THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Making A Bracha Before Doing “The Mitzvah”
Today I answer a Shailah from a beloved Talmid, Boruch H. Boruch H. writes:
“The Toirah’s first Mitzvah is Pru Urvu. How come we don’t have to make a Bracha every time we have (adult relations)?
Thank you so much for submitting such an insightful, Gevaldickah question. I hope that you have not written this question with your Gatkes down, waiting for my signal as to whether to make a Bracha before “going into action”. I have a long backlog of Shailois and Teshuvois I need to get to, so it may take a while. And please remember that according to the commercial, you should call your doctor if you have an… errr… Shverkeit that lasts more than 4 hours. Kenayna Hurruh.
There are actually two aspects to your question: The explicit Shailah and the implicit Shailah. The explicit question: Should one make a Bracha before being Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Tashmish HaMitah, with or without a ribbed Kishka skin? And the implicit question: What, indeed, is the first Mitzvah in the Toirah?
Well, I am pleased to say, in your question you were Mechavayn to a Shailah and subsequent Machloikess in the Gemarrah, amongst the Rishoinim, and between the Marx Brothers.
A Gemarrah in Kesubois discusses the Bracha made under the Chupah as part of the Kiddushin, the marriage ceremony:
“Baruch Ata Adoishem Eloikeinu Meleh HaOilam, Asher Kiddishanu B'Mitzvoisuv V'tzivanu Al Ha-Arayois, V'asar Lanu Ess Ha-Arusois, V'Hitir Lanu Ess HaNesuois Lanu Al Yeday Chupah VeKidushin. Baruch Ata Adoishem, MeKadaish Amoi Yisraeil Al Yeday Chupah VaKiddushin.”
“Blessed art Thou, Hakadoshboruchhu, our Reboinoisheloilum, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us regarding forbidden unions; Who forbade betrothed women to us, and permitted women who are married to us through canopy and betrothal. Blessed are You, Aimishteh, Who sanctifies His people Israel through canopy and betrothal.”
According to the Rish Lakish, this Bracha is said only one time in a relationship, during the marriage ceremony, as is the custom today, right before the Sheva Brachois under the Chupah, the breaking of the glass on the floor, and the…err…ummm…initial entry of the TamTam cracker into the plate of herring in the Yichud room, if you know what I mean, while everyone else is fressing down their appetizers and gossiping about the bride’s cleavage.
Abaya, however, holds that the Bracha is meant to be recited by a husband monthly, after his wife comes home from the Mikvah, as he is busy preparing for being Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu after two weeks of celibacy by banging his head against the wall.
Rabbi Zeirah holds that the Bracha is actually meant to be recited every time someone engages in Tashmish HaMitah. And, in fact, the Gemarrah notes that this was the Minhag in Sura, Pumbedisa, and North and South Dakota, and was indeed the Minhag throughout the time of the Gaoynim and into the period of the Rishoinim.
So why, in fact, is this not the Halacha today?
This issue was the topic of a major Machloikess Rishoinim, on the correct moment for reciting the Bracha. According to the RAMBAM, the Bracha of Al Ha-Arayois should be said by the man immediately prior to penetration of the woman’s Erva. As he writes in the Mishnah Toirah, “The man should have his Eyver standing as tall as the Sultan’s bodyguard protecting the door to the Sultan’s harem the day after Id Al Fitr.”
However, according to the RAMBAN, reciting a Bracha prior to entry is unacceptable, since if the man is unable to complete his… err… Hoitzu’uh, this would result in a Bracha Levatala, Chass V’Sholom. Instead, the RAMBAN suggests that the Bracha be said BiSha’as Mitzvah Mamesh, immediately before the man’s…err… Makeh BePatish, and that his wife should respond to the Bracha by screaming, “Oy Gevalt!” loud enough to wake up the Kinderlach in the next room.
The RASHBA, however, considers it improper to recite the name of Hakadoshboruchhu while in the midst of a Ma’aseh Biyuh. He holds, instead, that as the man is about to have his Makeh BePatish, he should scream out the traditional formula for betrothal, “Harrei Ahs MeKudeshess Lee KiDaas Moishe VeYisroel”, “Behold you are betrothed to me according to the laws of Moishe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisroel”. According to the RASHBA, his wife should then respond, “Reb Yid, you’re Mamish a Gadol BaYisroel!!”
The RITVAH, however, is opposed to using this formula, since, if the couple engaging in Tashmish HaMitah are a young unmarried couple, this would automatically cause them to be married in the eyes of the Aimishteh, and, if the woman had not gone to Mikvah before the Mitzvah, it would result in a husband committing an act of Znus with his impure wife, an Issur Dioraisa. Says the Ritvah, “Let’s not spoil the kids’ fun. Soon enough they’ll have the opportunity to be miserable like the rest of us.” Shoyn.
As the Rishoinim could not agree on the proper time for making the Bracha on Tashmish HaMitah, the Shulkhan Arukh Paskins that the Bracha need only be said on the wedding night, which is Halacha LeMaiseh. This position has become accepted in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic world, -- even the RAMAH does not argue with Reb Yoisaiph Karo on this, although he does refer to him as a “horney little camel jockey”.
In our day, this Halacha still holds, although there has been recent debate among contemporary Poiskim about how to apply it in special circumstances. Reb Nechemya Weberman had a custom of saying the full Bracha the first time he molested each of his many underage female victims, but would not repeat the Bracha with each subsequent molestation, very much applying the Halacha as cited in the Shulkhan Arukh. He also recited a SheHechiyanu every time he put a lighter to the naked flesh of his rape victims. What a Tzaddick!
Reb Yehudah Kolko, however, did not use a variant of the betrothal Bracha before molesting each of his many underage male victims, but would only recite a SheHechiyanu every time he initiated sexual abuse of a new victim. Because of his position, he was criticized by some Rabbanim in Brooklyn for being too Meikel, too lenient.
Rabbi George Finkelstein would say the Bracha of “Zoikaif Kefufim”, “Who Makes the Bent Stand Erect”, before wrestling Yeshiva University High School students in his office, or grabbing them physically on the staircase or elsewhere in the building. But his Shitah is not considered authoritative since he was only associated with Yeshiva University and not a more prestigious Rabbinic institution.
Finally, Rabbi Baruch Lanner used two different Brachois, depending on the gender of the victim, and, interestingly, he would insist his victims recite the Bracha of choice instead of him. He would have each male student recite the Bracha of “Sheloih Usani Isha”, thanking the Reboinoisheloilum for not having made him a woman prior to Rabbi Lanner either kneeing or punching the boy in the testicles. And he would have each of his female students recite the Bracha “SheUsani Kirtzoinoi”, “For Making Me According to His Will”, prior to sexually molesting her. However, his Shitah was disavowed after he was sentenced to prison.
With regard to your initial question, referring to the “first Mitzvah in the Toirah”, it is in fact not clear that Pru Urvu is in fact the first Mitzvah. Shtayt in Pasook, “Beraishis Barah Eloikim Ess HaShamayim VaEss HaAretz”, “In the Beginning, the Reboinoisheloilum created the heavens and the earth” (Berashis, Perek Aleph, Pasook Aleph). Later in the Perek we are told, “VaYivrah Eloikim Ess HaAdam BeTzalmoi, BeTzelem Eloikim Barah Oisoi”, “And Hakadoshboruchhu created mankind; in the image of the Aimisteh he (mankind) was created” (Beraishis, Perek Aleph, Pasook Chuff Zazin). So, in truth, the first Mitzvah of the Toirah is to act in the spirit of being created “BeTezelem Eloikim”, in the image of the Divine. What does this mean?
According to the ARIZAL, the universe was emitted by the Aimishteh through a solitary act of creation known as Tzimtzum. As transmitted by the ARI’s Talmid Muvhak, Reb Chaim Vital, the ARI advocated that individual humans align themselves with the Creator by engaging in… errr… solitary acts of…ummm… emission, preferably on Roish Hashanah, in a public bathroom in Shul.
However, there was great debate around this essential notion. According to the Baal Shem Toiv, humanity is commanded, indeed expected, to emulate the Creator’s positive aspects by committing acts of loving kindness – For example, helping the needy, visiting the sick, and giving vodka to thirsty drunks. The Vilda Goyn holds, however, that humanity must emulate the creative aspects of the Reboinoisheloilum by building Shuls, erecting houses, and playing with Lego.
However, Kooley Alma Loi Pligi, everyone agrees, that being created BeTzelem Eloikim implies making the world a better place. The notion of creation precedes Matan Toirasainu -- the giving of the Toirah on Sinai -- for a reason: It is on a higher plane. More important than the broad array of complex Halachois, the institutions created around Toirah, and the titles bestowed to individuals based on Toirah knowledge are the notions fundamental to basic humanity, many of which are captured in the Sheva Mitzvois Bnei Noiach, the Seven Noahite Laws: Do not kill. Do not steal. Establish a court system. Do not oppress. Do not hurt other human beings physically, sexually, or psychologically. Do not engage in massive cover ups for the sake of preserving a status quo, putting the needs of an organization above the needs of victims. Do not besmirch the names of victims in an effort to defend oppressors as part of an institutional “circle the wagons” mentality. Do not stand silently by while others engage in such behavior.
You know, little things like that.
Through proper and responsible behavior. Klal Yisroel should be Zoicheh to being able to go bed at night with the confidence that our children are safe from sexual predators in our schools, in our camps, and in our broader communities. Under those circumstances, we will be able to focus without distraction on doing The Mitzvah in our bedroom with our spouse or significant other, and perhaps having the opportunity to engage in Multiple Mitzvois in a single night. BiMehairah BiYamainu, Umain!
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval!
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess