“… Al Biur Chametz (regarding the disposal of leaven).” (Gemara Pesachim 7b)

We are familiar with the fact that some blessings end with the formula “Al (regarding) …” whilst others conclude “Le- (to) …”. What are the guidelines?

We recite “… Al Netilat Yadayim (regarding washing hands)”, “… Al HaShechitah (regarding slaughtering), “… Al Achilat Matzah (regarding eating Matzah)”, “… Al Achilat Maror (regarding eating Maror)”, “… Al Biur Chametz (regarding the disposal of leaven)”, “… Al Sefirat HaOmer (regarding counting the Omer)”, etc.

Yet we also say “… LeHadlik Ner Shel Shabbat (to kindle the Shabbat candle)”, “… LaAsok BeDivrei Torah (to occupy ourselves with words of Torah)”, “… Likro Et HaHalel (to read Halel)”, etc.

Why do we state “… Al HaMilah (regarding circumcision)” but “… LeHachniso Bivrito Shel Avraham Avinu (to raise the child into the covenant of our forefather Avraham)”? Why is it “… Al Netilat Lulav (regarding taking the Lulav)”, but “… Leishev BaSuccah (to dwell in the Succah)”? Why do Ashkenazim utter “… LeHaniach Tefilin (to lay Tefilin)” while placing the Tefilin on the arm, but “… Al Mitzvat Tefilin (regarding the commandment of Tefilin)” when putting the Tefilin on the head?

Rambam [1] presents three qualifications as to when “Le- …” is recited:

The Mitzvah must be obligatory, rather than optional (e.g. you don’t have to eat meat so the blessing over slaughtering is “Al …” rather than “Le- …”); and

The Mitzvah must be performed for oneself, rather than on behalf of another; and

The blessing is recited before the Mitzvah, as opposed to after the Mitzvah.

Therefore, it’s “… Al HaMilah” because a Mohel can perform the Mitzvah of circumcision on your behalf. It’s “… Al Achilat Matzah” and “… Al Achilat Maror” because [2] in Temple times the preferred way to fulfil these Mitzvot was to eat them with the Pascal lamb in a Chaburah (group) [3]. Since the group is such a key element of the Mitzvah, the second of Rambam’s three qualifications for “Le- …” is not satisfied.

It’s “… Al Netilat Lulav” because [1] the person has already fulfilled his obligation just by picking up the Lulav. It’s “… Al Mitzvat Tefilin” on the head-Tefilin because [4] the Mitzvah started earlier with the placement of the Tefilin on the arm. It’s also “… Al Biur Chametz” because [1] the Mitzvah is reckoned to have begun as soon as one has decided to search out and destroy his leaven. Finally, it’s “… Al Sefirat HaOmer” because the counting would only start after the Omer offering had been brought4.



1. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Berachot 11:11-15

2. Migdal Oz on Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Berachot 11:15

3. BeMidbar 9:11 & Shemot 12:4

4. Kesef Mishnah on Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Berachot 11:11