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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 3 Apr 2020 06:52 PM and ends Sat 4 Apr 2020 07:50 PM

Birchot Hamitzvot

ד' תשרי ה' אלפים תשס"ח

This is a summary of a Shabbos Shuvah Drosho delivered by the Dayan of Yeshivah Shule, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Telsner. The main source of this discussion can be found in Pesachim 7a and the different Rishonim on the sugya.


Rabbi Telsner expounded various aspects of brochos, focusing mainly on birchas hamitzvos, but he also touched on an aspect of birchas hanehenin (eg brochos on eating). Among many others he dealt with the brochos on the following mitzvas aseh:

  • Bedikas Chometz
  • Bris Mila
  • Lulav
  • Shechitah
  • Tevila
  • Succah
  • Chasunah - (the Chasonim do not make this brocho themselves nowadays, but the Rambam cites it - see below)
  • Lighting Shabbos candles
  • Lighting Yomtov candles
  • Tefillin
  • Eruv Tavshilin

There are two formulations of a brocho:

1) Where we say "Al .... " and we proceed to name the mitzvah as a noun. An example "Al Netilas Lulav".

(An interesting point is the question of why we don't say "Al Lekichas Lulav". Based on a Tosaphos in Brochos, it may be that the "L" from Al will blend with the "L" from "Lekichas" making it sound like one continuous long word, and "Al Netilas..." circumvents this problem. This is based on the reason why we say on eating bread ....Haolam Hamotzi Lechem min Haaretz, and not "... haolam motzi lechem min haaretz")
2) Where we say "Le... " and describe the mitzva as a verb. An example "lehaniach tefillin".

The initial distinction between the "Al ..." formulation and the "Le ..." formulation is that "Al ..." means both present and future, whereas "Le.." is for the future.

A further distinction between these two formulations is that "Al ..." is used for a more indirect relationship between the mitzvah doer and the mitzvah, than "le...". Rabbi Telsner quoted examples of this from the Talmud. A person who is directly commanded to perform a mitzvah such as a father who is circumcising his son, should preferably say "Le...". A mohel on the other hand should say "Al Hamila", since he wasn't personally commanded to do the mitzvah on this particular child. Similarly a shochet should use "Al.." since he wasn't directly commanded to do the shechitah.

After dealing with these, Rabbi Telsner brought down the important principle that the brocho for a mitzvah must be done prior to - but as closely as possible to - the performance of the mitzvah. So for example you cannot make the brocho on donning tefillin while they are yet lying on the table in front of you. This concept is called in the Gemorro "oiver la'assiyoson".

The Dayan then brought a number of thoughtful and challenging cases of mitzvos where it becomes difficult to define or to fulfill exactly "oiver la'asiyoson". First he noted that the gemorro itself says that tevilla (immersion in a mikveh) is different from all other mitzvos. There the brocho is made after having immersed in the mikveh.

In the case of a ger converting it could not be otherwise, since before they have converted they are not commanded to perform any mitzvos whatsoever! Other similar mitzvos follow the same pattern. For example the actual netilas yadayim is done first, and the brocho is made afterward. Even in these cases we try to make sure that some of the mitzvah will continue after the brocho - eg. drying our hands is part of netilas yadayim. So the Rambam for example says that the actual tahara for a tamei person who immersed in a mikveh takes place as he emerges. Similarly with all the less straightforward examples given there are actions which occur after the brocho is made.

The thought provoking instances where that moment of "oiver la'assiyoson" is hard to define or diffiult to fulfill were:

  • Taking a lulav. Is the action simply "taking" the four species? Or is it when shaking the lulav? Rabbi Telsner brought evidence both ways. He also pointed out that he had discouraged the members in his shule from waiting until Hallel before making the brocho on lulav. The mitzvah should be done as early as possible in the morning, conforming to the principle that "alert eager people perform mitzvos as early as possible". Will come back to this later.
  • Sitting in a succah is likewise difficult to define. Should the brocho be made at the entrance so that the moment you enter you are fulfilling the mitzvah? The Rambam appears to hold that "sitting" literally is the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Therefore according to him you should remain standing in the succah and sit immediately after making the brocho.
  • Lighting Shabbos candles. Most authorities hold that lighting candles, in particular the pronouncing of the brocho, brings in Shabbos. Once Shabbos has been brought in how could you then light candles? So we light first, and have a whole rigmarole covering our eyes and moving our hands so that we are at least doing part of the mitzvah after the brocho.
  • Lighting Yomtov candles. Strictly and logically speaking this could in fact be done "oiver la'assiyoson". You would 1) strike a match, 2) make the brocho, and then 3) light the candle immediately after making the brocho, since you are lighting off the match which is permitted on Yomtov. However, since the action is so very similar to what is done on Shabbos, the authorities feel that it is best to always light Yomtov candes the Shabbos way.
  • The Brocho of a chasuna. (Nowadays this is made by the Rabbi just before groom makes his declaration, ie today it is "oiver la'assiyoson".) In former times it was said by the choson himself. Rambam says this is done after the ring has been placed on the bride's finger. ie not "oiver la'assiyoson". The Rambam quotes the reason as being that since the free choice of the woman is involved it is never certain that the mitzvah - ie the wedding - will take place until after it has taken place.

As mentioned earlier, the exact procedure of how to properly make the brocho on lulav is the subject of much discussion in the sources. There are three solutions proposed as to how to make the brocho "oiver la'asiyoson".

  1. The first solution - and the minhag chabad is so - is to take the three species in your hand; make the brocho; and immediately bring the fourth item - the esrog - to the other three.
  2. Another solution is to take the four species with the esrog upside down. Since the mitzvah is fulfilled only when holding the species pointing in the direction in which they grow, the inverted esrog "invalidates" the mitzvah. The brocho is then made, and the esrog is turned right way up. The objection to this is that it is somewhat unbefitting to deliberately hold an item of a mitzvah upside down merely to contrive a situation where the mitzvah is not being fulfilled.
  3. The third proposed solution to the issue of how you can take a lulav in hand and yet still make the brocho "oiver la'asssiyoson" is to simply take the four species and deliberately make a mental note that you are not intending to fulfill the mitzvah until you have made the brocho. The deficiency with this method is that it involves remembering to make a mental note. There is no discernible action that you are holding the four species without fulfilling the mitzvah. The other two methods both have an action which demonstrates that the mitzvah has not yet been fulfilled.

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