A Necessary Prelude?
‘Intentions Of Korbanos’
The Mishna and Gemara on our daf note that specific intentions are required in the preparation of a korban. If one had an intention contrary to what the specific sacrifice required, the entire offering is worthless.
That is why many people say, “Lesheim yichud kudsha berich hu ushechinteih…al yedei hahu tamir v’nelam besheim kol Yisrael – For the unification of Hashem and His Shechinah…by means of that hidden one in the name of all Israel” before putting on tzitzis and tefillin, before saying Baruch She’amar, before counting the Omer, etc.
The prayer stems from kabbalistic siddurim. It seems that it was introduced around 1640. At the time, a fierce discussion arose about the propriety of saying it. The author of Chavos Yair (Responsa 210), who was asked to explain the meaning of the prayer, humbly replied that he did not understand it.
With the spread of the chassidic movement, which adopted many kabbalistic elements, saying Lesheim Yichud became widespread. Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Noda B’Yehudah, 1st ed., Yoreh De’ah 93, and see 2nd ed., Orach Chayyim 107) strongly opposes saying it due to the catastrophic Shabsai Tzvi era and the limitations imposed on learning kabbalah in its wake (Sukkas Shalom, kelal 2). Among his arguments, he invokes the sugya of stama lishmah.
The rule of stama lishmah dictates that if a person slaughtering a sacrifice as an olah did not formally say so as he was slaughtering it, the sacrifice is assumed to be fine. In the absence of contrary evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that he intended the sacrifice to be what it was supposed to be. Moreover, the Gemara states that beis din ruled that a kohen should actually say nothing lest he get confused and disqualify the sacrifice.
After citing this Talmudic passage, the Noda B’Yehudah writes, “So much more so regarding the intention of prayer and mitzvos, which are complicated and [from which can be] cut away basic tenets, as we have seen. It is plain that we should abolish having any intentions at all; it suffices if a person observes the mitzvah for the sake of the mitzvah.”
Generating A Storm
The Noda B’Yehudah’s words generated great controversy, not only between chassidim and misnagdim but within both camps themselves. Among the opinions, there stands out the famous reply of Rabbi Chayim of Tchernovitz, author of Beer Mayim Chayim (at the end of his Shaar Hatefilah), who wondered about the comparison between mitzvos and kodshim. The rule of stama lishmah applies to kodshim because the sacrifices were already sanctified. Who says the same rule applies to mitzvos?
Avoiding Confusion In Concentrating On Holy Names
Addressing the Noda B’Yehudah’s concerns about erring in the intentions of mitzvos, many note the comments of Tosafos (2b, s.v. Asnu), who explains that there is a suspicion of confusion only regarding sacrifices since a kohen might mistakenly, for example, think an olah in front of him is really a shelamim. But concerning mitzvos, how can one get confused?
Still, some explain that the Noda B’Yehudah’s suspicions related to those hidden intentions and unifications of names that can be easily confused, as is apparent from his words (Chesed LeAvraham; Arugas Habosem, Orach Chayim 16, os 1, cited in Hachanah Lemitzvah al yedei Dibur).
The 17th Of Iyar
Today, the custom of most chassidic communities is to say Lesheim Yichud before every mitzvah. Yet, the siddur of the author of the Tanya only contains it before Baruch She’amar. One of the reasons given is that, in his opinion, the beracha on a mitzvah includes everything intended by Lesheim Yichud. Since there is no beracha on Baruch She’amar, though, he had to preface it with Lesheim Yichud (Hachanah Lemitzvah, ibid. 10).
Rabbi Ahron Rokeach of Belz is reputed to have skipped saying Lesheim Yichud on one of the days of the Omer – many claiming specifically the 17th of Iyar, the yahrzeit of the Noda B’Yehudah (ibid., p. 117).
Poskim who didn’t belong to the chassidic movement also mention saying Lesheim Yichud, such as the Chachmas Adam (kelal 151:12) and the author of Hapardes (in the preface Or Hashanim). In his foreword to his Shev Shema’atsa, the author of Ketzos Hachoshen writes that “it is fitting for everyone before every good deed and before learning to concentrate on Lesheim Yichud, etc., and in the name of all Israel, and accept on himself the mitzvah of ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’
The Malbim (Artzos Hachayim, 28, s.k. 29) also writes: “All those who fear Hashem…have already accepted the custom to say it.”
Yet, in most communities that follow Nusach Ashkenaz, the custom is not to say Lesheim Yichud in accordance with the Vilna Gaon’s opinion (Ma’aseh Rav 69) that one should say nothing before or after counting the Omer aside from, “May it be His will that the Temple be built…”