Friday, September 04, 2015

Tavo 5631 Second Ma'amar

In the third year of the shmitta cycle we are required to perform the mitzvah of bi’ur ma’asros.  We fulfill this mitzvah by distributing all tithes separated but not yet distributed.  An integral component of this mitzvah is to declare, according to a formula prescribed in the Torah, that the mitzvah was done properly.  The formula starts with this sentence, “בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן-הַבַּיִת וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה כְּכָל-מִצְוָתְךָ אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי לֹא-עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְוֹתֶיךָ וְלֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי/I have rid the house of the holy (portion) and have also given to the Levite, to the [resident] alien, to the orphan and to the widow according to Your entire commandment that You have commanded me.  I did not transgress Your commandments nor did I forget.” (Devarim 26:13)  Chazal teach us that each part of this sentence is referring to a different aspect of the laws of tithing.[1]  The final clause, “nor did I forget,” is referring to the blessing that we are required to make before tithing.  This declaration is called viduy ma’asros/confession of tithes.

Viduy ma’asros is a review of a person’s performance of the mitzvah of tithing.  This is why the declaration includes the different aspects of the mitzvah and how they were performed properly, according to halachah as prescribed in the Torah and by Chazal.  Why, though, is the blessing on the mitzvah included?  The blessing we recite before performing a mitzvah is not a part of the mitzvah.  A mitzvah performed is valid even if no blessing preceded it.

The Chiddushei HaRim addresses this question.  The answer is tied to the concept of saying blessings on mitzvos before fulfilling the mitzvah rather than afterwards.  Chazal[2] use uncommon language to state that the blessing for a mitzvah must precede the mitzvah.  Chazal call it, “עוֹבֵר לַעֲשִׂיָיתָן/Oveir l’asiyasan.”  The word oveir is translated as “pass”.[3]  The word connotes the past.  In grammar it is used to describe the past tense.  Chazal therefore ask, “How do we know that this word in our context of saying blessings means specifically to say the blessing before performing the mitzvah?”  Chazal answer that to pass someone means to go before him.[4] In this sense, the word oveir/pass implies saying the blessing before doing the mitzvah.

Why, though, does the Talmud use language which is subject to confusion?  Would it not be better to state clearly that we are required to make a blessing before fulfilling the mitzvah?  The Chiddushei HaRim asks this question and answers that Chazal specifically used language that could, at first glance, connote “after.”  The reason is that there is a certain logic to reciting the blessing following the mitzvah rather than before it.  After performing a mitzvah, the blessing would serve as a “thank you” to God for giving us the opportunity to fulfill it and for helping us to merit it.  Why then do we, in fact, say the blessing beforehand?  The Chiddushei HaRim explains that it is the way of Jews to express gratitude to God specifically before everything.  This is because we tend to remember Him.  He is on our minds. 

Saying blessings before doing the mitzvos, then, is an indication of a fundamental aspect of our relationship with God.  This is why Chazal include not forgetting to recite the blessing in viduy ma’asros.  Although not an integral part of the mitzvah of tithing per se, it indicates an integral part of our relationship with God.  We are declaring, "We did not forget You, God, therefore we said the blessing and expressed gratitude to You for the mitzvah even before we did it.  We are grateful for the opportunity and the wherewithal.  And, most importantly, we remember You."

[1]Ma’aseir Sheini 5:11
[2]Pesachim 7b
[3]as in, Reuven’s car passes Shimon.
[4] When Reuven’s car passes Shimon, Reuven is now in front of Shimon.  Reuven is before Shimon.

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