Thursday, January 31, 2008

Birchas HaMitzvos

This post has been updated - Feb. 3, 2008

There is a general question as to why some mitzvos get a bracha and some don't. The Rashba in his Shaalos and Teshuvos (Sheilah 18) and the Gra (OC 8:1) in Shulchan Aruch deal with this question. Here are some of the rules they set down:

1. If a mitzvah is done without a maaseh there is no bracha. For example, canceling loans in the shemittah year takes no maaseh, so there is no bracha.

2. If a mitzvah is dependent on others, there is no bracha. For example, the mitzvah of tzedakah is dependent on the poor person accepting the money. The same is true for the mitzvah of lending money.

3. If it is possible to uproot the mitzvah through mechilah, there is no bracha. For example, a parent can be mochel on the mitzvah of kibbud, so the mitzvah of honoring carries no bracha. This condition is very similar to the above condition that the mitzvah is dependent on others. Other mitzvos that may fall under these categories are bikkur cholim, havaas shalom, and nichum aveilim - all of which carry no bracha because there accomplishment depends on the acceptance of the recipient.

4. A mitzvah that only takes place due to an aveirah, carries no bracha. For example, returning stolen property is a mitzvah. However, it only takes place after something has been stolen, which is an aveirah, so there is no bracha. The same would be true for returning interest. Also, divorce, although a mitzvah, has some element of aveirah mixed into it, so there is no bracha. Another example is misas beis din, which we don't make a bracha on because Hashem has rachmanus on His creations.

5. A mitzvah like matnos kehunah gets no bracha because you are really not giving anything to the kohen. We say the kohen is zocheh from shulchan gavoah. However, by pidyon haben there is a bracha because there the bracha is on the hafrasha, not the nesinah.

6. Mitzvos like yibum and chalitza do not get a bracha because they are not the ultimate purpose of the mitzvah. Rather, the ultimate purpose is the piryah v'ribya.