By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Is it possible for someone to enjoy his meal in a perfectly kosher sukkah while simultaneously violating the injunction against eating a bread meal outside the sukkah on Sukkos? Can a man wear a perfectly kosher tallis, yet at that very moment and on account of that very same tallis violate the precept of not wearing a four-cornered garment without tzitzis?
The Gemara in Yevamos discusses performing a mitzvah while dozing off. The Gemara differentiates between sleeping and dozing. What is the Talmudic definition of “dozing”? If someone is asked, “Did you put an item in such and such place?” and he is able to accurately answer, then he is only dozing. If he can’t answer that question, he is sleeping. The Gemara concludes that it is indeed possible to fulfill a mitzvah while dozing.
One such example is reading the Megillah. One who reads the Megillah while occasionally dozing off fulfills the mitzvah (if he actually reads most of it from the scroll rather than reciting it all from memory). However, one who listens to the Megillah while dozing does not fulfill the mitzvah. The Mishnah Berurah explains that one who was dozing while listening to the Megillah surely missed some words, and those few words are enough to stop him from fulfilling the obligation. However, we assume the dozing reader made sure not to skip any words.
However, there is a difficulty with this halachah. The Shulchan Aruch rules (O.C. 60:4) that intention to fulfill the mitzvah is an integral part of any mitzvah. Suppose a person was studying Megillas Esther from a kosher Megillah scroll. He read through the entire Megillah on Purim during the course of his studies. He has not fulfilled the mitzvah of reading the Megillah, since he did not have specific intent to fulfill that mitzvah.
The Pri Megadim wonders how this sleepy individual who is reading the Megillah is actually able to have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah throughout the entire Megillah. His mental prowess is impaired by his sleepy state. If a sleepy Megillah-reader cannot have the required intent, then how can the Shulchan Aruch say that he fulfills his obligation?
The Mishnah Berurah says it is likely that in fact the sleepy Megillah-reader is incapable of having in mind that he is doing a mitzvah throughout the entire reading. However, when the dozer started reading the Megillah he had the proper intent to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah with this very reading, and that intention is valid and suffices for the entire reading. One need not actually have in mind that one is fulfilling a mitzvah during the reading of every word. The Mishnah Berurah says it is likely that the sleepy reader was able to focus properly at least when he started the recital. In fact, the Mishnah Berurah says that someone listening to the sleepy reader can fulfill his obligation by listening to that reading. Although the drowsy ba’al k’riah cannot continuously have in mind that he is reading on behalf of others, it suffices if he at least starts with that intention.
Similarly, if someone walked inside shul on Rosh Hashanah with intent to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar that will take place later, that intention is sufficient. He does not need to have in mind during the actual blowing that he intends to fulfill the mitzvah of tekias shofar, although it is still preferable that he do so (M.B. 589:16).
Tzitzis is a biblical mitzvah. Surely, then, the requirement to have positive intent to fulfill the mitzvah applies to tzitzis. Typically taleisim are worn only during Shacharis. Suppose someone is called up to the Torah for an aliyah during Minchah on Shabbos. He quickly grabs his tallis and drapes it over his shoulders. In his hurried state, he likely did not intend to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis, let alone make a berachah. Therefore, he does not fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. He is in effect wearing a kosher tallis, without fulfilling the mitzvah. Worse yet, the Biur Halachah (O.C. 60 “V’yesh”) says that it is possible he actually is considered to be mevateil mitzvas aseih, annulling a positive precept.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, theorized that perhaps the same logic can be applied to the mitzvah of sukkah. If someone eats in a sukkah without intent to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah, he may be guilty of being mevateil mitzvas aseih. He is not certain if this logic is sound, but nonetheless recommends making an extra effort to have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah while eating in a sukkah.
I hope this article didn’t make you sleepy, as that wasn’t my intent.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.