TA'ANIS 28 (11 Tamuz) - Dedicated by Elliot and Lori Linzer in honor of Yakira Linzer's birthday.
TA'ANIS 28 (17 Shevat) - Dedicated by Mrs. Idelle Rudman in memory of Harav Reuven Moshe Rudman ben Harav Yosef Tuvia Rudman, on his first Yahrzeit.


QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Rav visited Bavel, he saw that the community recited Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. He wanted to stop them, until he noticed that they skipped parts of Hallel. He understood from their omissions that their recitation of Hallel was merely a Minhag from their forebears.
RABEINU TAM (cited by Tosfos) infers from this incident that a blessing is recited upon the performance of a Minhag. If the people in Bavel did not recite a blessing for their Minhag of saying Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, it would have been obvious to Rav that their practice was merely a Minhag and he would not have had any reason to stop them.
Rabeinu Tam (cited by Tosfos in Sukah 44b) adds that the requirement to recite a blessing for a Minhag is also evident from the fact that blessings are recited upon the performance of the Mitzvos of Yom Tov Sheni (such as Arba'as ha'Minim on Sukos, and Matzah on Pesach), even though the second day of Yom Tov outside of Eretz Yisrael is only a Minhag, as the Gemara says in Beitzah (4b).
The HAGAHOS MAIMONIYOS (Hilchos Chanukah 3:7, #5) cites further proof that a blessing is recited for a Minhag from Maseches Sofrim, which states that a blessing ("... Asher Kideshanu b'Mitzvosav v'Tzivanu...") is recited when each of the Megilos is read. The obligation to read the Megilos (Eichah, Koheles, Ruth, Shir ha'Shirim) at certain times of the year is not mentioned anywhere in the Gemara and is only a Minhag, but a blessing is still recited.
Rabeinu Tam asks, however, that the Gemara here seems to contradict the Gemara in Sukah (44b). The Gemara there quotes Aivo who relates that Rebbi Elazar was given an Aravah branch and he waved it ("Chibut") but did not recite a blessing. Rebbi Elazar maintained that the waving of the Aravah branch is "Minhag Nevi'im," a custom initiated by the prophets.
Rabeinu Tam answers that the Gemara in Sukah does not contradict the Gemara here because the Minhag to say Hallel on Rosh Chodesh differs from the Minhag of Chibut Aravah. What is the difference between the Minhag of Chibut Aravah (for which no blessing is recited) and the other Minhagim (for which a blessing is recited)? Rabeinu Tam says that the Minhag of Chibut Aravah involves nothing more than a simple act of waving the Aravah. The reading of Hallel, however, is a more significant act, "because it is like reading verses from the Torah."
What does Rabeinu Tam mean? How can one say a blessing with the words, "... Asher Kideshanu b'Mitzvosav v'Tzivanu...," simply because the Minhag is "like reading verses from the Torah"? Neither the Torah nor the Chachamim command that Hallel be recited on Rosh Chodesh, just as they do not command that the Aravah be waved on Sukos. Moreover, how does Rabeinu Tam's answer explain why blessings are recited for the Mitzvos performed on Yom Tov Sheni?
ANSWER: The BRISKER RAV (end of Chidushim to Maseches Sukah) explains as follows. RASHI in Sukah (44a, DH Minhag) writes that the reason why a blessing is not recited for a Minhag is because the requirement to observe a Minhag is not included in the Mitzvah of "Lo Sasur" -- "Do not turn away from what they (the Chachamim) instruct you" (Devarim 17:11).
However, according to the RAMBAM, "Lo Sasur" includes the obligation to obey any Mitzvah d'Rabanan and any Minhag that the Chachamim instructed us to observe (introduction to Mishneh Torah; see Sefer ha'Mitzvos, Shoresh Rishon; Lo Sa'aseh #312, Mitzvas Aseh #174). Why, according to the Rambam, is no blessing recited for the Minhag of Chibut Aravah?
The Brisker Rav explains that it must be that the blessing recited upon the performance of the act is not related to whether the act is a Minhag or a Mitzvah. Rather, when the Chachamim instructed that a certain Minhag be observed but did not enact it as a Mitzvah, their intent was to give it a status different from the status of a Mitzvah. They wanted it to have the status of an obligation of a Minhag, and not an obligation of a Mitzvah. This means that they wanted a certain practice to be observed but they did not want to define the practice as a Mitzvah (a "Shem Mitzvah"). For example, when the Chachamim enacted the Minhag of Chibut Aravah, they did not want the nature of the act to be considered any more than an act of picking up an Aravah and hitting the floor with it ("Einah Ela Tiltul," in the words of Rabeinu Tam). It is not a new category of Mitzvah called "Chibut Aravah" which one can "fulfill" or "not fulfill."
No blessing is recited for such a Minhag. Other Minhagim are different and require that a blessing be recited before they are performed. The Mitzvos performed on Yom Tov Sheni (Lulav, Sukah, Matzah) are defined as acts of Mitzvah, since the Torah commands them as Mitzvos for the first day of Yom Tov. The act of holding a Lulav on Yom Tov Sheni is defined as an act of Mitzvah of "Netilas Lulav" and not merely a motion of bending down and picking up a palm branch. The same applies to reading the Megilos and reciting Hallel. When Rabeinu Tam says that the recitation of Hallel is no different from the reading of the Torah, he means that the act of reading the Torah is a Mitzvah for which the Chachamim instituted a blessing, and thus any act of reading a portion of the Torah is included in the definition of the "Shem Mitzvah" of "Keri'as ha'Torah."
The RAMBAM (Hilchos Chanukah 3:7), in contrast, rules that a blessing is not recited for Hallel on Rosh Chodesh "because it is a Minhag, and we do not recite a blessing for a Minhag." However, he seems to contradict this ruling when he writes (in Hilchos Yom Tov 6:14) that Yom Tov Sheni is also a Minhag, and yet he agrees that the Mitzvos of Yom Tov Sheni do require blessings. Why is Hallel different from the Mitzvos of Yom Tov Sheni, according to the Rambam? Both should require a blessing.
The Brisker Rav explains that the Rambam agrees that there is a difference between a Minhag which the Chachamim defined as an act of "Mitzvah" and a Minhag which they did not designate as a Mitzvah, but for which they merely prescribed the motions of a certain act. Accordingly, the Rambam agrees that blessings are recited for the Mitzvos of the Minhag of Yom Tov Sheni. The reading of Hallel, though, is different.
The Brisker Rav quotes his father, Rabeinu Chaim ha'Levi, who explains that the blessing recited for reading the Torah is not clearly a Birkas ha'Mitzvos, a blessing recited upon the performance of a Mitzvah. There is reason to say that the blessing recited upon reading the Torah is not recited for the fulfillment of the Mitzvah, but rather it is recited as an expression of reverence for the Torah. (Indeed, the Gemara in Berachos (21a) derives this blessing from the verse (Devarim 32:3), "Ki Shem Hash-m Ekra Havu Godel l'Elokeinu.") Accordingly, it is possible that the Chachamim did not define the reading of the Torah as an act of Mitzvah for which a blessing of a Mitzvah must be recited (perhaps they established that a blessing is not recited on this type of Mitzvah). Therefore, the recitation of half-Hallel does not warrant a Birkas ha'Mitzvos ("li'Kro Es ha'Hallel") because it is compared to the Mitzvah of reading from the Torah, which does not have a Birkas ha'Mitzvos. (See also Insights to Sukah 44::3.)