SALT - Wednesday, 20 Sivan 5777 - June 14, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The mitzva of tzitzit requires affixing tzitzit strings to the corners of four-cornered garments that one wears.  Tosefot, in Masekhet Nidda (61b), assert that this obligation applies only when one receives “hana’at levisha” – physical benefit from wearing the garment.  If, for example, a clothing merchant wraps a four-cornered garment around his body as he peddles, for the purpose of trying to sell it, he is not required to affix tzitzit strings to the garment, as he does not wear the garment for physical benefit.  Similarly, the Beit Yosef (O.C. 11) writes that a cloak worn strictly as a sign of distinction, but not for any sort of physical benefit, does not require tzitzit.

            Rav Elchanan Wasserman, in Kovetz Shiurim (vol. 2, 23:8), raises the question as to how, according to this view, we fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit nowadays with four-cornered garments produced especially for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzva.  Both our tallit gadol, which we wear during the morning prayer service, and the tallit katan, which we wear under our clothing throughout the day, are made specifically for the mitzva of tzitzit, and not for comfort or warmth.  Seemingly, according to Tosefot’s position, we cannot fulfill the mitzva with such garments, as they are not worn for the sake of physical benefit.  The question thus arises as to how we can defend the widespread practice to recite the berakha (“al mitzvat tzitzit” or “le-hit’ateif be-tzitzit”) over the mitzva when putting on these garments. 

            Rav Elchanan initially suggests that indeed, our practice cannot be reconciled with Tosefot’s position, and is based on a different view, that tzitzit are required anytime one benefits from the garment, even if the garment is not made for this purpose.  However, Rav Elchanan then notes that we do not, generally, derive any physical benefit from our tallit gadol or tallit katan, and thus the question remains as to how we fulfill the mitzva with these garments.

            Rav Asher Weiss addresses this question and answers by postulating a general theory regarding the qualifications of a cheftza shel mitzva (“mitzva object”).  He asserts that whenever an object is specifically produced for the sake of a certain mitzva, this intention suffices for the object to be valid for use for that mitzva.  Even if Halakha generally requires some other intent for the object to be suitable, this intent is not needed if the object was made specifically for the sake of the mitzva.  Thus, even if Tosefot and the Beit Yosef are correct, that a garment is subject to the tzitzit obligation only if it is made for physical comfort, this condition applies only to garments that are not made specifically for the sake of the mitzva of tzitzit.  Our tallit gadol and tallit katan, which are, quite obviously, produced especially for the fulfillment of the mitzva, qualify even though they are not made for comfort.

            Rav Weiss points to other examples, as well, including the obligation of sukka.  The Gemara in Masekhet Sukka (8b) establishes that a hut constructed for pedestrian purposes, such as those made by guards and shepherds, are suitable for the mitzva of sukka (assuming, of course, they have all the required properties of a sukka), despite their not being constructed for the sake of the mitzva.  The only condition, the Gemara states, is that the hut was built for the purpose of providing shade, as opposed to privacy or security (such as camouflage or storage).  Clearly, this condition, that the sukka must be constructed for the purpose of providing shade, is not required if a sukka is built for the sake of the mitzva.  Rashi, earlier in Masekhet Sukka (2b), writes explicitly that a sukka constructed for the sake of the mitzva does not have to be made specifically for shade, and this is also obvious from the very fact that we do not use our sukkot for anything other than the mitzva.  Once again, the mitzva object – the sukka – is suitable for the mitzva once it was produced for this purpose, even though it would otherwise require some other intent.

            A third example cited by Rav Weiss is the candle upon which we recite the berakha of “borei me’orei ha-eish” at havdala on Motza’ei Shabbat.  The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 298:11-12) rules explicitly that this berakha may be recited only on a candle that was kindled to provide illumination, as opposed to candles lit for decoration, or memorial candles lit in honor of a deceased person.  Of course, we recite the berakha over candles that hardly provide any significant illumination.  The likely explanation of the common practice, Rav Weiss notes, is that the candle is lit for the sake of the mitzva, and this intention suffices.  The requirement that the candle was lit for illumination applies only if the candle was not lit specifically for the mitzva.