Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tavo 5631 Second Ma'amar

In the third year of the shmitah cycle we are required to perform the mitzvah of bi’ur ma’asros. This mitzvah involves 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.” Chazal teach us that each part of this sentence is referring to a different aspect of the laws of tithing. The final clause, “nor did I forget,” is referring to the blessing that we are required to recite 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 Chidushei HaRim addresses this question. The answer is tied to the concept of saying blessings on mitzvos before fulfilling the mitzvah rather than afterwards. The Gemara uses uncommon language to state that the blessing for a mitzvah must precede the mitzvah. The Gemara calls it, “עובר לעשייתן/Oveir l’asiyasan.” The word oveir is translated as “pass” as in, Reuven’s car passes Shimon. The word connotes the past. In grammar it is used to describe the past tense. The Gemara therefore asks, “How do we know that this word in our context of saying blessings means specifically to say the blessing before performing the mitzvah?” The Gemara answers that to pass someone means to go before him. When Reuven’s car passes Shimon, Reuven is now in front of Shimon. In this sense, the word oveir/pass implies saying the blessing before doing the mitzvah.

Why, though, does the Gemara 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 Chidushei HaRim asks this question and answers that the Gemara specifically used language that could, at first glance, connote “after.” The reason is that it makes sense to recite the blessing following the mitzvah rather than before it. After performing a mitzvah, we would thank God for giving us the opportunity to fulfill it and for helping us merit it. Why then do we, in fact, say the blessing beforehand? The Chidushei 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 declaring that we did not forget 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 that 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.

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