Thursday, September 3, 2015

Parsha: Why do Mitzvot Need a Bracha? Two Approaches

Rav Yehuda Turetsky

The Torah (Devarim 26:13-14) records the Mitzvah of Viduy Ma’asrot. At the end of the 3rd and 6th year of each Shemita cycle, we are commanded to recite certain statements confirming our fulfillment of the Halakhic obligation to separate Ma’aser. Part of what we recite is that we did not forget, "לא שכחתי", yet the Torah does not clarify what exactly we remembered. Based on Chazal (Mishna Ma’aser Sheni 5:11), Rashi (ad loc) writes that this is a reference to the Bracha on separating Ma’aser. For Rashi, we are saying not only that we separated the Ma’aser, but that we did so with a Bracha.

Rashi’s comment is often discussed for its halakhic implications. We typically assume that the Bracha recited upon performing Mitzvot is only rabbinic[i], and yet Rashi finds reference to it in the Torah itself. Others, in particular in Chassidic sources, focus on this Rashi to highlight important ideas related to the Brachot we recite on Mitzvot.  In particular, many wonder why we recite the Bracha on Mitzvot specifically prior to actually fulfilling the Mitzvah[ii]. Why must it be done in such a way,?

We will offer two ideas from Gerrer Chassidut[iii].

  1. Sefat Emet (Parshat Ki Tavo 5631) quotes the Chiddushei HaRim with the following insight. One would have thought to recite a Bracha on a Mitzvah after performing it; we usually praise Hashem after an event has occurred, not before it happened[iv]. He explained that although it would have been more appropriate to thank Hashem for the opportunity to perform the Mitzvah only afterwards, it is the Jewish way to  praise Hashem earlier, even before we’ve experienced the Mitzvah.  For Chiddushei HaRim, the Bracha we recite prior to reciting a Mitzvah is our praise to Hashem for the Mitzvah. We feel so appreciative that we do not wait until we’ve performed it. We want to express our appreciation even prior to performing it.
  2. Imrei Emet[v] explained that the Talmud (Brachot 35a) teaches that one must ask permission before eating food because it is inappropriate to benefit from this world without reciting a Bracha. Imrei Emet explains that the same is true with spiritual benefit. The Mitzvot are so beneficial to us that it would not be appropriate to perform a Mitzvah without first requesting permission from Hashem to derive such pleasure.

Each approach highlights an important idea about the blessing on Mitzvot. Chiddushei HaRim teaches that Mitzvot are worthy of praise. The opportunity to perform Mitzvot should not be seen as burdens but as occasions in which to thank Hashem. We bless Hashem to express our joy at the opportunity to perform a Mitzvah. Imrei Emet reminds us of another idea about Mitzvot. They offer us real benefit. It may not be physical, but Mitzvot are a great form of spiritual benefit.

Shabbat Shalom!

[i] See, for example, Talmud Brachot 15a.
[ii] See Talmud Pesachim 7b.
[iii] For an additional perspective in Gerrer Chasidut, see Sefat Emet (Matot 5638).
In truth, each perspective reflects a different understanding of the precise function of a Bracha prior to reciting Mitzvot. See, for example, Ritva (Peachim 7b), Ohr Zaruah (no. 140), Rambam (Hilkhot Brachot 1:3), and Eretz HaTzvi (no. 3).
[iv] This is the general rule in regards to Birchat HaShevach, blessings in which we praise Hashem.
[v] This is found in Pardes Yosef (HaChadash) pg. 1140, quoted Imrei Emet’s comments on the MIshnayot in Ma’aser Sheni.

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