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Recite the Blessing Before or After Performing a Mitzvah?

Recite the Blessing Before or After Performing a Mitzvah?

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Generally, blessings are recited before performing a mitzvah—such as before eating matzah or before lighting the Chanukah candles.

There are two exceptions to this rule: netilat yadayim (ritual hand-washing, whether before eating or upon awakening in the morning) and Shabbat candles.

The reasons for these exceptions:

Netilat yadayim: Hands are often unclean before the washing. Hence, out of respect for the One whom we are blessing, we wait until after washing before reciting the blessing.

[When washing before a meal, the drying of the hands is also part of the mitzvah, and we recite the blessing after the washing but before drying. As such, to some degree we still follow the rule of saying the blessing prior to (part of) the mitzvah.]

Shabbat candles: With the recitation of the blessing on the candles on Friday afternoon, the women usher in the Shabbat. Once the Shabbat has begun, lighting candles would be forbidden. The blessing is, therefore, recited after the candles are lit.

[Interestingly, here, too, we complete the mitzvah only after reciting the blessing. Women cover their eyes immediately upon lighting the candles until after finishing the blessing, so as not to benefit from the light of the candles—which is the completion and objective of the mitzvah.]

Best wishes,
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Chivas Yonkers, NY August 22, 2013

TEFILIN There is a third exception to the rule. We recite the blessing over Tefillin after we affix the arm Tefillin but before the strap is wound around the arm and middle finger. Reply

David Levant Emerson,N.J. July 23, 2013

The candles When someone lights the candles before the blessing is recited they are not yet shabbat candles.They are merely flames with no spiritual qualities.Once the eyes are covered and the blessing is recited the flames become transformed from simply fire into a light with a soft spiritual glow.They now are shabbat candles. Reply

Benjamin July 21, 2013

Shabbat candles Many (if not most) sepharadim light Shabbat candles after saying the blessing for just this reason. in this case, Shabbat is ushered in by the acceptance of Shabbat...often upon the lighting of the candles...not by the beracha. Reply

Chaim February 15, 2008

Most people don't know One should make the blessing on washing the hands BEFORE drying them--not while you dry them, as many people mistakenly believe. Reply

Anonymous P''ok, N.Y. February 15, 2008

brocho before mitzvah when a woman immerses in the mikvah most women first immerse once then say the blessing and then continue to do as many immersions as is their custom (although sefardm have the custom to first recite the blessing then immerse) Reply