Simanim 59-60 Yotzer Or

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #36: Simanim 59-60

Pages 182-187


by Rav Asher Meir





Who Forms Light And Creates Darkness


            The inclusion in the daytime prayers of the expression "and creates darkness" is intended to mention the aspect of night, just as we say "Who rolls up the light before the darkness and the darkness before the light" in Ma'ariv to mention the aspect of day, even though it is nighttime (Berakhot 11b).  Two reasons are mentioned in the Beit Yosef: to emphasize that we are not dualists (Manicheans) who believe in two powers; and to emphasize that the darkness is also God's creation and that it too is good.  This reason presumably relates to the fact that this blessing paraphrases the verse (Isaiah 45:7) "Who forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil."  In the pasuk, darkness seems to correspond to evil, although in the language of the berakha there is no such hint.


            There is a close relationship between the two reasons given by the Beit Yosef.  The essence of the dualist heresy is not the belief that there are two powers, but rather the belief that evil is an independent domain.  We, however, affirm that God alone is Master of all; He created darkness and even evil, and all of His creations are subject to Him.  "You have created them all with wisdom, the earth is filled with Your mastery."


Errors and Improvisations in Short and Long Blessings


            It is a well-known principle that "Anyone who alters the mold in which the sages cast the blessings has not fulfilled his obligation" (Berakhot 40b).  According to the Rosh, this principle applies to all blessings, and so one needs to make sure to follow the exact "script" of the blessing throughout "yotzer or."  But according to the Rashba, in the long blessings there is no insistence on following the exact language.  See Bi'ur Halakha s.v. Im Ha-shatz.  How does the Mishna Berura rule?


            However, even the Rashba admits that we need the exact form of the blessing in the opening and closing formula of the blessing.  (The BH cited says so explicitly.)  It seems to follow that if one were to open the Shacharit blessing as if it were Ma'ariv, saying "Ha-Ma'ariv Aravim" (and does not correct oneself immediately, which would nullify the improper utterance), then the blessing would be invalid according to all opinions.  This is indeed the ruling of the Bach (MB s.k. 2).  See BH s.v. Ve-nizkar - How does the Mishna Berura rule?





            The disagreement between the Shulchan Arukh and the Rema regarding the correct phrasing of this berakha reflects a disagreement in the gemara between Shmuel, who construes "ahava raba," and Rabanan, who construe "ahavat olam."  The Rif rules like Rabanan since the beraita supports them; however, his reading was different from ours and in our gemara the beraita actually supports Shmuel.


            Since the time of the Rishonim the custom of the Sefaradim follows the Rif and is to say "ahavat olam," and the custom of Ashkenazim is like the Ge'onim to make a compromise: ahava raba in the morning (the MB explains why), ahavat olam at night.  (The other case where the Ashkenazim distinguish between Shacharit and Arvit is for a completely different reason.  Sefaradim always say "sim shalom" at the end of amida as mentioned in the gemara.  The Ashkenazi custom to say "shalom rav" at Ma'ariv seems to be based on the understanding that the words "sim shalom" are meant to echo the end of birkat kohanim, "va-yasem lekha shalom", and so this reading is recited only at Shacharit when the kohanim ascend to the dukhan.  See Rema 127:2, Mordechai Yoma 627.)


Birkot KS Without KS


            The berakhot of KS are somewhat misnamed.  They are not a blessing on saying KS: we say KS even without them if the halakhic time for KS will pass if we take the time to say the blessings, and we can say the blessings even without KS, as mentioned in the SA here - and even without davening, as mentioned in the MB.  The basis of these berakhot is the verse "Seven times a day I will praise You," mandating seven blessings of praise in every day's davening: three at Shacharit, and four at Ma'ariv.  (Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:5 - not in chapter 2 as appears in the Beit Yosef on siman 58.)


Mitzvot Tzerikhot Kavana


            The question of whether commandments require a specific intention (kavana) is discussed in many places in the gemara.  (KS is discussed in Berakhot 13a.)  There is a difference of opinion in the Rishonim how we rule, but the Shulchan Arukh rules stringently - that intention is necessary to fulfill a mitzva.


            As the MB points out, there are many different levels of intention.  Here we will arrange the ones mentioned in the MB and BH, from lowest to highest:


1. MIT'ASEK - happenstance.  Even the act mandated by the commandment was not done with intention.  A person could be deciphering a Sanskrit manuscript and discover that he had said the words of KS.  In general, such an occurrence is not even considered an "act," whether to fulfill a commandment or to transgress a prohibition.


            If the commandment or prohibition relates to a result and not to an act, however, this disqualification is not significant.  If someone were to beget a son and a daughter by complete happenstance, he would still be considered to have fulfilled the mitzva of procreation.  (See Minchat Chinukh 1:8, although She'ilat Ya'avetz II:97 disagrees.)  Conversely, there is a rule that even "mit'asek" is liable with forbidden fat and forbidden cohabitation, seeing as the person in question "received enjoyment."  (Sanhedrin 62b)  Presumably the reason for the liability for "mit'asek" in this case is that the prohibition is not the act but the result of receiving enjoyment from these sources.  Likewise, a person is liable for damage he did in "mit'asek" since the liability to pay is not due to any act of damage but rather because a person is responsible to supervise his actions so that no untoward effects should result from them; an example is that "a person is charged with supervising his own body" (BK 4a).  (See also Rashi on Vayikra 5:17 regarding giving charity.)


2. INTENTION FOR THE ACT BUT NOT FOR THE COMMANDMENT.  For instance, a person blew a shofar in order to learn how, or picked up a lulav because it was resting on his talit.  He intended to perform the act, and the act was intended to achieve some aim - but not the aim of fulfilling a mitzva.  According to the MB, this is the case which is the subject of the dispute in the gemara.  There is an act, but no mitzva, since we conclude that "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana."


            We pointed out above that for some commandments even "mit'asek" is adequate - when the commandment is for a result and not an act.  Perhaps there are analogous cases where an intentional act, but without intention for a mitzva, would be enough - if the mitzva has a purpose and this purpose is the intention of the one who performs the mitzva.  The Bach (OH 625) says that certain mitzvot can be completely fulfilled only if one understands and intends the purpose of the mitzva.  For instance, when a man dons his talit his intention should be to remember the commandments; when he puts on tefillin his intention ought to be to remember the Exodus and its miracles; and when he sits in the sukka his intention should be to commemorate the sukkot which God provided for us in the desert.  (The MB cites this ruling in 625.)  It is worth considering whether this "purposeful" intention may be sufficient by itself, since this intention is part of the mitzva.


            I heard a similar ruling cited in the name of one of the writings of the Chafetz Chaim: that obligations to one's fellow man are meant to achieve a result and so there is no need to intend to perform such a mitzva.  For instance, if I paid my worker on time, I have fulfilled the commandment, even if I did not intend to do so - but of course I must intend to do the act.  Perhaps one of our readers can confirm or attribute this ruling.




            Most people think of "kavana" in doing mitzvot as some kind of active intention and awareness. Certainly mystical "kavanot" such as those of the Ari involve an intense meditation on the significance of one's actions.  Such an active involvement in the act is the opposite of what we call "rote," and is a vitally important part of our "avodat HaShem."


            But that is not what the Shulchan Arukh is talking about. when he rules that "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana." All that he means is that the act must be motivated by a desire to fulfill a commandment. In other words, if you were to ask a person "why" he is doing this particular act, he can tell you that it is because it is a mitzva. Rote performance of mitzvot was indeed condemned by the Neviim (see Yishayahu 29:13), but in general even rote performance is adequate to fulfill one's requirement.


            For example, many housewives can make bread on "automatic pilot." Just as they have the knowledge that dough needs to be rolled in order that it should have the proper texture, so they have the knowledge that challah must be pinched off in order that the bread should not be forbidden "tevel." But that is not necessarily what is on their mind as they roll and pinch off the dough. Even so, the taking of challah is certainly valid.


            What if the housewife doesn't have even the above knowledge? If she only knows that all proper housewives knead the bread - but doesn't know what this will do for her loaf - her bread will still turn out properly. What if she knows that all kosher Jewish housewives pinch off challah - but doesn't know that this is a mitzva and that otherwise the bread will be tevel? Will her bread still turn out kosher?


            Even here, the ultimate REASON for the act - even if not the active INTENTION of the act - is to perform a mitzva. A simple Jew may go to hear the shofar only because that is what everybody does on Rosh HaShana, but everybody does so on Rosh HaShana only because it is in fact a mitzva. See what the Chayei Adam says about this case - MB s.k. 10.




            This is the highest level of "kavana," and as we have just pointed out, it is one that according to the MB is usually not necessary even according to the halakha that "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana."


            Two significant exceptions are KS and tefilla. A person saying KS must understand and mean what he says as he is saying it (at least in the first verse and "Barukh Shem"), and a person who is praying must be aware that he is standing before God.


            These exceptions can be understood according to the same principle we used to understand "mit'asek." Most commandments, positive or negative, refer to ACTS - not results which result FROM acts, nor intentions which result IN acts. Therefore, mit'asek does not count and conversely active consciousness is unnecessary. But we saw that if a RESULT itself is commanded, without reference to an act, mit'asek may be enough. We could go to the other extreme and say that if an INTENTION is commanded, then it is not enough to perform an act. Perhaps the mitzva of KS is  just that - a commandment to INTEND to accept God's yoke through the recitation.


            Regarding prayer, another explanation presents itself. The commandment is indeed merely to perform an act - the act of praying. But the word "praying" itself does not mean merely moving the mouth to say certain words - it means standing before God and addressing Him! Moving the lips is an act (BM 90b), but not an act of tefilla. (See Rav Chaim HaLevi on Hilkhot Tefilla 4:1.)


            For a similar reason some commentators hold that even according to the ruling that commandments do not require intention, commandments of speech do require intention (BH s.v. yesh omrim). The act is enough, but without intention there is no act at all.



            The MB (s.k. 10)  mentions that according to the Magen Avraham, Rabbinical commandments do not require intention. This can involve a person in messy doubts - for instance, if he picked up the lulav after the first day of Succot because his talit was stuck underneath, he may be concerned that he has already fulfilled the mitzva and is unable to say the blessing. The same problem faces a person who wants to conform to those opinions in the Rishonim which hold that even Torah commandments do not require intention, even though these opinions are rejected by the Shulchan Arukh.


            It is important to know that the Ran writes that if a person has specific intention not to fulfill the mitzva, he has not fulfilled the mitzva even if no positive intention is required. (Ran on Rif RH 7b s.v. aval, implied by MB s.k. 9.) This ruling is generally accepted, and can be used to avoid awkward doubts and also in cases where a person who would be performing a mitzva might transgress "bal tosif." For instance, if a person has no place to sleep on Shmini Atzeret except in his Succa, he can have explicit intention not to fulfill the mitzva of Succa.


            The specific intention which one should have during KS will be discussed IY"H in next week's shiur.