם קדושת הפירות. מאידך בשאר דברים – כבמיני כובסים – אין הכביסה חשובה קיום מצוה בחפצא אלא היתר הוא באיסורי השביעית החלים במיני הכיבוסים... וביסוד חילוק זה פסק הרמב"ם מיושב, שקיימים שני דינים בפירות שביעית, דין של לאכלה ודין שני של לכם לכל צרכיכם, ואין דין דלכם שוה לדין דלאכלה, דדין דלאכלה מהוה קיום מצוה בחפצא של השביעית ואין לשנותו לשאר צרכים ודין לכל צרכיכם מהוה היתר ולא ניתן

 



[1] There is room to say this even with respect to the blessing that is recited before eating, that one must recite the blessing while eating, only that one cannot recite a blessing while eating.

[2] Much has been said about the difference between the two formulations, "al…" and "le-…". See Pesachim 7, and Rishonim, ad loc. at great length.

[3] See also Tosafot, Pesachim 118a, s.v. Rabbi Yochanan; 119a, s.v. aval; and other Rishonim on the passage in Pesachim.