This week’s parasha includes the mitzvah of וידוי מעשר:
On the third and sixth years of the seven-year מעשר cycle, the farmer has to do an accounting and make sure all their מתנות have been given appropriately, and then publicly declare this in the בית המקדש. Part of the declaration is לא שכחתי. What does that mean? What does that add to the declaration that “I did the mitzvot”? Rashi explains:
The commentators on Rashi are bothered by this, since ברכות are דרבנן. Is the Torah really obligating a ברכה?
But the Sifrei (and more explicitly, the gemara) says that there are two different things here, הזכיר שמך and לברכך:
So is ברכת מעשר really מדאורייתא? Sort of. Rav Kaminetsky explains:
It is an עבירה, literally a sin, to do a mitzvah without a ברכה! We can understand the need for saying a ברכה before eating (the ברכת הנהנין):
In other words, even though the actual text we say as ברכות הנהנין were written by the רבנן, the concept of praising ה׳ for his gifts is a סברא, a logical consequence of believing in ה׳. There isn’t a specific לא תעשה here; it’s more of a “meta-mitzvah” like קבלת עול שמים. But taking advantage of the world without acknowledging הקב״ה is wrong, an “עבירה”. It means our understanding of ה׳ as creator of the universe is lacking.
Rav Kaminetsky’s insight is that doing mitzvot requires acknowledging הקב״ה as well. Even though we say (ראש השנה כח,א) מצוות לאו ליהנות ניתנו, the ability to do mitzvot is a privilege.
And therefore we should thank ה׳ for that opportunity, just as we thank Him for the food that we eat.
Rav Kaminetsky adds another point about the mitzvot that we do. He cites a mishna about giving תרומה:
If you are in a position where you cannot say a ברכה, then לכתחילה you should not separate תרומה. The lack of a ברכה expresses a flaw in the mitzvah itself, especially if the act of the mitzvah has its own benefits.
Even if מצוות אינן צריכים כוונה, you should not only have כוונה to do the mitzvah, you should verbally express that intention, and thank ה׳ for giving you the opportunity to perform His will. Anything less is like an act of מעילה, stealing from הקב״ה.
To treat any mitzvah as a means to an end (even as a means to another mitzvah) is עברתי ממצותיך, and that mitzvah כבר חמקה-עברה ממנו.
And that explains a halachic concept in ברכות:
So I end up at my happy place: a nice halachic pun. When doing a mitzvah, you can be עובר לעשייתן or עובר בעשייתן. It’s all in how we express ourselves.