SALT - Tuesday, 15 Sivan 5776 - June 21, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The final section of Parashat Shelach introduces the mitzva of tzitzit – the obligation to affix fringes to the corners of one’s four-cornered garment.

            The Gemara in Masekhet Menachot (41a, 42b) cites a debate among the Amoraim regarding the nature of this obligation – specifically, whether or not it applies only when one wears a four-cornered garment.  According to one opinion, the Torah requires affixing tzitzit to any four-cornered garment in one’s possession, even when he does not wear it, and it is simply sitting in the closet.  The accepted view, however, regards tzitzit as a “chovat gavra” (literally, “an obligation upon the person”), meaning, as a requirement applicable only when one wears a four-cornered garment.

            The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 19:1) posits that this perspective on the mitzva of tzitzit also affects the recitation of the berakha which we recite over this mitzva.  He writes: “Tzitzit is a ‘chovat gavra’…such that whenever one does not wear the garment, it is exempt from tzitzit.  Therefore, one does not recite the berakha on making the tzitzit, for the mitzva is [fulfilled] only by its being worn.”  Since the obligation requires tzitzit only when the garment is worn, the berakha is recited when one puts on the garment, and not when the tzitzit is tied onto the garment.

            The Magen Avraham raises the question as to the distinction between tzitzit and mezuza in this regard.  These two mitzvot appear to resemble one another: just as we are required to affix tzitzit onto garments that we wear, we are similarly required to affix mezuzot to the doorposts of the home in which we reside.  And yet, the berakha over the mezuza is recited when one affixes the mezuza to the doorpost, whereas the berakha over tzitzit is recited not when the tzitzit are affixed to the garment, but rather when one wears the garment.  Seemingly, we should either recite the berakha over mezuza at the time we move into the house, similar to the recitation of the berakha when putting on a tallit, or we should recite the berakha over tzitzit when tying the strings onto the garment, similar to the berakha recited when affixing the mezuzot.

            The Magen Avraham answers that the difference between the two mitzvot lies in the practical difference in the way they are performed.  We affix the tzitzit strings to the garment (or have somebody else affix the strings) before we put on the garment; we do not put the garment on and then affix the strings.  Mezuzot, however, are affixed soon after we move into the home.  As such, in the case of mezuza, the mitzva is fulfilled at the time it is affixed to the doorpost, and so the berakha is recited then, whereas the mitzva over tzitzit is fulfilled when one dons the garment with the tzitzit strings, and so he recites the berakha at that point.

            It emerges from the Magen Avraham that in principle, these two mitzvot are, indeed, fundamentally parallel.  If not for the practical matter that we customarily affix mezuzot after moving into a home, we would recite the berakha over mezuza when we move in, just like we recite the berakha over tzitzit when we put on the garment.  Accordingly, the Magen Avraham writes that if one affixes the mezuzot to the doors of his new home before he moves in, then he does not recite the berakha at that point.  Rather, when he moves into the home, he recites the berakha, “Baruch Ata…asher kideshanu...ve-tzivanu la-dur ba-bayit she-yeish bo mezuza.”  Since one fulfills the mitzva at that point, when he moves into the home, he recites the berakha then, just like we recite the berakha over tzitzit at the time when we put on the tallit.

            The Magen Avraham’s ruling does not represent the consensus among the halakhic authorities, and tomorrow we will iy”H explore possible reasons to distinguish between the mitzva of tzitzit and the mitzva of mezuza in this regard.