All Mitzvot Require Intention
There is a very important rule regarding all Mitzvot that when one performs them, he must have in mind at the time he is performing the Mitzvah that at this moment he is fulfilling this specific Mitzvah. Similarly, Maran HaShulchan Aruch rules (Chapter 60, Section 4), “Some say that Mitzvot do not require intention while others say that Mitzvot do require intention, and the Halacha follows this view.” For instance, if one hears the Shofar blasts without having in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah of Shofar, rather he had in mind to hear the sound of a Shofar he happened to have been playing as a musical instrument, he has not fulfilled his obligation of hearing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Similarly, one who reads Keri’at Shema but does not have in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah of reading Keri’at Shema must read Keri’at Shema once again.
The Mitzvot of the Seder Likewise Require Intention
It would seem that this law applies to the eating of Matzah on the night of Pesach as well that when one partakes of the Matzah he must have in mind that he is doing so to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzah. However, if one has already eaten the Matzah without having in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzah, according to the letter of the law he has in fact fulfilled his obligation of eating Matzah (the reason for this is because the Mitzvah of eating Matzah is different from other Mitzvot in that one has enjoyment through the eating of the Matzah; we cannot go into so much more detail about the explanation of this matter). This is especially true if one recited the blessing of “Al Achilat Matzah” before eating, for there is the no greater form of “having in mind” than when one verbally states that he is now eating for the sake of the Mitzvah of Matzah.
Based on this we can infer that the same applies to the eating of the Maror (romaine lettuce), that although one must preferably have in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Maror on the night of Pesach while eating the Maror, nevertheless, if one partakes of the Maror without having this specific intention in mind, he has fulfilled his obligation. The reason why we rule leniently regarding Maror if one has already eaten it (although eating Maror is not so enjoyable) is because the Mitzvah of eating Maror nowadays is only of rabbinic nature and it is not a Torah commandment. Thus, regarding this matter which is only a rabbinic obligation, if one has already eaten, we rule leniently and one need not eat Maror a second time.
Regarding this concept that Mitzvot require intention, this does not mean that one must state explicitly (verbally) that he has in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah of Hashem with the action he is about to perform; rather, the main obligation is to think this in one’s mind regarding whatever he does. Therefore, there is no obligation to recite the “LeShem Yichud” text before performing every Mitzvah. On the contrary, some Acharonim write that it is improper for all to be reciting the “LeShem Yichud” text for not everyone can understand what is written in it. Maran Harav Shlit”a also customarily does not recite the “LeShem Yichud” text before prayers or other Mitzvot (besides for the Mitzvah of counting the Omer on the first night when Maran Shlit”a does indeed recite the “LeShem Yichud”). Nevertheless, many do have the custom to recite the “LeShem Yichud” before performing any Mitzvah.
Let us now recount a related incident. In the year 5712 (1952), Maran Shlit”a published his first halachic work, Responsa Chazon Ovadia on the laws of Pesach at the age of thirty-one. He wrote in this book that there is no obligation to recite the “Leshem Yichud” text before performing a Mitzvah. This caused a great uproar amongst the rabbis of the Iraqi community, for it was their opinion that no rabbi in the world had the authority to disagree with Rabbeinu Yosef Haim, the saintly Ben Ish Hai. Since the Ben Ish Hai instituted specific “Leshem Yichud” texts to be recited before performing the various Mitzvot, it is incorrect to say that there is no obligation to recite it. Maran Shlit”a replied to them that the Ben Ish Hai did not enact for these “Leshem Yichud” texts to be recited as a matter of Halacha; rather, he meant that reciting them was an added stringency. Furthermore, it is indeed permissible for one Torah scholar to disagree with another’s opinion, even if he is greater than him. This is especially true since many great Acharonim, including the Noda Bihuda and Hagaon Harav Chaim of Sanz, rule against reciting the “Leshem Yichud” text before performing Mitzvot for several reasons.
This was nevertheless insufficient for these scholars and they continued embittering Maran Shlit”a’s life until he became ill as a result and there was serious concern for his welfare.
The luminaries of the generation, led by Hagaon Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l, then banded together to defend the honor of Maran Shlit”a and they proceeded to rebuke those who sparked the conflict against Maran. Indeed, when a group of rabbis of Iraqi descent came to the home of Hagaon Harav Ezra Attia zt”l, Rosh Yeshivat Porat Yosef, to protest the ruling of Maran Shlit”a, he told them as follows: “With all of your old age and wisdom, none of you has reached even the ankles of Harav Ovadia Yosef. If so, how do you have the audacity to spark such contention?”
Furthermore, the eldest of the Mekubalim in Jerusalem at the time who was a disciple of the Ben Ish Hai, Hagaon Harav Efraim Ha’Kohen, visited the home of the leader of the Iraqi rabbis in hopes of cooling the fires of discord and he praised Maran Shlit”a lengthily and stated that he was to be the chief halachic authority of the Jewish nation.
The head of the opposition against Maran Shlit”a once took an especially drastic step against Maran. When Maran Shlit”a was once walking through Jerusalem’s Zion Square, this man threw a vegetable at Maran in order to humiliate him. Several years later, in the year 5735 (1975), there was a large-scale terrorist attack in Zion Square and this man’s son was killed in exactly the same spot where his father humiliated Maran Shlit”a. From then on, it seems that this man stopped his evil ways and would then divide up chapters of Tehillim in various synagogues. (This entire incident shall, G-d-willing, be explained fully in the best-selling biography on Maran Shlit”a, Abir Ha’Ro’im, Volume 2).
The widespread custom nowadays has become that it is indeed non-compulsory to recite the “Leshem Yichud” texts and is only recited as an added measure of stringency.