Monday, September 27, 2010

kavanah -- part of the ma'aseh or the kiyum mitzvah?

Last week we left off with R’ Soloveitchik’s suggestion that although eating in sukkah is a kiyum mitzvah of yeshivas sukkah, it is the ma’aseh mitzvah of achila which determines the level of kavanah required. Since the Rambam holds that one fulfills a mitzvah of achilah even without kavanah (hil. chameitz u’matzah ch 6), the same holds true of eating in sukkah on the first night.

Whether kavanah depends on the kiyum or the ma’aseh mitzvah seems to hinge on the question of how one generally understands the requirement of kavanah. A question raised by R’ Scheinberg in his Mishmeres Chaim illustrates the different potential approaches. R’ Scheinberg asks as follows: the Mishna Berurah holds that the lulav given to a minor to fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch for netilas lulav must be a kosher lulav and esrog because chinuch requires that the minor perform the mitzvah exactly as he would were he an adult. But how is this possible? A minor can never perform a mitzvah in the same way as an adult! An adult is a bar da’as, he has intelligence, which a minor is by definition lacking. What difference does it make if the minor takes a lulav without a kosher esrog or he takes a lulav without the proper kavanah, kavanah which can only come once he attains the da’as of an adult?

R’ Scheinberg answers by distinguishing kavanah from the act of taking a lulav. A katan who picks up a lulav without an esrog (or with a pasul esrog, which is the same as leaving it out), is missing a crucial element in his ma’aseh mitzvah, in his performance of the mitzvah act. However, a katan who does the mitzvah act properly but lacks kavanah is missing an element only of his kiyum mitzvah.

The hinge this question and answer turn on is how we view kavanah: is it an ingredient necessary to define a ma’aseh as a mitzvah action, or do actions stand on their own legs, and kavanah is an additional factor above and beyond ma’aseh needed to fulfill the goal of a kiyum mitzvah.

Interestingly, the Biur Halacha (O.C. 60) writes that if you are called to an aliya and grab a talis and put it on without kavanah, you are mevateil the mitzvah of tzitzis. I would have thought (see Mikrei Kodesh on the mitzvah of yeshivas sukkah) that the lack of kavanah detracts from the kiyum mitzvah of tzitzis, but that’s not the same as being mevateil the mitzvah. Apparently the M.B. understood that kavanah is part and parcel of the ma’aseh mitzvah as well as the kiyum -- wearing tzitzis without kavanah is like wearing a four cornered garment without tzitzis.


  1. Bob Miller1:54 PM

    "Apparently the M.B. understood that kavanah is part and parcel of the ma’aseh mitzvah as well as the kiyum -- wearing tzitzis without kavanah is like wearing a four cornered garment without tzitzis."

    Would that still be the case if we customarily wore large four-cornered garments with tzitzis as part of our normal daily wardrobe, as in ancient times?

  2. If when you grab a talis for the sake of an aliya, i.e. l'shem mitzvah, without kavanah you are considered being mevateil a mitzvah, isn't it a kal v'chomer that if you are wearing the same garment only l'shem a beged b'alma you are mevateil a mitzvah? I'm not sure I follow your line of thinking to say otherwise.

  3. Bob Miller11:40 AM

    In the case I mentioned, the person has already gone so far as to equip his personal daily clothing with tzitzis. That obviously doesn't repair his current lack of kavanah, but is it irrelevant altogether?

  4. Seems to be the same as the M.B.'s case.

  5. I think tzitzis is a different case altoaltogether, in that lishma is an inherent ingredient to it's mitzva. There might be a case to say There's a difference between kavana and lishma. See the birchas shmuel, and kokovetz shiurim.