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Thought for the Day: Mitzvos and Brachos

Whether mitzvos tzrichos kavana or not is a matter of some discussion (we pasken d'oraisos require kavana, d'rabanans do not), but there is no doubt or argument that l'chatchila a mitzvah should be done with the thought in mind that one is performing a commandment of the Creator.  One reason Chazal instituted brachos was to help us with that.  If you make a formal declaration -- "Praised are You, HaShem, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to ..." -- you are much, much more likely to have the right kavanos (intentions).

However, failure to say the bracha never nullifies the performance.  In fact, even if you aren't sure if you made the bracha, or even you are sure you didn't and are only unsure if you performed the mitzvah or not and therefore need to (re)perform the mitvah, you would not (re)perform with a bracha.  Unless, of course, the mitzvah was the bracha, such as bentching or davening.

On the other hand, we really, really do want to attach a bracha to our mitzvah observance.  A common place this comes up is slichos.  When slichos are early (before mi'sh'yakir), then a bracha cannot by made on the tallis.  For most of the congregation, no problem -- just wait till davening proper to don their tallis.  For the shaliach tzibur, however, big problem.  He needs to wear a tallis out of kavod ha'tzibur.  The accepted practice is for the shaliach tzibur to borrow a tallis for slichos, because a borrowed tallis does not require a bracha.  (I always lend my tallis, that way I know at least my tallis said slichos properly.)

Halichos Shlomo brings up an interesting case: someone who cannot talk, either permanently or due  to some temporary condition, but needs to separate t'ruma.  In that case, he says, better to have someone else separate the t'ruma with a bracha rather than rely on being yotzi without a bracha.  On the other hand, one may still give the t'ruma to a mute cohein. It doesn't make sense, reasons Halichos Shlomo, for a cohein to be denied the opportunity to m'akyem the mitzvah d'oraiso of eating t'ruma simply because he is unable to make the appropriate bracha.

Interestingly, the Halichos Shlomo puts separating chala for a woman more like eating t'ruma for a cohein; so a woman who cannot talk would still be able to separate challa.  I would have expected it to be more like separating t'ruma.  Live and learn.

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