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Responsa: Blessings Before Mitzvot

In Honor of the Yahrtzeit (20th of Cheshvan) of Rav Avraham ben Yitzchak of Narbonne, author of Sefer HaEshkol, father-in-law of the the Raavad, Rav Avraham ben Dovid.

The Eshkol is quoted by the Rashba (#18): The Rabbis rule that a blessing, thanking God for sanctifying us with His Mitzvot, is to be recited before carrying out a Mitzvah. Yet while the Talmud records the blessings to be recited before the performance of some Mitzvot, no blessings were apparently ordained for recital before the performance of other Mitzvot such as visiting the sick, comforting mourners, attending a funeral, sending away the mother bird when taking the young (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) and many others.

Is there any general principle according to which the Rabbis decided that a blessing is to be recited before the performance of some Mitzvot and not before others?

There is no general principle to cover all cases, he remarks, but some rules van be inferred, of which the following are examples:
1. There is no blessing when the performance of the Mitzvah depends on another, such as giving Tzedaka, since the recipient may be unwilling to be helped.
2. There is no blessing when what is entailed is not a positive act – such as the cancellation of debts in the Seventh Year. (Deuteronomy 15)
3. There is no blessing if the Mitzvah can only come about as the result of a sin such as the obligation to return stolen goods.
4. There is no blessing where the Mitzvah is to give that which belongs to God, such as giving tithes.
5. No blessing is recited by the court when punishing criminals, even though this, too, is a Mitzvah. This is because God has compassion on all His creatures and does not desire thanks for a command which involves inflicting punishment.
6. No blessing is recited before carrying out the Mitzvah to rebuke a sinner, because there is always doubt whether the one who administers the rebuke is sufficiently worthy to sit in judgment on another. (See also Abudirham, Seder Tefillot Shel Chol, Gate 3, and the Introduction to Sifran Shel Rishonim.)

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