Nusach of Berakhot (Pesachim 7a - 7b)
Rav Yehuda said that the person who does bedikat chametz recites a berakha. The Rishonim raised the issue as to the nature of the "chiddush" in this statement. Why would bedikat chametz be different than other mitzvot which are normally preceded by a birkat ha-mitzva? We will return to this question later.
I. "Al" or "Le"
There are two different traditions regarding the form of the berakha. Rav Pappi cites Rava that one should recite "le-va'er chametz" (the verb form - to do bi'ur chametz) whereas Rav Papa cites Rava that the berakha is "al bi'ur chametz" (a noun form - on bi'ur chametz). The gemara elucidates that "le-va'er" (the verb form) obviously refers to the future which is perfectly acceptable as the birkat ha-mitzva should relate to the mitzva which is about to be done (over la-assiyatan). The controversy only relates to the meaning of "al bi'ur" (the noun form). Rav Pappi's tradition was that this only refers to what was previously done and therefore is not the proper form of birkat ha-mitzvot. Rav Papa disagreed and maintained that this form could also relate to the future. After some discussion, the gemara resolves that the halakha is "al bi'ur chametz." Inasmuch as there is no controversy that "le-va'er" is acceptable, it seems surprising that the halakha preferred the berakha form which is disputed. Tosafot s.v. Ve-hilkhata indeed explain that the halakha agrees that "le-va'er" is acceptable; the decision was that "al" MAY ALSO be recited. However, Tosafot postulate that perhaps there is some reason (unexplained by Tosafot) that only "al" is acceptable. However, Tosafot continue, the Ri did not solve the puzzle why we recite certain birkot ha-mitzva in the "al" form, while others with the prefix "le."
The Rosh agreed with the first opinion of Tosafot, namely that "le-va'er" and "al" are both acceptable. However, he claims that the decision to prefer "al" is BECAUSE it is debatable whether it is acceptable or not. A person should demonstrate that he is a halakhic scholar and knows that "al" also relates to the future.
Rav Soloveitchik zt"l has been quoted to the effect that the prefix "le," which denotes the verb form refers to the personal obligation of the mevarekh (one who recites the berakha). However, the noun form "al" relates to the mitzva itself and not to the obligation of the mevarekh. Therefore, Tosafot (on the second opinion) think it is more appropriate to say "al" because there is as yet no personal obligation to do the entire procedure of bi'ur chametz. This mitzva actually begins now with bedika but culminates with the burning of the chametz on the morrow. In a certain sense, it would seem more fitting to recite the berakha when we actually fulfill the "bi'ur." This may answer our original question as to the "chiddush" of Rav Yehuda that the bodek recites a berakha. Inasmuch as bedika begins a process which is only culminated by the bi'ur on the next day, one may have thought that no berakha should be recited at the time of the bedika (see Rosh ad loc.). Rav Yehuda taught us that you DO make a berakha; however, he did not specify what the text should be. We could perhaps adapt this principle to the Rosh who said a talmid chakham should recite "al" as follows. Whereas it is possible to use the "le" form which would only refer to the act of bedika itself, a true talmid chakham should recite the text that relates to bedika and bi'ur as well; therefore, "al" is indeed preferable.
II. The Berakha on Mila
The gemara raised the issue of why a mohel makes the berakha "al ha-mila." The answer was given that since there is no personal obligation on the part of the mohel, he can not say that he is commanded. The gemara then says, if the father himself is the mohel, "le" would be indicated. Rashi explained that this statement was only according to the opinion that "le" is preferable when applicable; however, according to the halakhic decision that "al" is the berakha for bedikat chametz, then the father also would say "al ha-mila." Although this is the opinion of most Rishonim, the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:12-13, cited by the Shulchan Arukh YD 265:2) indeed thinks that the father himself should say "la-mul."
Tosafot s.v. Be-leva'er raised the issue of the berakha "le-hakhniso" which the Rashba claimed should be recited prior to the mila since the "le" form is used. However, Rabbeinu Tam argued that this berakha need not be recited prior to the mila inasmuch as the berakha is a form of praise which is engendered by the mila ritual. Tosafot support this opinion by the fact that the father recites the berakha "le-hakhniso" even though the mohel did the actual mila. If it would be a regular birkat ha-mitzva, it should be made by the one who actually performs the mitzva - the mohel. However, since it is similar to a birkat ha-shevach (see the Taz on YD 17:1), it should be recited by the father. It would seem, according to this reasoning, that anyone could make this berakha but precedence is given to the father. However, the Rambam (Hilkhot Mila beginning of chapter 3) is of the opinion that only the father may recite this berakha. He therefore rejects an opinion that a member of beit din or anyone else could recite the berakha. It could be suggested that the two arguments are intertwined. According to the Rashba, there are two birkot ha-mitzva of mila: one to be said by the mohel who PERFORMS the mitzva and the other to be recited only by the father who FULFILLS the mitzva. On the other hand, Rabbeinu Tam would argue that there is only one birkat ha-mitzva recited by the mohel, "le-hakhniso," is a birkat ha-shevach which could therefore be recited by anyone. However, Rav Schachter ("Eretz Ha-Tzvi" page 28) suggested that even according to Rabbeinu Tam "le-hakhniso" is a birkat ha-mitzva. It is a unique example of a birkat ha-mitzva which relates to the effect of the mitzva; namely, that the child is now a ben-berit which enables him to offer korbanot and eat kodashim. This berakha can be made by any person as the effect relates to the entire Jewish nation. The Rav is cited (in Mesora VI, page 9) as maintaining that the Rambam indeed thinks there are two mitzvot in mila: one to perform the actual circumcision and the other to bring the child into the covenant. According to the Rambam, this second mitzva is only incumbent upon the father and only he may recite "le-hakhniso." Presumably, we could assume that the Rashba would agree with the Rambam.
III. Performance or Fulfillment
Regarding birkhot ha-mitzva, it would seem from the outcome of the gemara that one could always use the form "al." "Le" can not be used unless the one who performs the mitzva is obligated to do so and recites the berakha immediately before the mitzva. The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 9:11-12) slightly modifies the above statement by saying that "le" is recited any time one does a mitzva for himself, whether or not he is obligated to perform the mitzva. The obvious difference between my formulation and the Rambam's modification would be the berakha "le-hit'atef be-tzitzit." According to the Rambam, inasmuch as the mitzva is done for yourself, the berakha is "le." However, according to the more limited definition, it seems strange that the "le" form would be used for tzitzit since one is not actually required to wear tzitzit. The Or Zaru'a (Laws of Ha-motzi #140) actually raised this question and suggested that either there is a rabbinic obligation to wear tzitzit or the prevalent custom of wearing them created an obligation (similar to ma'ariv) and therefore "le" should be recited.
IV. Rambam and Ra'avad
Although many Rishonim (Rosh, Ramban, Meiri, et al) have extensive deliberations to determine why some berakhot were formulated "al" while others are "le," this shiur will restrict itself to the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 11) and the Ra'avad's Hasagot. (Before continuing, it would be helpful to learn the entire perek 11 with the hasagot of the Ra'avad.) As stated above, the Rambam maintains that only mitzvot which are performed to or for the person himself use the form "le." Although the Rambam (as opposed to the Or Zaru'a) rules that a birkat ha-mitzva can not be recited after the mitzva is finished, he says (halakha 5-6) that there are mitzvot which are ongoing and continue after the initial performance such as tefillin, sukka and tzitzit. In those cases, one may recite the berakha after the mitzva was begun. According to the Ra'avad (halakha 15), the Rambam feels that in such circumstances the "al" form is used. The rationale for this textual change, is apparently because it is only the kiyum ha-mitzva (the fulfillment of the mitzva) which continues. The ma'aseh ha-mitzva (the act or performance of the mitzva) however, has terminated. Furthermore, according to the Rambam, the form "le" is employed only before the ma'aseh ha-mitzva. Where there is only the kiyum, the "al" form is used. The Ra'avad disagreed on one of two points. He either rejected the second premise and said that the form "le" can be used even before the fulfillment of the mitzva (kiyum ha-mitzva rather than ma'aseh ha-mitzva) or he felt that wearing tefillin or tzitzit is itself to be considered a continuous ma'aseh ha-mitzva and therefore the "le" form can be used.
The Rambam (halakha 15) advances a novel explanation for the use of "al bi'ur chametz." He says that even if one does the bedika for himself, the mitzva of bi'ur was done prior to bedika. Since the mitzva was already fulfilled, the form should be "al." The Rambam's assertion that the fulfillment of tashbitu has already been attained, is based on his understanding of bitul and tashbitu. He assumes that the INTENTION of BEDIKAT chametz itself constitutes bitul, which is the fulfillment of the mitzva of tashbitu. (See the previous shiur). The Meiri questions this premise, namely that bi'ur was already effected. He argues that the intention of bitul is only decided upon after the bedika. Moreover, one may question why any berakha can be made according to the Rambam after the mitzva was fulfilled. Only in the case of an ongoing mitzva such as tefillin can the berakha be made after the act was completed. This may be the actual "chiddush" of Rav Yehuda that indeed there is a berakha in this case. Apparently, the Rambam feels that although bitul was done, this is an ongoing mitzva. The requirement to follow up this bitul with bedika can engender the obligation of a berakha. However, the nusach ha-berakha would have to be "al." [Rav Yechezkel Landau (in his Tzlach) notes that, according to this reasoning, if bedika be done on Chol Ha-mo'ed or any time when bitul can not be done, the berakha should be in the "le" form.
Another example of a mitzva which is made after the actual ma'aseh is lulav, and therefore "al" is used. While this is the simple meaning of our gemara, it is difficult to understand why this berakha may be made at all according to the Rambam. (See the Ra'avad, halakha 15, who distinguished between lulav on the one hand, and tefillin and tzitzit on the other hand.) This would raise the discussion of the precise nature of lulav and na'anu'im during hallel.
The Ra'avad raised the issue why "al" is used for mikra megilla. He suggests that perhaps all mitzvot de-rabanan seem to be considered as optional (ke-ein reshut) and the berakha could not be "le" which would reflect a personal obligation of the person. In that case, why is the berakha "le-hadlik ner chanuka?" Inasmuch as the Rambam juxtaposed megilla and candle lighting on Shabbat and Chanuka (halakha 3), this does not seem to be the Rambam's intention.
The Ra'avad further questioned why the "al" form is used for matza and maror. Inasmuch as they are personal obligations, the berakha should be recited prior to the mitzva and should be "le." Therefore, he suggests that the berakha IS "le'ekhol matza." [See also the Ramban who cites a tosefta that says the berakha on eating the korban Pesach is "le'ekhol Pesach," and similarly the berakha on maror should be "le'ekhol maror."]
We have seen that the gemara said that all berakhot can be made "al." This raised the issue why some berakhot are formulated "le." An analysis of the conceptual difference between "al" and "le" was suggested which would explain why "al" is sometimes preferred. The prefix "le" denotes the verb form which relates to the personal obligation to perform a mitzva. The noun form "al" refers to the mitzva itself when there is a personal obligation. The special berakha "le-hakhniso" was discussed and explained either as a birkat ha-shevach or birkat ha-mitzva. Although this article did not examine the position of other Rishonim, it did analyze the position of the Rambam and the Hasagot of the Ra'avad. Not all the questions raised by the Ra'avad were answered firmly and unequivocally - the Ri in Tosafot already said that he found no comprehensive reason to explain the accepted form of the entire range of berakhot.
Sources and questions for next week's shiur "Birkat Ha-mitzvot Oveir la-asiyatan:
1. Pesachim 7b "De-khulei alma...al ha-tevila;"
2. Sukka 39a "Amar Abaye etc." - refers to the mishna 38a.
3. Yerushalmi Berakhot 9:3 "mitzvot eimat mevarekh aleihen ... bi-ve'ila".
Compare the gemara in Pesachim to the Yerushalmi - what additional viewpoint does the Yerushalmi quote?
Compare also to Sukka - what is the gemara in Sukka proving from Shmuel, and how does this differ from Pesachim?
1. Rambam Hilkhot Berakhot 1:3, 11:2-3, 11:5-6.
2. Mishna Berura 8:2, 8:24.
Infer from the preceding, whether and in which circumstances may the berakha be said not "oveir ka-asiyatan."
1. Berakhot 51a [line 4] "Ba'u minei ... idchei."
Based on this gemara, would you conclude that birkat ha-mitzvot may be said after the mitzva?
2. Hagahot Oshri on the Rosh Berakhot chap. 1, before paragraph 14, s.v. Bi-d'lo ve-khol heikha ... idchei.
3. Shakh, Yoreh De'a 19:3.
 There are various notebooks of the Rav's shiurim circulating among his students. Rav Herschel Schachter has printed, in the name of the Rav, a treatise regarding birkat ha-mitzvot (originally printed in "Or Ha-mizrach" #134, 135 and 136 and reprinted in his "Eretz Ha-tzvi"). Rav A. Berzon also wrote an article, in the name of the Rav, about the text of birkot ha-mitzvot in "Sha'arei Da'at" VII, Yeshivat Sha'alvim, 1990. Anonymous articles have appeared in Masora magazines. I have used these sources and thank the authors.
 One of my students pointed out that the Bach OC 676 says that if a shaliach (proxy) lights ner chanuka, the berakha is changed to "al!" See Arukh ha-shulchan for a discussion on this point.
 It is beyond the scope of this shiur to define the exact parameters of the mitzva of tzitzit or any other mitzva. The Rambam does list tzitzit among mitzvot hekhrechiyot (mitzvot which must be done). The interested reader can see Hilkhot Shevu'ot 1:6; 5:18; Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:11. See Rav Kapach's notes especially on Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:8.
 See, however, Hilkhot Chametz U-matza 3:6-7.
 See Hilkhot Lulav 7:9-10; Tosafot Sukka 37b s.v. Be-hodu and Tosafot Pesachim 7b s.v. Be-idna. Moreover, just continuing to hold a lulav may constitute a kiyum ha-mitzva (see Sukka 41b concerning anshei Yerushalayim; Rambam Hilkhot Lulav 7:24).
 The Beit Yosef OC siman 676 indeed cites sources that the berakha should be "al hadlakat ner chanuka." In Daf Kesher #314, p. 460, I explained why the Ra'avad felt ner chanuka is an exception to the rule and "le" is correct.