Halacha for Thursday 2 Elul 5777 August 24 2017

Rectifying the Transgression of a Positive Commandment and a Blessing in Vain

Question: If one has one’s Tefillin checked and the inspection reveals that unfortunately, a word was missing from the head Tefillin (which constitutes an absolute invalidation of the Tefillin) and after obviously switching Tefillin immediately, the individual’s heart is still bitter about the past and he would like to know: What rectification process can he perform to atone for this sin?

Answer: Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l was asked this question in his work (Chazon Ovadia-Yamim Nora’im, page 26) and writes that there are two issues which must be addressed: Firstly, is the fact that this person did not don the head Tefillin for several years. Secondly is the fact that he would recite a daily blessing in vain on the Tefillin (for the inquiring individual was Ashkenazi and Ashkenazim customarily recite a separate blessing before donning the head Tefillin), for one may not recite a blessing on invalid Tefillin and one who does so recites a blessing in vain, which is a Torah prohibition according to the Rambam.

We must first establish that the person asking this question is halachically classified as “unintentional,” i.e. there are three categories regarding any action: “Intentional,” one who performs a premeditated action, for instance, one who drives a car on Shabbat and knows that it is forbidden to do so, “unintentional,” one who performs an action unintentionally, for instance, one who drives a car on Shabbat and does not know that that day is Shabbat and the like, and “forced,” one who performs an action by force, for instance, one who drives a car on Shabbat while being forced to do so by others. Regarding one who is forced, such an individual is completely exempt, for he is not held responsible for his actions. One who performs an action intentionally bears complete responsibility for his actions. However, one who performs an action unintentionally cannot be considered as severe as one who did so intentionally, for he did not intend to do what he did. On the other hand, he cannot exempt himself completely as if he was forced, for if he would have been more careful, he would not have transgressed what he did.

Returning to our question, regarding the fact that the inquirer has not donned Tefillin, he seemingly would not have to undergo any special rectification process, for regarding transgressing a positive commandment (donning Tefillin is a positive Torah commandment and failing to don them constitutes a negation of a positive commandment), the Gemara (Yoma 86a) tells us, “If one transgresses a positive commandment and repents, he is immediately forgiven.” The Rambam rules likewise. Since this inquirer feels remorse for his sin, admits it, and accepts upon himself to take care not to transgress it again in the future, his sin is atoned for.

The only thing left to address is all the blessings in vain he would recite every day upon donning these invalid Tefillin. If we were to consider it as though he has transgressed an actual negative Torah prohibition, for he has uttered the name of Hashem in vain and transgressed the verse, “Do not bear the name of Hashem, your G-d, in vain,” the Gemara (Yoma 86a) tells us that repentance does not atone for such things completely; rather, only through Yom Kippur can his sin be completely forgiven. Thus, he must pray fervently that Hashem accept his repentance in the merit of the holiest of days.

Nevertheless, Maran zt”l writes that since according to many Rishonim the prohibition of reciting a blessing in vain is not a Torah prohibition, rather, it is only Rabbinic in nature, in any case there is no special requirement for his rectification process and a regular repentance will suffice (although in practice we are careful regarding blessings in vain in accordance with the view of the Rambam who writes that it is indeed a Torah prohibition). Maran zt”l adds that since he has transgressed uttering Hashem’s name in vain unintentionally, there are those that say that even if one transgresses a negative Torah commandment unintentionally that he needs no special atonement and only when performing such a sin intentionally will one need great mercy to be forgiven through Yom Kippur.

Thus, Maran zt”l ruled that a regular repentance was sufficient for this young Torah scholar and Hashem would forgive him for his iniquity.

We see clearly how much one should be careful not to recite blessings in vain in a negligent manner, for this is considered uttering Hashem’s name in vain intentionally and repentance for this is difficult. One should strengthen his observance of this matter by paying close attention before reciting any blessing out of one’s mouth. May Hashem see our suffering and accept our prayers mercifully and willingly.

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