Monday, April 08, 2013

GR"A on birchas hamitzvah before birchas kohanim

The gemara (Sota 39) writes that R’ Elazar ben Shamu’a attributed his longevity to the fact that he never duchened without first saying a bracha.  I would not blame you if you were not impressed.  One is obligated to say a birchas hamitzvah before doing most mitzvos.  Why would an Amora think that his special arichus yamim, his longer than normal life, should be attributed to the merit of his not messing up something so basic like saying a bracha before doing a mitzvah? 

From here we see proof, says the GR”A (O.C. 128:30), that there is in fact no requirement to say a bracha before the mitzvah of birchas kohanim.  It is certainly meritorious to do so, but it is not an obligation. 

The question that begs asking is why this chiddush should be true: Why is the mitzvah of birchas kohanim different than any other mitzvah which requires a bracha before performing? 

When I mentioned this issue to my son, he gave what I thought was a very good answer.  The Nesivos in his commentary to the haggadah asks why it is that there is no bracha before the mitzvah of magid.  He answers that you can’t make a bracha on a bracha.  For example, there is no bracha on birchas hamazon because birchas hamazon itself is a bracha.  What’s the lomdus, the reasoning, behind the Nesivos’ rule?  The new edition has a nice footnote where they explain that the whole purpose of reciting a bracha is to give thanks and praise to Hashem.  Were a person to preface that praise and thanks with an “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu…” it would defeat the whole point.  A little kid can maybe get away with and saying, “My Mommy/Daddy told me I have to say thank you,” but an adult surely cannot.  Kal v’chomer it would be improper to to approach Hashem saying, “I was commanded to say thank you, so here it is."  We omit the birchas hamitzvah before we say the bracha of “Asher ga’alanu” (and R’ Shlomo Kluger already criticizes the fact that the Nesivos reduces magid to this bracha alone) and before we say “Birchas hamazon” because we want to recite those brachos and thanks Hashem as if there were no command to do so, as if we were motivated purely by our own sincerity.  Shouldn’t  the same should be true of birchas kohanim?  (And I admit that at first I thought one could be mechaleik between a bracha to Hashem and the blessing of Klal Yisrael, but one second thought, I think my son is right.)  To speak of “v’tzivanu,” the burden of fulfilling a command, seems to undermine the idea of “l’vareich as amo Yisrael b’ahavah,” the feeling of love for Klal Yisrael that the bracha is supposed to express and which the kohen is trying to convey

I saw a different hesber from R’ Zecharya Tubi, Rosh Kollel in KBY.  A kohen only is obligated to duchan if the tzibur calls him to do say, based on the pasuk, “Amor lahem.”  Based on this, the Pri Megadim writes that the tzibur has a right to be mochel on birchas kohanim if they choose to do so. The Rashba in his teshuvos has a yesod that one never recites a bracha on a mitzvah which is subject to mechila.  For example, one would not recite a bracha on the mitzvah of tzedaka because the recipient could always be mochel receipt of the money.  QED, the mitzvah of birchas kohanim also does not require the recitation of a bracha. 


  1. Nice vort, and thank you for being megaleh to me that there is a new edition of nesivos on hagadah.

    But, see the Machon Yerushalayim Tshuvos Harashba, where it is noted that this famous "Tshuvas HaRashba" is not actually from the Rashba, and tht the Rashba himself felt that there are no clear rules which we can codify for what gets a bracha and what does not.

  2. According to either of your explanations, why does Rabbi El'azar ben Shamua say that he was rewarded for specifically saying this blessing? It should be forbidden (or at least discouraged), not a good thing to do.

  3. The idea is that some brachos are not required, and should be said only upon feeling exhilaration and joy. This bracha is not a birkas hamitzvos, it is a birkas shevach v'hoda'ah. He felt such joy and love at the opportunity to bless the people that he made a birkas Sh'V'H. So the arichas yamim is not from his recitation of the bracha per se, it is from the feeling that made him want to make a bracha.

    Since I'm here, maybe someone can give me an answer to an elementary question. If you hold that the bracha preceding krias shma is a birkas hamitzvos, then Tosfos' explanation for our early ma'ariv is not adequate. If it's a safek, how can you risk a bracha levatala?

  4. I don't think it's a birchas hashevach -- the format matches that of birchas hamitzvah. It's a chiddush din of being a birchas hamitzvah that is optional.

    >>> If it's a safek, how can you risk a bracha levatala?

    The bracha is on the cheftza shel mitzvah of kri'as shema and is not dependent on saying it in the proper time. (So why can't you say it at 2:00 in the afternoon? I don't know. I'm writing without thinking too much.)

  5. I was writing to answer ba's question, namely, if the rules of brachos exclude this mitzva from birkas hamitzva, it should be a bracha she'eina tzricha; also, even if you can avoid the issur, why would choosing to make the bracha be so significant and meritorious. To address those issues, I said that (while the nusach is identical with birkas hamitzva,) the justification of making the bracha stems from the shevach aspect of appreciating the opportunity to bless Klal Yisrael. In other words, a person cannot make a bracha she'eina tzricha. If you make a bracha on the Hagada, or on vidui maisros, you're in trouble. But here, you have an excuse to make the bracha- while the birkas mitzvos rules do not justify making a bracha, the chisaron mitzad that department is compensated for by the shevach aspect. Once we say this, we answer the other part of the question: even if the bracha can be said voluntarily, what's the big deal? The answer is that it is a siman of a love for Klal Yisrael. It's a rare commodity, but  someone's got to love the Jews.

    1. Is this explanation (which makes a lot of sense!) intended only as a theory for R. Elazar, or is the suggestion that the bracha on birkas kohanim nowadays is also really a birchas hashevach?

      Regarding this critique from Chaim:
      > the format matches that of birchas hamitzvah

      A number of brachos that have tzura/wording of a birchas hamitzva yet are viewed by many authorities as birchas hashevach, for example: friday night kiddush, bracha under the chupa (according to some rishonim), perhaps the bracha of la'asok b'divrei torah, perhaps one of the two brachos on tefilin, maybe one of the brachos on mila (the father's?). Of course you gentlemen are familiar with this, am just noting for the record in this discussion.

      Also, it seems to me the final word "b'ahava" is reminiscent of other brachos in this category that I mentioned, especially kiddush. The motifs of ahava, kedusha, and chosen-ness are prominent in this category of mitzvos that may receive a birchas hashevach. When performing such mitzvos, how can we not sing out a birchas hashevach in joy. Birchas kohanim combines the kedusha of am yisrael and the even more special kedusha of kohanim, and so is indeed appropriate for this category.

    2. Thanks for your observations; there does seem to be a kind of hybrid bracha, and kiddush is a nice example.
      The dual bracha issue is also a good correlation, particularly according to the Aruch Hashulchan's approach, that one is a bracha on the mitzva, and the other is an expression of gratitude or and acknowledgement of the effect the mitzva has upon us.

  6. Anonymous4:39 PM

    What do you mean cheftza shel mitzva? That chazal were koveia the bracha lechatchila for the nusach of maariv even when you're not being yotzei?