Shabbat Parashat Pinchas | 5769
Ask the Rabbi: Birkot hamitzva
The gemara (Berachot 60b) describes the morning berachot as being recited as one performs each action the berachot relate to (e.g., opening one’s eyes, putting on shoes, washing hands, putting on tzitzit, etc.). These days, we make the birkot hashachar, which praise Hashem for providing us with our physical needs, at one time, usually at the beginning of davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 46:2) provides two reasons for our present practice: our hands are dirty when we get up, making it improper to make a beracha; some people cannot make the berachot themselves, so in shul the chazan says it on their behalf. Your query revolves around the question whether the beracha on neya stays in its place, at the time of the washing, or also moves.
The Beit Yosef (OC 6) cites two approaches to the matter. The simpler one, which he accepts (Shulchan Aruch, OC 6:2) is, as you argued, that the beracha should be close to the mitzva. Admittedly, unlike other birkot hamitzva, the beracha on neya is recited after the mitzva, as before the washing, one’s hands are likely to be too dirty to make the beracha (see Tosafot, Pesachim 7b). However, it still can be done either before one wipes his hands or soon thereafter, as opposed to after a long break (see Mishbetzot Zahav, OC 6:4). However, the Beit Yosef justifies the minhag to make the beracha on neya in shul, which Ashkenazim accept (Rama, ad loc.), based on the Rashba’s approach to the reason for neya. He says that as one embarks on the day as a new creation, he must thank Hashem and wash his hands like a kohen in preparation for these thanks. As the washing is related to these birkot hashachar, just as they are done in shul, the beracha on neya is also done there. The Perisha (6:3) understands that this beracha is not a standard birkat hamitzva.
The Rosh (Berachot 9:23) says that neya and its beracha were instituted as a preparation for tefilla. Therefore, says the Chayei Adam (7,6), if one were to wash his hands when waking up and then went to the bathroom and washed his hands again before tefilla, it is the second washing that must receive the beracha. While he only seems to make an issue of this when one expects to use the facilities between neya and davening, the Gra (Maaseh Rav 3) says that the Rosh’s approach mandates making the beracha specifically in shul before tefilla (he appears not to require another neya if he does not use the facilities in between). However, the Gra is an extreme opinion in this matter, as he accepted the Rosh so much as to require neya with a beracha before Mincha and Maariv (ibid.), which we do not.
In these matters, we would suggest that Ashkenazim and Sephardim follow their respective minhagim. The question is when a lot of time passes between neya upon arising and tefilla. The Chayei Adam suggests that the person go to the bathroom again, making the beracha after the second time. However, the Biur Halacha (to 4:1) raises the issue that, according to the Rashba, the beracha will not relate to the neya that requires it, upon awakening. This appears to be an issue if a long time goes by, even if he did not use the facilities in between (see ibid.). The Rama (6:2) leans toward making the beracha earlier in this case, whereas the Biur Halacha leans toward the Chayei Adam. The safest thing, in the case of a long break, is to make to make the beracha on neya at home, followed by birkot hashachar, which is the beginning of davening (Mishna Berura 6:9). (Realize that, according to all opinions, a long time goes by between the beracha on neya and Shemoneh Esrei).
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.
on the occasion of her yahrzeit, 24 Tammuz