Parshas Eikev – Energize Your Mitzvos

By: Rabbi Aryeh Citron

In the Torah portion of Eikev we read, “And now, O Israel, what does the L-rd, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear the L-rd, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul.”The Talmud[1] interprets this verse to allude to the obligation that one must recite 100 blessings every day. There are several opinions as to how this is derived.

  • The word mah/ מָה (what) can be read as if it said me’ah / מאה (100).[2] Thus the verse can be understood to be saying, “G-d asks you to recite 100 blessings in order to fear G-d.”
  • There are 100 letters in this verse to allude to this same concept.
    • In fact, according to our version of the text, there are only 99 letters in this verse. Rabbeinu Tam, however was of the opinion that the word shoel/ שֹׁאֵל should be written with a “vav” (שואל).
    • If one reads the word מה as מאה, there are 100 letters.[3]
  • The word מה has the numerical value of 100 when using the method known as א”ת ב”ש /at bash. In this method of numerology, the first letter of the alphabet (א/aleph) is switched with the last (ת), the second letter of the alphabet (ב) with the second to last (ש), and so on. Thus themem becomes a yud (10) and the hei becomes a tzadik (90).[4]
  • The word ממך (in the verse of Micha, 6, 8, which also alludes to these blessings) has the numerical value of 100. The verse reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the L-rd demands of you (mimcha); only to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk modestly with your G-d.”[5]
  • The words מָה הֹ’ אֱלֹקיךָ שֹׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ כִּי have the same numerical value (674) as meah berachot מאה ברכות   (This only works according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam that the word  שֹׁאֵלshould be spelled שואל).[6]

Established By Whom?

The Midrash says that the obligation of reciting 100 blessings a day was enacted by King David in response to a plague in which 100 (young)[7] people died every day.[8]  After decreeing this, the plague ceased.

Some say that this enactment was actually established by Moses himself but was afterwards forgotten and reestablished by King David.[9] In addition, although King David established it, the actual text of the berachot was forgotten and was reestablished by the members of the Great Assembly in the beginning of the Second Temple Era.[10] Some say that King David instructed that the sages of later generations should use their wisdom to compose the actual text of the blessings.[11]

Some say that during the time of Moshe and King David, people would say blessings in their own words. King David (and Moshe) established that one should say these “blessings” (i.e. words of praise to G-d) 100 times a day. The men of the Great Assembly formalized the blessings and gave them a specific text.[12]

The Blessings on Mitzvot

The men of the Great Assembly established three types of blessings.[13]

  • Blessings of pleasure – Birchot Hanehenin.
  • Blessings of praise and thanksgiving – Birchot Shevach Vehoda’ah.
  • Blessings on Mitzvot – Birchot HaMitzvot.

The rest of this article will focus on the blessings on Mitzvot.

The Importance of the Blessings on Mitzvot

When one says the blessing on the mitzvah slowly and with proper concentration, it enables one to do the mitzvah with full concentration and the proper intention.

The importance of the blessings on the Mitzvot is evident from the following Chassidic teachings.

A Mitzvah beyond the other Mitzvot

  • Each mitzvah represents a particular connection of one’s soul to G-d. In the words of the Tikunei Zohar, “the 248 (positive) mitzvot are the 248 limbs of the King.”[14] When we have the proper concentration (kavanah) as we fulfill a mitzvah we reveal this G-dly connection into this physical world. This is a similar accomplishment to our prayers. Whenever we pray, we are actually beseeching G-d to reveal His very essence to us in this world. This is the meaning of “Baruch Atah Hashem” (Blessed are You, G-d) – that G-d’s very essence (Atah) should be drawn down (Baruch can mean to draw).Thus, the revelation of G-d within our lives is achieved through our daily prayers. Similarly, before we do a particular mitzvah, we recite the blessing on that mitzvah in order to reveal the specific G-dly revelation associated with that mitzvah. It is for this reason that both prayer, and the blessings on the mitzvot, are not counted among the 613 mitzvot. These are so basic and important that they are like the spinal cord and the nerves which are not counted as specific limbs of the body.[15]

Sanctifying Oneself

  • The blessings on the mitzvot must be said before the mitzvot are performed (see below that there are several exceptions). The (spiritual) reason for this is that one must sanctify himself by saying the blessing on the mitzvah in order for that mitzvah to elicit the particular spiritual connection to G-d that is associated with that mitzvah.[16]

A Taste of Moshiach

  • Without the blessing, each mitzvah would certainly accomplish a spiritual change in the world. But this change would only be realized and appreciated in the spiritually sensitive Messianic Era. The blessing elicits an all-encompassing Divine revelation which allows the specific revelation associated with that mitzvah, to be revealed within the physical object and the person who is doing the mitzvah even during the pre-Messianic Era.[17]

Which Mitzvot?

Although a blessing is recited before fulfilling most mitzvot, there are some mitzvot upon which no blessing is recited. The types of mitzvot on which no blessing is recited are:

  • Mitzvot which do not involve an action such as not demanding that a loan be repaid after the Shemittah year.
  • Mitzvot which one may be unable to complete, such as mitzvot involving a fellow man (e.g. charity, inviting guests, honoring parents), who may refuse the favor.
  • A Mitzvah that is done through the committing of a sin. Such as the administering of punishments by the Jewish Court.[18]

Blessing Before Mitzvah

Generally, one must say the blessing before doing a mitzvah in such a way there is as little interruption as possible between the blessing and the fulfillment of the mitzvah.

Several examples:

  • One should say the blessing on the tallit while wrapping himself in the tallit but before he completely encircles himself.[19]
    • o   Some say that one should say the blessing on the tallit while holding it in his hands before he begins to wrap it around himself.[20]
  • One should say the blessing on the hand-tefillin after the tefillin is positioned on the bicep before one tightens the strap. One who says a blessing on the head tefillin should do so after it is placed on his head before he tightens it.[21]

Blessings after the Mitzvah

There are three exceptions to the above rule, i.e., three mitzvot for which we say the blessing after performing the mitzvah (according to Ashkenazi custom). The reason for this is that it is sometimes necessary to make the blessing on these mitzvot after performing the mitzvah. It was therefore established to always follow this order in order to avoid confusion.

Specifically:

  • Washing the Hands
    • When one washes his hands for bread or when arising in the morning, one should recite the blessing of Al Neitlat Yadayim after the washing. The reason for this is that if one’s hands are dirty, it is forbidden to make the blessing beforehand, so in order not to differentiate, we always make the blessing afterwards. [22] This is the custom for both Sefardim and Ashkenazim.[23]

Lighting Shabbat Candles

  • It is customary for women to make the blessing on the lighting of Shabbat candles after lighting the candles but before benefiting from the light. Therefore they light the candles and cover their eyes before reciting the bracha. The reason for this custom is that some say that the reciting of the blessing is considered like accepting the Shabbat after which it is forbidden to light candles.[24]
    • It is customary to follow this order when lighting candles for Yom Tov (festival) as well although this reason does not apply then since one may light candles even after accepting Yom Tov. It is done in order to avoid confusion. Others hold that on Yom Tov one should say the blessing before the lighting.[25]
      • Sefardic custom is for women to say the blessing before the kindling of the candles. It is best for them to make a proclamation (once a year) that they do not intend to accept Shabbat by saying the blessing.[26]

Immersing in a Mikvah

  • It is customary (for Ashkenazic women) to say the blessing on the immersion of the Mikvah after immersing one time and before immersing the second time.[27] The reason for this is order not to differentiate between a woman’s immersion and a convert’s conversion. When a convert converts to Judaism, he or she cannot make the blessing before immersing since he is not yet Jewish and must wait until after his first immersion to make the blessing. In order to keep the immersions uniform and to avoid confusion, the custom is for everybody to make the blessing after the first immersion.[28]
  • o   The Sefardic custom is for women to make the blessing while still dressed (in a bathrobe) and then to enter the Mikvah-water and immerse.[29]

To Stand Or Not to Stand?

There are several mitzvot that one is supposed to do while standing. When saying the blessing on these mitzvot, one should stand as well. The following mitzvot should be done while standing:  Putting on a tallit, putting on the (head[30]) Tefillin, blowing the Shofar, shaking a Lulav,  counting the Omer, doing a Brit Milah (circumsicion),[31] and sanctifying the new moon. Saying the blessing while standing is a sign of respect for the mitzvah and minimizes the time between the blessing and the performance of the mitzvah.[32]

Certain mitzvot should be performed while sitting, such as eating matzah and maror and eating in the Sukkah. One should say the blessing on these mitzvot while sitting so as not to interrupt between the blessing and the mitzvah.[33]

There are many mitzvot that one may perform either sitting or standing. It is preferable, though not obligatory, to recite the blessing on these mitzvot while standing in order to show respect to the blessing.[34]

May we merit to bless Hashem and to be blessed by Him!

 


[1] Menachot 43b

[2] Rashi D.H. Mah

[3] Tosfot D.H Shoel

[4] Ibid

[5] Baal Haturim

[6] Roke’ach, cited in Pardes Yosef

[7] Sefer Ha’Eshkol by Rav Avraham ben Yitzchak of Narvonne, Hilchot Birkot Hashachar, 4. This also explains why when 100 people died out of a population of several million, it was considered a plague.

[8] Bamidbar Rabbah, 18, 21, see Tur. O.C. 46

[9] Sefer HaMinhag, cited in Pardes Yosef, Kad Hakemach by Rabbeinu Bachayeh, erech beracha. See also Rambam, Sefer haMitzvot, Shoresh 1 that Halachot Gedolot counts the obligation to recite 100 blessings a day as one of the 613 mitzvot.

[10] Rabeinu Bachayeh, on the verse

[11] Perisha, 16 on Tur, ibid

[12] Ben Ish Chai, Parshat Chukat, cited by Likutei Shoshanim by Menashe Cohen, Nahrei Esh by Rav Avraham Shimon Horowitz of Zelichov, Michtav Bet

[13] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 59, 4

[14] Tikun 30, see Tanya chapter 23

[15] Likutei Torah, Parshat Balak, 70d and 71a

[16] Ibid, Parshat Va’Etchanan, 3d

[17] Ibid, Parshat Nitzavim, 50d

[18] Biur HaGra on O.C. ibid, 8

[19] Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad, see Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 8, 2

[20] Mishnah Berurah, 8, 2 See Responsa Divrei Nechemiah, O.C. 9 as to the reasoning of each opinion

[21] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 25, 17

[22] Ibid, 158, 16 based on Tosfot, Berachot 51a D.H Me’ikarah

[23] Kaf HaChaim, 158, 83, Yalkut Yosef, 58, 9

[24] Ibid, 263, 8

[25] Mishnah Berurah, 263, 27

[26] Yalkut Yosef, 263, 33

[27] Rama on Y.D. 200

[28] Taz 2 in ibid

[29] Mechaber, ibid

[30] Sefardim sit while putting on the hand Tefillin while Ashkenazim stand while doing this.

[31] But see Minchat Elazar, 1, 48 that a mohel who is also acting as a sandek may say the blessing and perform the brit while seated.

[32] Ateret Zekeinim on O.C. 8, 1. See also Sefer ha’Eshkol, beginning of Siman 83, Piskei Teshuvot, 8, 4

[33] Penei Yehoshuah on Megillah 21a D.H. Elah. See other sources quoted in Piskei Teshuvot, ibid, note 40

(One who makes the blessing on the Sukkah during Kiddush, and is standing for the Kiddush, should certainly stand while saying the blessing in the Sukkah.)

[34] See Mishnah Berurah, 8, 2, Piskei Teshuvot, ibid

 

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was born in California and learned in Yeshivahs around the world before receiving his Smicha in Melbourne Australia. He lives in Miami where he teaches Torah to Jews of all ages. He sends out a weekly email called Parsha Halacha and recently authored a book called “The Practical Parsha” Weekly Halacha for Daily Living. To subscribe to his email you can contact him at rabbicitron@yeshivahcollege.org.

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