114b-115a - Mitzvot Require Intention

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            This week's shiur will be given by Rav Yair Kahn, who will discuss the issue of "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana" (mitzvot require intention), based on the gemara we have been learning for the past four weeks; hence, you will need to have all of that gemara on your fingertips. Since he will also be dealing with multiple sources in the commentators, I first wish to help you prepare those sources we have not yet seen.


            Sources and aids are at:


1. Scan of Rosh HaShana 28a-b

2. Scan of Tosafot Pesachim 115a, s.v. "matkif"




1. Tosafot


            We have learned the first half of the Tosafot 115a,s.v. "matkif" (last week). Now we need to see the latter part.


            Tosafot refers to a gemara in a different tractate - Rosh HaShana 28a. The gemara reads as follows (notes from Rashi or myself are indented in the text; the Hebrew begins with words "shalchu lei," nine lines from the bottom of the page):



They wrote to Shmuel's father: One who was compelled to eat matza has fulfilled his obligation…. Rav Ashi said: He was compelled by the Persians.

Rashi: He was compelled by the Persians - and even though he did not intend to fulfill the obligation of matza on the first night of Pesach, he has fulfilled.

Rava said: This implies that one who sounds (the shofar) for song has fulfilled his obligation.

Rashi: One who sounds for song - to sing and make music. This is the explanation I heard in the name of my old teacher. In the work of R. Yitzchak b. Yehuda I saw (that it was written) "one who sounds to a demon" (instead of "shir" = song, "shed" = demon), to ward off an evil spirit from himself.

This is obvious - they are both the same!

[EB: i.e.; there is no difference in principle between eating matza without intention and blowing shofar without intention.]

I would have thought that there, the Torah says, "eat matza," and he has eaten; but here "a remembrance of sounding" ("zikhron teru'a") is written, and he is merely "mit'asek" - (and so, rejecting this possibility, Rava informs us that this distinction is not correct).

[EB: The term "mit'asek" will be defined in the shiur.]


            This gemara seems to rule, without disagreement, that mitzvot do not require intention; hence, one who blows the shofar on Rosh HaShana for a song has nonetheless fulfilled his obligation.


            Tosafot (Pesachim 115a, s.v. "mit'asek," last sixteen lines, beginning with the word "vehashta") comments:




Now (it turns out that) all these amoraim (meaning Rav Huna and Rav Chisda, as well as Resh Lakish) maintain that mitzvot DO require intention, and the final editor of the gemara holds this as well, since he ruled according to Rav Chisda…. And the law is not in accordance with Shmuel's father, who holds (Rosh HaShana 28a) that they do NOT require intention, for he says that one who was compelled to eat matza has fulfilled his obligation, and it was explained there that he was compelled by Persians. The gemara there did not quote (our) cases of eating without intention, as eating does not require as much intention as prayer and blowing shofar. For the same reason, our gemara (in Pesachim) does not quote the sources there which require intention, since prayer and blowing shofar requires more intention, as I explained.


            Tosafot makes a distinction between eating mitzvot, which do not require intention, and "prayer and blowing shofar," which require intention. The distinction will be explained in the shiur.


2. Rif


            The Rif (R. Yitzchak al-Fasi) wrote a compendium on the entire Talmud (almost), summarizing those sections that are relevant for practical halakha. His work is a basic source for the early commentators (the Rishonim), and in many cases their commentary was in fact written on the text of the Rif rather than on the gemara itself.


            In major editions of the Talmud, the Rif is printed at the end, together with commentaries and critical notes of Rishonim. The section relevant to today's shiur is found on pages 24b-25a in the Vilna editions.


            In our gemara, the Rif quotes the beraita of R. Yossi - "R. Yossi said: Even though he dipped in lettuce, it is a mitzva to bring before him matza, lettuce and two cooked foods." The gemara (114b) inferred from the use of the term "mitzva" that R. Yossi holds that mitzvot require intention (we discussed this gemara two weeks ago, shiur number 5). Hence, it appears that the Rif rules that mitzvot require intention.


3. Ba'al HaMaor


            R. Zerachya HaLevi wrote a series of critical comments to the Rif, called HaMaor. He is therefore often called Ba'al HaMaor, rather than by his name. In his comment to the Rif on our sugya, he rules that mitzvot do NOT require intention.


4. Ra'avad


            R. Avraham b. David (RABD - Ra'avad) wrote his own set of critical comments on the Rif. However, he also wrote a series of comments rejecting the Ba'al HaMaor's criticisms.


            Here, the Ra'avad writes:


If they compelled him to eat matza, he has fulfilled the obligation, for eating is different than other mitzvot, as he has had enjoyment, just as we find that mit'asek on Shabbat is not liable, but mit'asek with forbidden foods or sexual relations is liable, as he has had enjoyment. Rava derives other mitzvot from eating, but we do not rule like him.


            The Ra'avad is ruling that mitzvot DO require intention, EXCEPT in the cases of eating (such as matza and maror), where they do NOT require intention, since there was physical enjoyment. While this is a rejection of the Ba'al HaMaor, it is also in disagreement with the Rif, charting a middle course.


Again, the important concept of mit'asek will be explained in the shiur.


5. Ramban


            R. Moshe b. Nachman (RaMBaN, Nachmanides), aside from writing commentaries on much of the Talmud (and one on the Torah as well), also authored a defense of the Rif from the attacks of the Ba'al HaMaor. This work is called Milchamot HaShem ("The Wars of the Lord" - the title gives you an idea of the nature of the work).


            Here, he supports the Rif's position.


Without a doubt… mitzvot require intention, but here we must explain that since we rule like Rav Chisda that he recites in the beginning borei pri ha-adama and al achilat maror and eats, and at the end he eats without a blessing, undoubtedly he has fulfilled the obligation with the first dipping, as HE HAS EATEN IT WITH INTENTION TO FULFILL THE OBLIGATION, and he has made a blessing on it.


            The Ramban's point will, of course, be explained in the shiur, but you should try and figure it out yourself. Take the usual five minutes.




            Below is the shiur given by Rav Yair Kahn to the regular VBM gemara shiur a few years ago. I have made only a few changes in the original for the sake of the introductory group, and added one or two explanatory comments (signed EB). As Rav Kahn summarizes and explains the opinions of the various Rishonim, you should refer back to the texts quoted to make sure you understand the connection between Rav Kahn's analysis and the texts. Take your time, and enjoy.










Mitzvot Tzerikhot Kavana


by Rav Yair Kahn



            According to Resh Lakish, if one ate maror during the seder night without intention for the mitzva, he has not fulfilled his obligation.  Therefore, in the case of the mishna, where a maror-type vegetable (lettuce) was eaten as karpas, it is necessary to eat maror again in order to fulfill his basic obligation.  This position is supported by a beraita ascribed to R. Yossi.  However, the gemara quotes a beraita with the conflicting opinion that the mitzva of maror can be fulfilled even without intention.


            The Rif rules in accordance with the position taken by Resh Lakish that "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana" (mitzvot require intention).  Furthermore, the gemara in Rosh HaShana (28a) compares unintentional eating of matza with hearing a shofar without intention to fulfill the obligation of shofar on Rosh HaShana.  This implies that the rule is extended to cover mitzvot in general.  As a rule, according to the Rif, the fulfillment of mitzvot is dependent upon intention.  In adopting this position, the Rif is forced to reject the conflicting opinions quoted both in our sugya, as well as the gemara in Rosh HaShana.


            Rav Zerachya HaLevi, the Ba'al HaMaor, disagrees with the Rif's conclusion.  He claims that only R. Yossi maintains the position that intention is a critical factor.  Since the only tannaitic support for Resh Lakish is R. Yossi, his opinion should be rejected in light of the conflicting opinions.  Consequently, Rav Zerachya arrives at the opposite conclusion, that mitzvot in general can be fulfilled despite lack of intention.


[Note: The two tannaic opinions quoted on 114b were R. Yossi, and an unattributed source which began with the law of eating dmai. An unattributed source is assumed to belong to "Chachamim;" i.e., the majority of Rabbis. Hence, in general, the rule of majority applies against the individual opinion of R. Yossi. - EB]


            The Ra'avad basically agrees with the Rif that the fulfillment of mitzvot in general requires intention.  Nevertheless, he rejects the ruling of Resh Lakish regarding the mitzva of maror.  He distinguishes between most mitzvot and maror, where the obligation is TO EAT.  Since when eating one personally and physically enjoys what one is doing (has hana'a), the problem of lack of intention is overcome.  In order to appreciate this distinction, let us briefly glance at the halakha which the Ra'avad quotes in this context – "MIT'ASEK."


            Mit'asek refers to an incidental violation of a prohibition where there was no intention of performing the forbidden act.  [For instance, one who intends on lifting something on Shabbat, and inadvertently uproots grass.]  One who commits a transgression by mit'asek is not liable, not even to bring a chatat sacrifice (normally brought for shogeg, a transgression based on negligence rather than premeditation). By applying mit'asek to mitzvot, it is clear that the Ra'avad understands that mit'asek does not merely constitute a mitigating circumstance which removes culpability.  Such an understanding would limit mit'asek to cases which involve punishment.  The extension to mitzvot, evidently, is rooted in viewing mit'asek as a general rule governing the halakhic definition of human action.  Only an act which was performed intentionally can be related to the performer.  An incidental by-product of an intended act is not ascribed to the doer.  The action has not been performed by a conscious person, even though his body was involved. Accordingly, mit'asek would affect all categories which are concerned with human performance, whether mitzva or transgression.


            However, there is one exception to the rule of mit'asek.  If one, while involved in a primary act, incidentally eats prohibited food, he is culpable.  The reason given is that eating is different - "she-ken neheneh" - the performer achieved personal physical pleasure.  Based upon our definition of mit'asek, we may suggest that the attainment of personal physical pleasure can overcome the lack of relatedness between the person and the incidental act.  The personal pleasure relates the act of eating, even though it was incidental, to the individual.


[I.e.; while it is possible to see an ACTION as not relating to the person, since there was no intention, the STATE of physical pleasure cannot be so divorced. - E.B.]


            The Ra'avad applies the same reasoning to mitzvot.  If one lacks intention to perform the act of the mitzva, although he did the mitzva incidentally, it is not defined as his act.  Therefore, mitzvot in general require intention.  However, the mitzvot of matza and maror can be fulfilled, even unintentionally, by virtue of the relatedness attained through eating.


            Tosafot (115a s.v. "matkif") agrees with the Rif that our sugya concludes that mitzvot require intention.  Nevertheless, when contrasting our sugya to the gemara in Rosh HaShana, the Tosafot implies a parallel distinction to that of the Ra'avad, namely the mitzvot of matza and maror can be fulfilled without kavana, while shofar requires kavana.  However, in contradistinction to the Ra'avad, according to Tosafot, the exceptional case is shofar, which necessitates more kavana than is usually needed.


            According to Tosafot, there is a basic distinction between regular mitzvot, and those which are categorized as tefilla (prayer).  With respect to standard mitzvot, the essence of the mitzva is THE ACT.  Therefore, one can readily entertain the position that intention is not critical, since in any case, the act was performed.  However, regarding mitzvot catalogued as tefilla, the mitzva does not exhaust itself in the mere physical performance.  With respect to tefilla, the intention is an integral part of the mitzva itself.  Since Tosafot classify the mitzva of shofar as a non-verbal form of tefilla, they conclude that without intention the mitzva of shofar cannot be fulfilled.



115a: Matkif La Rav Chisda


            Rav Huna, who delayed the birkat ha-mitzva ("al achilat maror") until the eating of maror after the matza, seems to agree with the position of Resh Lakish that mitzvot require intention.  Therefore, despite eating maror earlier instead of karpas, the mitzva is not fulfilled then, and the birkat ha-mitzva should not be recited.  Only after eating the matza, when one intends to fulfill the mitzva, is the blessing recited.


            Rav Chisda, who disagrees, can be explained according to the dissenting view that mitzvot do not require intention.  Accordingly, the mitzva of maror is fulfilled when he initially eats the maror instead of karpas.  Therefore, Rav Chisda demands that the blessing be recited immediately when the maror is eaten the first time.


            This interpretation of Rav Chisda will force us to rule according to the view that mitzvot LO tzerikhot kavana, since the gemara explicitly accepts Rav Chisda's position.  However, we already noted that many Rishonim rule in accordance with Resh Lakish that mitzvot DO require intention.


            The Ramban addresses this problem, and forwards an alternate interpretation of Rav Chisda.  Accordingly, Rav Chisda agrees that mitzvot require intention.  Therefore, if one ate maror instead of karpas and did not recite the birkat ha-mitzva, he is fully justified in reciting this blessing later when eating the maror after the matza.  However, Rav Chisda argues that it is preferable to recite the birkat ha-mitzva when eating the maror for the first time.  Reciting the blessing will itself inspire intention, and transform the initial eating of the maror to an intentional and legitimate mitzva performance.  Therefore, although he maintains that mitzvot tzerikhot kavana, Rav Chisda rules that the mitzva of maror should be fulfilled when eating the maror for the first time, even though this is not the usual place for the fulfillment of the mitzva of maror. He rules that one should make the blessing then, thereby insuring that he will have the necessary intention, and simultaneously justifying the recitation of the blessing.


            Tosafot (s.v. Matkif) go one step further.  They claim that since Rav Chisda agrees that mitzvot require intention, the mitzva of maror is NOT fulfilled when eating the maror in place of karpas.  Nevertheless, the blessing should be recited immediately.  As an example, they bring the mitzva of shofar, where the blessing is recited when blowing the shofar before musaf, although the main fulfillment of shofar occurs later when blowing the shofar within the Shemona Esrei (al seder ha-berakhot).  Apparently, Tosafot conclude, once the birkat ha-mitzva is followed immediately by an incomplete form of the mitzva, it can relate to the subsequent completion, despite the time gap.


            It should be noted that the comparison to shofar is inaccurate.  According to Tosafot, tekiya al seder ha-berakhot, as part of the Shemona Esrei, is a fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar.  [This is consistent with Tosafot's view of shofar as a form of tefilla.]  Nevertheless, there is no question that the mitzva on a basic level is fulfilled even without the berakhot of musaf (see Rosh HaShana 34b).  Therefore, it is reasonable that one can recite the birkat ha-mitzva before the initial stage.  However, regarding maror, since Rav Chisda agrees that mitzvot tzerikhot kavana, there is no fulfillment of the mitzva whatsoever when eating maror in place of karpas.  Therefore, the ability to recite the blessing immediately in the case of maror cannot be supported from the shofar case.


            Apparently, Tosafot understand that the lack of intention when performing a mitzva does not undermine the ma'aseh ha-mitzva – the mitzva ACT.  Rather it is only a condition necessary for the "kiyum" - FULFILLMENT - of the mitzva, while the mitzva performance remains intact.  Tosafot, therefore, interpret Rav Chisda as preferring the birkat ha-mitzva prior to the initial ma'aseh ha-mitzva, despite the lack of kiyum.


            The example of shofar is introduced in order to prove an additional point.  Normally, birkot ha-mitzva must be recited immediately prior to the mitzva - "over la-asiyatan."  From this halakha we may have thought that a "hefsek" - an interruption - severs the blessing from the ensuing mitzva, and the blessing cannot relate to subsequent acts.  From the case of shofar, Tosafot show that immediacy is required only to give legitimacy and meaning to the blessing itself.  A blessing left dangling lacks significance.  If, however, the blessing is followed immediately by the mitzva, it is meaningful, and can effect the subsequent completion of the mitzva despite the intervening hefsek.


            Tosafot then apply this idea to our case of maror.  Since the blessing "al akhilat maror" is followed by a bona fide mitzva performance (the ma'aseh ha-mitzva without intention), it is a legitimate and meaningful statement, despite the lack of kiyum.  Therefore, this blessing can relate to the subsequent fulfillment of the mitzva despite the ensuing hefsek between karpas and the second eating of maror after the matza.