Shabbat Parashat Beha'alotcha| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Can a minor (katan) do mitzvot and make berachot to be motzi (on behalf of) an adult (gadol)?
Answer: We will start with the explicit Talmudic sources on what a katan can and cannot do and then proceed to fill in the gaps in between.
The mishna in Rosh Hashana (29a) says that one who is not obligated in a mitzva cannot fulfill the mitzva onbehalf of one who is obligated. One example it gives is that a katan cannot blow shofar on behalf of adults. However, the gemara in Berachot (20a) states that a katan can recite Bircat Hamazone on behalf of a gadol if the gadol ateonly enough to be obligated mid’rabbanan (rabbinically) in Bircat Hamazone. In such a case, he who is obligated mid’rabbanan (because of his age) can be motzi another who is obligated mid’rabbanan (because of the amount he ate) (ibid.).
What happens if the child also ate a relatively small amount, so that his obligation is not mid’oraita (by Torah law) for two reasons (age, quantity) while the adult is missing only one element in order to be obligated mid’oraita? A similar question is whether a katan can fulfill a rabbinic mitzva on behalf of a gadol. The Ran (10a to Shabbat) cites the Ba’al Ha’itur that a katan who is old enough to be trained in mitzvot can light the Chanuka candles on behalf of a gadol. The apparent logic is that all who are obligated rabbinically are, for all intents and purposes, on the same level of obligation, no matter how many reasons there are for there not being a Torah obligation. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 675:3) brings two opinions on the matter but sides with the opinion that a minor cannot be motzi an adult (see ibid. 689:2).
However, in the case of Birkat Hamazone, there is more reason to say that a katan can be motzi a gadol when both ate a small amount. One who already fulfilled his mitzva can still be motzi one who has not (Rosh Hashana 29a). This is because one does not have to be presently obligated in a mitzva in order to be motzi one who is now obligated. The fact that he is a person to whom the obligation is pertinent, combined with the responsibility to help one’s fellow Jew fulfill his obligation, make him considered one who is commanded in the mitzva. There is logic to say that since the child can eat a satiating meal and be obligated in Birkat Hamazone on the level of a single d’rabbanan, that level of obligation applies to him, and he can be motzi an adult (Magen Avraham 689:4). Despite this idea, the Mishna Berura rules that one should avoid having a katan be motzi a gadol in Birkat Hamazone if they both ate the same amount (186:7).
It is noteworthy that, regarding the proper procedure, there are differences between different berachot and mitzvot, and we will mention just a few. One cannot make a beracha on behalf of another in regard to food unless the one who is making the beracha is making it for himself at the same time (Shulchan Aruch, OC 167:19, regarding beracha rishona; ibid. 197:4 and Mishna Berura ad loc. regarding beracha acharona). It is proper for one to be yotzei with another only if they are joining together to start the meal (ibid. 167:11), they are making a zimun, or one does not know how to bentch himself (ibid. 193:1).
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