With the Best Intentions

Menachot (1) | Allon Ledder | 12 years ago

We now make the transition from Masechet Zevachim (which deals mainly with animal and bird offerings) to Masechet Menachot (which deals mainly with flour or “meal” offerings).

There are many similarities in the laws of the various types of offerings and accordingly many of the themes of Masechet Menachot are shared with Masechet Zevachim. One such theme that we see in the first few mishnayot of Masechet Menachot is the requirement for the kohen who is performing the offering to have proper intent.

Two kohanim can perform the same offering identically, however if their intentions differ then the validity of the offering will also differ. If a kohen intends his offering to be for an erroneous designation, the offering is valid however the owner’s obligation to bring an offering is not fulfilled and the owner must bring another offering (Mishnah 1:1). If a kohen intends the offering to be eaten or burned on the mizbeach after the appropriate time, then the offering becomes pigul and anyone who eats of the offering is liable to karet (Mishnah 1:3).

There is a machloket among the Rishonim concerning the definition of intent. According to Rashi and Tosfot, the kohen’s erroneous intent will only invalidate the korban if the kohen verbalises his intent. According to Rambam, an erroneous thought alone would be sufficient to invalidate the korban. The Gemara (Zevachim 2a) states that the absence of intent is treated as intent for the designated purpose. For this reason, the Sanhedrin ruled that those performing the avodah should not verbalise the purpose of the offering so that they not make a mistake and state the wrong purpose (Zevachim 4:6). (This understanding of Zevachim 4:6 follows Rashi’s and Tosfot’s opinion that disqualification of a Korban only occurs if the incorrect intent is verbalised.)

The question of intent also arises in relation to our performance of mitzvot. Is the proper intent necessary for the performance of mitzvot? If so, what level of intent is necessary? There is a well known machloket in the Gemara as to whether mitzvot need kavana or not. The question is discussed in relation to many mitzvot, including Kriyat Shema, eating matza, blowing the shofar and reading the megillah.

Everyone would agree that it is preferable to have the right intentions in mind when performing a mitzvah in order to perform the mitzvah in the best way. However, is the lack of intention me’akev? Is intention an essential component of the performance of the mitzvah?

The Shulchan Aruch (60:4) refers to the machloket and rules that the Halacha is that mitzvot do require intent. The Mishnah Berurah explains that there are two types of intent:

  1. Intent of mind in the performance of the mitzvah itself – this

    involves conscious application to what one in saying or doing and not having any other thought in mind at the time; and

  2. Intent to fulfil one’s duty with one’s action – to have in mind that

    one wishes to discharge one’s obligation by means of the action in accordance with Hashem’s command.

The Mishnah Berurah explains that the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling does not refer to the first type of intent. All authorities agree that lechatchila one should have conscious application while one performs mitzvot. However, bedi’eved, if one performed the mitzvah without this level of intent, he will have fulfilled his obligation (except in the case of the first verse of Shema and the first bracha of the Amidah). The ruling of the Shulchan Aruch refers to the second type of intent – i.e. before one begins to perform a mitzvah, he is obliged to have in mind that he intends to fulfil his obligation when he performs the mitzvah. If he does not have such intent he has not fulfilled his obligation and he will need to redo the mitzvah.

However there are a number of qualifications to this ruling:

Of course, lechatchila, one should always strive to have both types of intent when performing a mitzvah so that we perform our mitzvot in the optimum way.

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