[Avodah] How do Chabad deal with the Amen of Krias Shema

Kenneth Miller kennethgmiller at juno.com
Sun Mar 3 03:22:51 PST 2013

(For the record, just about everything in this thread concerning Ahava Raba and Shacharis also concerns Ahavas Olam and Maariv. My wording mentions only the former, but only to keep it simple.)

It has seemed to me that some hold Ahava Raba to be the Birkas Hamitzvah for Krias Shma. This was surprising to me for several reasons, and I asked for a source who explains the reasoning behind it.

R' Micha Berger cited the Ramban, Berakhos 11b "mei'eimasai", who seems to supply exactly what I was asking for. In the translation he offered from beureihatefila.com, the Ramban writes:

> it is well known that the prayer Ahavas Olam is the Bracha for
> the Mitzvah of Kriyat Shma, based on the rule that all Mitzvot
> require the recital of a Bracha before the performance of the
> Mitzvah. The same rule applies in connection with reciting
> Hallel; reading Megilat Esther; reading the Torah; and of
> course in connection with reciting Kriyat Shma. It is based on
> that rule that we learned that if one studied Torah after
> reciting Kriyat Shma that it was not necessary for him to
> recite the Bracha that precedes learning Torah since he had
> already fulfilled the obligation to recite a Bracha before
> studying Torah by reciting the Bracha of Ahava Rabbah, which
> is the equivalent to the Bracha for studying Torah.

I have difficulty with this logic on two accounts. The minor point is the comparison to Birkas Hatorah. I concede that Ahava Raba *is* a bracha, and it *does* mention "v'sen b'libenu... lilmod ul'lamed... salmud torasecha...", and therefore it *can* be used as a *b'deavad* substitute for Birkas HaTorah. But the jump from there to being a Birkas Hamitzvah to Kriyas Shma seems totally unexplained.

But my bigger difficulty with this Ramban is his claim that "all Mitzvot require the recital of a Bracha before the performance of the Mitzvah." Previously, I had posted that all these brachos use a specific wording which does NOT appear in Ahava Raba, and I asked if anyone can find other examples of a Birkas Hamitzvah which doesn't use that wording. R' Micha offered a few arguable examples, but I see now that I did not ask the correct question.

Rather, my question on the Ramban will not concern whether or not a Birkas Hamitzvah has to have any particular format. Instead, I will question the Ramban's claim that ALL mitzvos have a Birkas Hamitzvah beforehand.

Specifically, I offer the following examples of mitzvos which have no specific Birkas Hamitzvah at all:

- Verbally remembering Amalek (whether at Parshas Zachor or some other time in the year)
- Reciting Viduy (on Yom Kippur and/or Erev Yom Kippur)
- Hoshanos on Hoshana Raba (not d'Oraisa, but that's irrelevant)
- Verbally remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim (twice daily, year round)
- You can probably think of more 

I concede that all of these examples can be explained away. That is to say, you can probably come up with a nice explanation of *why* each of these doesn't have a Birkas Hamitzvah. But that will merely support my point, which is that (contrary to the Ramban) NOT every mitzvah has a Birkas Hamitzvah to go with it. And if these mitzvos lack a Birkas Hamitzvah, then perhaps Kriyas Shma also lacks a Birkas Hamitzvah.

Having challenged Ramban's assertion that ALL mitzvos require a Birkas Hamitzvah, it seems to me that the burden of proof is now on the other side. Can someone offer another proof that Ahava Raba is indeed that Birkas Hamitzvah to Kriyas Shma?

Or perhaps that's not really necessary.

I often point out that I don't like labels, and I don't like getting bogged down in semantics. Do we really care whether or not Ahava Raba has the label "Birkas Hamitzva" attached to it? No, we don't. The real question posed by this thread is the propriety of interruptions between Ahava Raba and the Shma.

For that question, I will refer to Mishneh Berura 59:24. The Mechaber there writes not to answer Amen between these two, and the MB explains that "it is a hefsek between Kriyas Shma and the bracha, just like it is assur to interrupt between *any* mitzvah or hanaah which gets a bracha, and the bracha before it."

By mentioning Birkas Hanehenin, the MB introduces a whole new angle on this problem. It is now totally irrelevant whether Ahava Raba is a "Birkas Hamitzvah" or not. What *is* important is the fact that Ahava Raba is a bracha which is recited "on" Kriyas Shma, the same way that Hamotzi is recited on bread.

A very simple analogy comes to mind: If I said Hamotzi but did not yet eat my bread, can I answer Amen to someone else's Hamotzi? (This is not a far-fetched situation. It often occurs at weddings, shaloshudos, sheva brachos, and any dinner where each person has his own roll.)

My recollection is that one may *not* answer Amen to someone else's Hamotzi in such a situation, and this seems exactly the same as if one would answer to the chazan's bracha before Shema.

I will now close this letter, and go off to investigate these two questions:

(1) Is my memory correct that one may not answer to Hamotzi in such a case?

(2) Is Shema really comparable to that or not? It would be comparable only if Ahava Raba is truly being said "on" Shema the same way that Hamotzi is said on the bread. But I suspect that Ahava Raba is merely a normal part of Seder Hatefilah, and is NOT so connected to the Shema. My evidence for that is my recollection that the halachos for answering Barchu and Kedusha are exactly the same regardless of whether one is between Ahava Raba and Shma, or between Emes Ve'emunah and Hashkivenu. I wonder what the Ramban holds there. If one can indeed answer to Barchu just prior to Shma, is Amen really forbidden? I'll go see if I can find it.

Akiva Miller
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