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Shome'a Ke-One (Hearing is Equivalent to Speaking) (Sukka 38a-39a)

  • Rav Baruch Weintraub




In connection with the law recorded in our Mishna (38a) – "If a slave, a woman, or a minor reads to him [the Hallel], he repeats what they say, but may a curse light upon him" – the Gemara brings a Baraita from Berakhot – "In truth they did say: A son may say grace on behalf of his father and a slave may say grace on behalf of his master and a woman may say grace on behalf of her husband. But the Sages said: May a curse light on the man whose wife or children have to say grace for him." The Rishonim disagree about the extent to which this analogy is precise.


According to the Ra'avad (Hilkhot Berakhot 5:15), we are talking about the same law. As in the Mishna, so too in the Baraita, the man must repeat word for word what his son or wife had said. He understands that this is stated explicitly in the Yerushalmi. According to the Rambam (ad loc.) and the Rishonim on our passage – Rashi and Tosafot – the law in the Baraita is different, for the father can fulfill his obligation with his son's blessing, even without repeating the words after him. This seems to be implied by the slight difference in wording between the Mishna and the Baraita; in the Mishna we find "makrin oto" – "they read to him" – whereas in the Baraita we find "mevarchin lo" – "they say grace for him."


There might also be a difference between the Rambam and the Tosafot. The Rambam implies that the father must respond to his son's blessing with Amen, whereas Tosafot give no indication that such a response is necessary.


We see then that there are three ways that one person can fulfill his obligation regarding blessings and the like through another person:


1)         The other person reads to him and he repeats what was said word for word. In such a case, the repeater does not really fulfill his obligation through the other person, but rather through his own action, for he himself says every word of the required text.

2)         The other person recites the blessing and the hearer responds with Amen.

3)         The other person recites the blessing and the hearer fulfills his obligation through hearing alone.




Later in the talmudic passage, Ravina derives all three ways of fulfilling one's obligation from the various customs regarding the recitation of Hallel. In addition, he learns another three laws, which seem to be unique to Hallel, and which will not be dealt with in this shiur.


From the custom that the prayer leader would say "Blessed is he who comes" and the congregation would answer "in the name of the Lord," Ravina learns the third manner of fulfilling one's obligation cited above, i.e., through hearing alone. This rule is known as shome'a ke-one, "hearing is equivalent to speaking." This is not really a source for the law, but merely a custom meant to remind us of it. The actual source is brought later in the Gemara: "Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of Bar Kapara: From where do we know shome'a ke-one? As it is written: 'Which the king of Yehuda has read' (II Melakhim 22:16). Did Yoshiyahu read them; surely Shafan read them, as it is written: 'And Shafan read it before the king' (v. 10). Rather, from here [we learn] shome'a ke-one."


Attention should be paid to the fact that once again this is not the actual source of the law, but rather a proof that such a law exists. This implies that the law is based on a logical argument, and that the verse comes to prove that the logical argument is indeed correct. In this shiur, we shall examine the various explanations that have been proposed to understand the law of shome'a ke-one. The various opinions can be divided into two main approaches: according to the first approach, it is the hearer who performs the act of prayer or blessing with which he fulfills his obligation; according to the second approach, the act is performed by the speaker, but nevertheless the hearer fulfills his obligation with it. We shall start with the first approach, which sees the hearer as performing the action with which he fulfills his obligation.




When we come to discuss the action performed by the hearer, we are immediately faced by two possibilities. First, that the hearing itself is regarded as an action with which the person fulfills his obligation. And second, that the person fulfills his obligation with silent meditation, and that the hearing comes only to "reinforce" the meditation, as we shall see below.


The anonymous first Tanna of the Mishna in Berakhot 20b says that a ba'al keri (someone who experienced an emission of semen) should meditate upon the blessings of the Shema in his heart, but not utter them with his mouth, these benedictions being obligatory only by rabbinic decree. The Amoraim in the Gemara disagree about what this means. Ravina understands that silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, and so the person fulfills his obligation to recite these blessings. Rav Chisda disagrees and says that silent meditation is not equivalent to actual speaking. The reason that the ba'al keri must meditate upon the blessings is that we do not want him to sit there doing nothing while everyone else is engaged in saying the blessings of Shema.


Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger, ad loc.) raises an objection. It is evident from the talmudic passage preceding the Mishna that according to Ravina the speaker must be at the same level of obligation in the mitzva as the hearer, that is to say, if the hearer is obligated in the mitzva by Torah law, the speaker reciting the blessing must also be obligated in the mitzva by Torah law. Rabbi Akiva Eiger asks: If according to Ravina, silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, why doesn't the hearer fulfill his obligation with silent meditation, even if the person reciting the blessing is obligated in that blessing at a lower level than the hearer. Even if we say that Chazal ordained that the person must utter the words with his lips, this is only a rabbinic obligation. Thus, even if the hearer is fundamentally obligated in the mitzva by Torah law, he can fulfill that obligation through silent meditation. The remaining obligation to utter the words with his mouth is only rabbinic, and therefore he should be able to fulfill that obligation by way of shome'a ke-one, even if the reader's obligation in the mitzva is only rabbinic!


Rabbi Akiva proposes no solution to his difficulty.


To answer this objection, we must distinguish between the law of hirhur ke-dibbur, silent meditation is equivalent to actual speaking, and the law of shome'a ke-one, hearing is equivalent to speaking. An allusion to this distinction can be found already in the Gemara in Berakhot itself. There the Gemara raises an objection against the position of Ravina that hirhur ke-dibbur: If hirhur ke-dibbur, then why is a ba'al keri permitted to meditate upon the blessings? And it answers that the prohibition governing the ba'al keri was modeled after what we find at Mount Sinai. The Tosafot explain that at Sinai all the men of Israel were commanded not to approach their wives and thus to remain clean of the impurity of keri. The reason for this was that when the Torah was given, they heard the commandments, and since shome'a ke-one, it is as if they spoke them. But silent meditation alone is not forbidden. The question still remains, however: what is the difference between shome'a ke-one and hirhur ke-dibbur?


The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayyim 29, 8), in the course of his comprehensive treatment of the issue of shome'a ke-one, suggests that there are two types of hirhur. One of them is when a person imagines certain ideas in his mind, and the second is "talk in the heart." The first is abstract thought, whereas the second is unuttered speech. Unless otherwise specified, hirhur refers to mere imaginations of the heart. The Chazon Ish relies on the Rashba, who says that wherever a person can fulfill his obligation with hirhur, it can be done in any language, for regarding hirhur, there is no room to talk about language – the content of the hirhur is not words, but images.


According to Ravina, then, hirhur, even though it is only abstract thought, suffices for the fulfillment of one's obligation to recite a blessing, whereas according to Rav Chisda, it does not suffice. Ravina agrees, however, that hirhur does not constitute speech, and that the similarity between hirhur and dibbur exhausts itself in the matter of fulfilling one's obligation. And the prohibition of ba'al keri, says Ravina, relates solely to actual speech. Shome'a ke-one, on the other hand, turns abstract meditation into verbal thought, which is equivalent to actual speech, for a person's thoughts can seize onto the words uttered by another person.


We can now answer the objection raised by Rabbi Akiva Eiger. While it is true that by Torah law a person can fulfill his obligation through meditation alone, since Chazal enacted that one must utter the words with his lips, this means that his abstract thought must be turned into verbal thought, the quality of the words being on the level of Torah law. In other words, Chazal did not require an action of speech, but rather that a person's thoughts turn into verbal thoughts containing words recognized as words on the Torah level. This is based on the assumption that whether a benediction is by Torah law or by rabbinic law affects not only the level of obligation, but also the content and quality of the uttered words. Words that are meaningful by Torah law are qualitatively different than words that lack such meaning.[1]


Thus, we understand that if the speaker is only obligated by rabbinic law, the meditations of the hearer cannot be turned through him into verbal thoughts comprised of words by Torah law.


In any event, we see from here that there are two ways to understand the action of the hearer: either the hearing itself is regarded as an action; or that the hearer's silent meditation is regarded as speech, the hearer being able to turn his thoughts into words with the help of the words of the speaker.


These two understandings might be implicit in the Gemara itself. Twice the Gemara brings the law of shome'a ke-one; once it is formulated as "shama ve-lo ana yatza" – "if he heard, but did not respond, he has fulfilled his obligation"; the second time it says: "shome'a ke-one," "hearing is equivalent to speaking." The law of shome'a ke-one is learned from the verses in Melakhim regarding Yoshiyahu cited above. There in fact the implication is that the king's hearing was equivalent to speaking. Moreover, there is explicit mention there of internal activity during the hearing, "Because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard" (II Melakhim 22:19). It may be argued then that "shama ve-lo ana yatza" means that the hearing itself constitutes an action, whereas "shome'a ke-one" means that the hearing constitutes "talk of the heart."




The first approach, which appears to be the simpler one, is in fact by no means simple. How do we know that a person can fulfill his obligation merely by hearing?


The Baraita cited at the beginning of the passage, which records the law governing a person whose son or wife recites grace for him, opens with the words, "In truth they did say." We find among the Rishonim various opinions as to what these words mean. Rashi (ad loc.) writes that these words mean that this is the final halakha. The Rambam in his introduction to his commentary to the Mishna (in the sixth of the ten appended chapters) writes that wherever this phrase is found it means that the law that follows was given to Moshe at Sinai. If we understand that the Baraita is dealing not only with a case where the hearer answered Amen, but even with a case where he merely heard the other person's recitation, then it turns out, according to the Rambam, that the rule of shome'a ke-one is a halakha given to Moshe at Sinai.


Before we try to explain this law, we must first review some of the fundamental laws regarding blessings and prayers. It is not our intention to get sidetracked with extensive philosophical issues, but it seems that we should bring here the words of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, as they are brought in his book, Worship of the Heart. Rabbi Soloveitchik relates there to the difference between prayer and all other mitzvot with respect to the relationship between intention and action:


The controversy about mitzvot tzerikhot kavanna, whether mitzvot require intention, is confined to the class of objective norms. As far as tefilla is concerned, all agree that the physical performance divorced from the inner experience is worthless… For kavanna with respect to tefilla forms the very core of the act; without it prayer would become a meaningless and stereotyped ceremonial…

To review this central point: the very essence of tefilla expresses itself in a romance rather than in a disciplined action, in a great passionate yearning rather than a cold limited achievement, in a movement of the soul rather than a performance of the lips, in an awareness rather than an action, in an inner longing rather than a tangible performance, in silence rather than in loud speech. (Worship of the Heart, pp. 20-21)


            Rabbi Soloveitchik is saying that regarding prayer what is most essential is the inner experience. Taking this to the extreme (he does not do this), one might say that the words of prayer serve merely as "hekhsher mitzva," inasmuch as they allow a person to reach the desired mental state. This hekhsher is, of course, obligatory by rabbinic law, but if this is our understanding, we can easily understand why Chazal would have enacted, or why the Torah would have established, that even the act of hearing is an effective way of reaching this mental state.


Rabbi Soloveitchik's words relate to prayer, but they may apply to other blessings as well. For example, the Tosafot in Pesachim (7a, s.v. beleva'er) raise the possibility that a blessing recited prior to the performance of a mitzva is meant to testify that the action is being performed for the sake of the mitzva. If we understand that we are not talking here merely about external testimony, but also about entering into a certain mental state, it might be argued here as well that this may be accomplished through hearing.


Let us go back and distinguish between the two understandings that have been proposed thus far. According to the first understanding, hearing is equivalent to speaking through the silent meditation, and thus the person's action is one of hirhur ke-dibbur. According to the second understanding, the action is in the hearing itself, which is regarded here as an effective action because of its impact on the person's mental state.




There is a practical difference between these two understandings with respect to mitzvot that involve speech that is meant to serve as a different action. For example, regarding the mitzva of counting the omer, the mitzva is not to speak, but to count, only the counting must be done by way of speech. If we understand that hearing turns meditation into speech, then in the same way that it serves as speech, it can serve as counting. But if we say that hearing is an effective action with respect to prayer and blessings, it does not necessarily follow that it is an effective action with respect to the counting of the omer. Indeed, we find that the posekim disagree whether or not one can fulfill his obligation of counting the omer through the rule of shome'a ke-one (see Shulchan Arukh, 485:1, Mishna Berura, no. 5, and Be'ur Halakha, ad loc.).


Another law discussed by the posekim in a similar context relates to the question whether a blind person can be called up to the Torah. A summary of the positions on the question through his day may be found in She'elat Ya'avetz (I, no. 75), who strongly objected to the practice, though he testifies that the common practice follows the ruling of the Taz (141:3) that a blind person may indeed be called up to the Torah. Rabbi Yaakov Emden offers several reasons as to why a blind person may not be called up. What is relevant to our discussion is that since the Torah must be read from a scroll, and the blind person cannot see, the blind person cannot be called up to the Torah.


The explanation of the disagreement appears to be simple. According to the Taz, the action is the hearing; that which the reading must be from a scroll applies to the reader, but if someone else reads from a scroll, and the words are heard from a written text, the words are fit words, and one can fulfill his obligation by hearing them. One who disagrees might disagree for one of two reasons. He might agree with the Taz's understanding of shome'a ke-one, but argue that Torah reading requires speech, and not hearing. This is the implication of the Rosh who says that one who is called up to the Torah must utter the words with his lips and not rely on the reader. Or he might disagree with the Taz's understanding, and argue that shome'a ke-one fulfills his obligation through hirhur ke-dibbur, and thus this hirhur as well must be performed through a written text. Indeed, Rabbi Emden raises these two possibilities.


We see then that there is no need to say that all mitzvot are the same with regard to this issue. Even according to those who maintain that shome'a ke-one is based on hirhur ke-dibbur, and not on hearing, it is still possible that there are certain mitzvot where the essence of the mitzva is hearing, e.g. shofar and megila. This is not the forum in which to expand upon each and every mitzva.




            A third possible way of understanding the action of the hearer in a case of shome'a ke-one follows from a famous disagreement between the Bet ha-Levi and the Chazon Ish. The Beit ha-Levi (on the Torah, end of derush that follows the book of Bereishit) writes that there is a certain Torah authority who permits priests to perform birkat kohanim by way of shome'a ke-one. In other words, the most distinguished priest would bless the congregation with birkat kohanim, and the rest of the priests would fulfill their obligation through shome'a ke-one. The Beit ha-Levi disagrees with this authority, and argues that since birkat kohanim contains a law of "Say to them," which necessitates speaking in a loud voice, the obligation cannot be fulfilled by way of the rule of shome'a ke-one.


The Beit ha-Levi's position appears to be correct according to both understandings of the rule of shome'a ke-one. If we understand that the action is the hearing, the fact that the Torah commands that the blessing must be recited in a loud voice, so that the recipients of the blessing can hear, proves that the action of this mitzva is not hearing, but speaking. This is similar to what we said above regarding the counting of the omer. Even if we understand that mental meditation reinforced by hearing is equivalent to speech, there is still no speech in a loud voice. How then can we understand the position of the authority who allows birkat kohanim by way of shome'a ke-one?


The Chazon Ish (ad loc.) suggests a new way of understanding the rule of shome'a ke-one:


That which we say that shome'a ke-one … the speech of the speaker relates to the hearer as well through his hearing, and the latter fulfills his obligation by joining his hearing to the speech of the other person.


            If we understand that the speaker's speech relates to the hearer, the position of the authority who allows birkat kohanim by way of shome'a ke-one is correct, for the speech of the priest who utters the blessing, which is out loud, relates also to the priests who hear the blessing and through it they too bless the congregation. Indeed, the Chazon Ish rules against the Beit ha-Levi.


            The Chazon Ish does not explain how one can join to the speech of another person. It seems that we can propose two possible understandings.




            The Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav (Orach Chayyim 213:6) writes:


A person should always recite as many necessary blessings as he can, for even though shome'a ke-one, nevertheless the one who recites the blessing is the most important one, for he becomes an agent for all the others… It is more fitting that each and every person should himself fulfill the mitzva of reciting a blessing than that he should fulfill it by way of an agent….


            According to the Shulchan Arukh ha-Rav, the rule of shome'a ke-one is effective because the speaker serves as an agent for the hearer. According to this understanding, the Chazon Ish is right when he says that the speech of the priest who recites the blessing out loud should be effective for the other priests as well.


            This position, however, is difficult to understand, for surely there is a rule that there is no agency regarding mitzvot that must be performed with a person's own body. For example, one cannot appoint an agent to sit in a sukka in his stead. Why then should one be able to appoint another person to pray on his behalf?


            Rabbi Kook, in his book, Orach Mishpat (Orach Chayyim, 15), explains how we can understand the rule of shome'a ke-one based on agency. First of all, we must understand why there is no agency in mitzvot that a person must perform with his own body. The Ketzot (182, 1) explains that agency works regarding the action, but not regarding real physical things. In other words, a person is commanded to don tefilin on his hand. One can appoint an agent for the act of donning, but one cannot appoint an agent that the agent's hand should be regarded as his own.


            Let us now examine the mitzva of prayer. As is well known, the Rambam and Ramban disagree about when one is obligated to pray by Torah law. According to the Rambam, there is a daily obligation to pray, whereas according to the Ramban, one is only obligated in prayer in times of trouble. Rabbi Kook explains that this disagreement has ramifications regarding the nature of prayer. According to the Rambam, the mitzva is to remember God in our hearts and in our speech, whereas according to the Ramban, the mitzva is to be remembered before God. It follows then that according to the Rambam, one cannot appoint an agent for prayer, for the agent can remember God, but he cannot remember him in the heart of the person who appoints him as his agent. According to the Ramban, one can appoint an agent for prayer, for to be remembered before God is also possible by way of an agent.


            Rabbi Kook argues that in practice we accept both components in our prayer, and the disagreement is merely regarding the count of the mitzvot. Therefore, the law of agency works for only certain types of prayer. Rabbi Kook explains thereby the ruling of the Rishonim that the prayer leader can discharge the obligation of other people who are not present in the synagogue only on Rosh ha-Shana. This is because on Rosh ha-Shana the obligation is towards God, to crown Him as king and be remembered by Him (see Rosh ha-Shana 35, and Meiri, ad loc.).


            This explanation, then, does not suffice to embrace all blessings. And furthermore, as it follows from the words of Rabbi Kook himself, this does not explain shome'a ke-one, for the "am she-ba-sadot," the people in the fields who fulfill their obligations with the prayer leader's prayer, do not hear anything whatsoever, and nevertheless they fulfill their obligation on Rosh ha-Shana with the prayer leader's prayer. Thus it seems that the Chazon Ish must be understood differently.




We know that in certain realms of Halakha we require eidei kiyyum, that is to say, witnesses who not only serve as proof in the future that a certain action took place, but without whom the action has no validity whatsoever. The Gemara in Kiddushin 65b distinguishes between witnesses who serve to differentiate between truth and falsehood and witnesses who are needed to validate a certain action. Regarding betrothal, for example, the witnesses are needed to give validity to the act of betrothal.


Why are witnesses needed to validate a certain action?


The Gemara itself derives this through a gezera shava of davar-davar from monetary laws. As we explained, however, there is a big difference between the witnesses in monetary cases and the witnesses to betrothal. It seems therefore that the gezera shava is limited to the technical question regarding the number of witnesses or their qualifications, but does not relate to the need for them.


The Acharonim offer several explanations, which we will not go into here. We will offer a different explanation, one that connects to the matter under discussion.[2] It is possible that eidei kiyyum are meant to bestow meaning upon a physical act. In other words, giving a woman a ring is merely an act of giving. The witnesses, through their understanding of the act as an act of betrothal, provide it with validity as an act of kiddushin which creates a state of kiddushin. That is to say, the objective significance of an act changes in accordance with the way that people relate to it. Therefore, the more that the essence of an action lies in its meaning, rather than in some physical act, the more we would expect that eidei kiyyum are required.


According to this, we can understand the law of shome'a ke-one. Hearing is not merely passive absorption of sounds. The fact that there is somebody who hears the words that are spoken provides those words with a different quality. Talking to the walls, or to someone who does not understand what is being said, is not the same as talking before a large audience of avid listeners. Therefore, the fact that there are listeners influences the act of speaking, and in the case of the Chazon Ish, the priests by way of their hearing the blessing of their leader are regarded as participating in his speech, and they can fulfill their obligation therewith. Their status as hearers defines them as participants in the act of speech.




            Let us review some of the ideas mentioned above:


1)         Mental meditation by way of hearing as being equivalent to speaking.

2)         Hearing as an independent action.

3)         Agency of the speaker.

4)         Participation in the act of speech.


As we stated at the beginning, there is a difference between the first two understandings and the last two understandings. Whereas according to the first two understandings the action of the mitzva is being performed by the hearer, according to the last two understandings, it is the speaker who performs the action, and the hearer merely sends him as his agent, or else he participates in his action. Therefore, the law that we brought above, that the speaker must be at the same level of obligation as the hearer in order for him to discharge his obligation, is more understandable according to the last two understandings.


In any event, there are several practical differences between the various explanations, beyond the disagreement among the Acharonim that was cited earlier regarding whether a blind person can be called up to the Torah, the counting of the omer, and birkat kohanim. We wish to briefly relate to two disagreements that arise in the Rishonim:


1)         The Rishonim disagree about someone who is in the middle of Shemone Esre and hears kedusha – should he stop and listen in order to be considered as responding to kedusha. Rashi brings in the name of the Halakhot Gedolot that one may do so, whereas the Tosafot maintain that this would be regarded as an interruption. A third position is brought by the Ritva, that while this would not constitute an interruption, he would not fulfill his obligation by listening, for the rule of shome'a ke-one only applies to someone who is capable now of speaking.


It stands to reason that Rashi understands that we are dealing here with agency, or that hearing constitutes an action, assuming that the act of hearing does not constitute an interruption. The Tosafot might understand that silent meditation based on hearing is equivalent to speaking, or that hearing constitutes an action and creates an interruption. The Ritva maintains that the attempt to fulfill one's obligation by way of shome'a ke-one is not an interruption, but it is also ineffective. This fits in well with the fourth possibility suggested above, which does not speak of the action of the hearer, but rather of the state in which he is found, in which he participates in the action of the speaker. Such a state does not constitute an interruption, but on the other hand, if a person is standing in the middle of his Shemone Esre, he cannot be regarded as being in a state of listening. This stands in contrast to the first two understandings, which speak in one form or another of an action of hearing, which on the one hand can constitute an interruption, but on the other can be initiated by the person.


2.         The Geonim disagree (their views are brought by the Beit Yosef, sec. 124) whether one who hears Shemone Esre from the prayer leader must take three steps backward at the end of the prayer, or whether he fulfills his obligations with the steps taken by the prayer leader. If we assume that the steps are part of the act of prayer, and not an action that is performed following the prayer, it seems reasonable that those who require that each person step backwards on his own maintain that the hearing or silent meditation constitutes an action, and those who maintain that one can suffice with the steps taken by the prayer leader maintain that the hearer fulfills his obligation through agency or by participating in the prayer leader's speech – in either case, the prayer leader being the one who performs the action.




            At the beginning of the shiur we mentioned that the Gemara speaks of two levels of hearing, one that is accompanied by the saying of Amen and one that is not. Even if we do not accept what was said above regarding participation in the speaker's speech through mere hearing, it seems that the answering of Amen and active strengthening of the words of speaker can certainly be regarded as participation in his words. That is to say, the answering of Amen is not merely a reaction to the words of the speaker, but participation in his action.


            Indeed, we find that the posekim distinguish between mere hearing and answering Amen. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chayyim 8:5) writes regarding the blessing over tzitzit, that if people wish to do so, one can recite the blessing and the rest answer Amen. The Vilna Gaon (no. 13) explains that even though they fulfill their obligation even without answering Amen, that is only bedi'eved, but lekhatchila they should answer Amen. It stands to reason that the Vilna Gaon maintains that while the rule of shome'a ke-one allows a person to fulfill his obligation, the act is nevertheless flawed, for it is not performed in the way the Chazal ordained. If, however, a person responds Amen and joins thereby to the act of the blessing recited by the speaker, he has fulfilled the mitzva in the ideal way ordained by Chazal.[3]


(Translated by David Strauss)



            Next week's shiur will deal with birkat ha-mitzvot, the blessing recited prior to the performance of a mitzva. Please see the following:


1)         End of the second Mishna, 39a, "levarekh yevarekh," until the Mishna. What is the novelty in the position of Abaye, and what is the relationship between what he says and the words of Shemuel?

2)         Berakhot 15a, Mishna and Gemara until "talya milta." Why does the Gemara hang the question whether or not blessings are indispensable on the question whether they are by Torah law or by rabbinic enactment? See also Yerushalmi, Berakhot 6:1, "Rabbi Chaggi ve-Rabbi Yirmiya… mitzvot te'unot berakha," as opposed to Berakhot 2:1, "Zot omeret she-ein ha-berakhot me'akvot." Is the dependency made by the Bavli correct also in the Yerushalmi? Does this effect the Yerushalmi's uncertainty in Berakahot 9:3: "Mitzvot me-eimat mevarekh… chezkat benei me'ayim kesherim"?

3)         Pesachim 104b: "Ulla ikla … ha nami hoda'a hi" (there is no need to get into the complexities of the sugya regarding havdala; concentrate on the matter of birkat ha-mitzvot). Berakhot 48b: "Ein li ela le-acharavlo kol sheken." Does understanding the berakha as an expression of thanksgiving fit in with the kal va-chomer? Compare to Berakhot 35a: "Tanu Rabbanan: Asur lo le-adam… le-avihem she-ba-shamayim," and to Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 1:1-3. How did the Rambam understand the idea of thanksgiving?

4)         Ravya, Hilkhot Lulav, 691 (see below). How does Rivam understand birkat ha-mitzvot? Is his understanding closer to that of the Rambam or that of the Yerushalmi?

5)         Ritva, Pesachim 7b: "Ve-katav ha-Rit z"l…" (see below). What is the difference between the two reasons, and what is the relationship between them and the explanations that we saw thus far?

6)         Sukka 39a, Tosafot, s.v. over le-asiyatan. What is the difference between the various proposals to resolve the difficulty regarding the blessing recited over the lulav? Why is there no consensus regarding the proposal to have intention not to fulfill one's obligation, which seems to be the best solution of all?

7)         [Pesachim 114a, the second Mishna and the Gemara until 115a "… chasa belo berakha." Meiri (ad loc.), s.v. kol she-yesh (see below), and Tosafot, s.v. matkif. What do we learn from their disagreement about the relationship between the blessing and intention?]

8)         Terumot 1:6, and Rambam's commentary. Does the Mishna mean to say that mutes should not perform mitzvot? How can one distinguish between the case in the Mishna and other berakhot?

9)         Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 11:5,15-16. What is the difference between a blessing recited before the action and one recited afterwards, according to the Rambam and the Ra'avad?


Ra'avad, Hilkhot Lulav 691:

כל המצות מברך עליהן עובר לעשייתן. מפרש מורי רבי יצחק ברבי מרדכי מפי [רבינו] יב"א דהאי עובר לא בא למעט מלברך בשעה שמקיים המעשה, אם היא מצוה שיש בה שהות לברך בשעת עשייה, כגון מצות [ציצית] שמצותה (לישב בה) כל היום, אי נמי נטילת לולב שהיו נוטלין אותו כל היום, או ישיבת סוכה שמצותה לישב בה כל היום, וכיוצא בהם הרבה. שאין צריך [לברך על הציצית] בתחלה קודם שנתעטף, דאפילו בשעה שמתעטף [יכול לברך], וכן רוב בני אדם עושים [כ]שמתחילין להתעטף ולהניח על הראש מברכין, וכן בלולב וסוכה לאחר שנטל וישב. והאי עובר לא בא למעט אלא שאין מברכין לאחר קיום המצוה. ובאותן מצות שאין שהות בהם לברך בשעת עשיית המצוה, כמו מילה ושחיטה ותקיעה, שמילה בשעה קלה היא נגמרת [וכן שחיטה, ותקיעה אי אפשר לברך בשעת עשיה, מברכין קודם עשייתן]. ואני אומר דליתא, דגרסינן בירושלמי פרק הרואה מצות מאימתי מברך עליהן רבי יוחנן אומר עובר לעשייתן רב הונא אומר בשעת עשייה, אלמא דעובר לא משמע בשעת עשייתן.


Ritva, Pesachim 7b:

וכתב הרי"ט ז"ל וטעם זה שאמרו חכז"ל לברך על המצות עובר  לעשייתן כדי שיתקדש תחלה בברכה ויגלה ויודיע שהוא עושה אותה מפני מצות השי"ת. ועוד כי הברכות מעבודת  הנפש וראוי להקדים עבודת הנפש למעלה שהיא עבודת הגוף.


Meiri, Pesachim 114b:

אבל כשאין שם שאר ירקות והוא מטבל בחזרת אף בראשונה כיצד יעשה נחלקו בה רב הונא  ורב חסדא שלדעת רב הונא אף בזו מברך תחלה בורא פרי האדמה ועל השניה על אכילת מרור ולרב חסדא מברך  על הראשונה בורא פרי האדמה ועל אכילת מרור ועל השניה מטבל בה בלא ברכה ונראין הדברים שבמצוה  צריכות כונה או אין צריכות כונה נחלקו שלדעת רב הונא מצות צריכות כונה ומעתה לא יצא ידי חובת מרור  בראשונה הואיל ולא כוון בה לצאת כמו שביארנו למעלה וצריך לברך על זו השניה והשיבו רב חסדא וכי לאחר  שמלא כרסו ממנה יחזור ויברך עליה שהוא סובר מצות אין צריכות כונה וכבר יצא בראשונה שאלמלא טעם זה  אין מלוי הכרס מפקיע שלא לברך עליה בזמן חובתה שהרי משנתנו בשאין שם שאר ירקי היא ואכל מרור  בראשונה ופירשה ריש לקיש לדעת מצות צריכות כונה ופירש בטעמו כיון דלאו בעידנא דמרור אכילה דהא בבורא  פרי האדמה לבד אכלה צריך לחזור ולטבל בברכת חובה אלא ודאי רב חסדא כך היה אומר לאחר שכבר יצא ממנו  ועשה ממנו כל צרכיו והוא המשל במלוי הכרס היאך יחזור ויברך עליה אלא מברך על הראשונה שתיהן ומטבל  בשניה בלא ברכה וכן הלכה.



[1] On the homiletic level, it may be suggested that Ravina learned this from Mount Sinai, where the people "saw the sounds," which proves that the words of the Torah are qualitatively different than ordinary words.

[2] For further study, see Ketzot, 241, 1. It is said in the name of Rabbi Chayyim of Brisk that eidei kiyyum serve the purpose of intensifying the intention that must accompany the action. The Seridei Eish writes that since the betrothal of a woman effects all of Israel, witnesses serve as representatives of the community. 

[3] One may argue with this approach and say that the answering of Amen is regarded as the recitation of a separate blessing, and not as participation in the speaker's blessing. This is also the implication of the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 1:11).