The Text of Birchas Hagomeil

After Eliezer’s extensive travels through the desert, he presumably recited birchas hagomeil. Did he use the same text that we use?

Question #1: Slip up in shul

Not long ago, I received the following question in an e-mail. Upon reciting birchas hagomeil, the individual erred and recited the following:

Hagomeil tovim, shegemalani kol tuv,” thereby omitting the word lachayavim in “Hagomeil lachayavim tovim.” Must he now repeat the bracha because he omitted a word?

Question #2: Minor acknowledgements

“Thank G-d, my nine-year old daughter is now recuperating very successfully from surgery. Does she recite birchas hagomeil?”

Question #3: Daily thanks

“Does someone who travels daily recite birchas hagomeil?”

Answer:

In a previous article, we learned that birchas hagomeil is to be recited by someone who has been saved from a dangerous situation. Specifically, Sefer Tehillim (107) and the Gemara (Brachos 54b) mention four categories of people who survived treacherous predicaments: someone who traversed a wilderness, a captive who was freed, an ill person who recovered, and a seafarer who returned to terra firma. A safe return, release or recovery warrants reciting this bracha, although the halacha is that one recites birchas hagomeil after surviving any life-threatening situation. This article will discuss some aspects of this bracha that were not yet covered.

Someone else reciting

May someone else recite some form of birchas hagomeil on behalf of the person who actually was in the difficult circumstance? In this context, we find the following Gemara passage (loc. cit.):

“Rav Yehudah was ill and then recovered. When Rav Chona of Baghdad and other scholars came to visit him, they said to Rav Yehudah, ‘Blessed is the merciful One (in Aramaic, rachmana), Who returned you to us and not to the earth.’ Rav Yehudah responded, ‘You have exempted me from reciting birchas hagomeil!’”

Thus, we see that Rav Yehudah ruled that the praise recited by Rav Chona exempted him (Rav Yehudah) from reciting birchas hagomeil, notwithstanding the fact that Rav Chona had not been ill and had no requirement to bensch gomeil.

The Gemara proceeds to ask several questions about this conversation: “But do we not require a minyan for birchas hagomeil?” to which the Gemara replies that there indeed were ten people present when Rav Chona visited Rav Yehudah.

Subsequently, the Gemara questions how Rav Yehudah could have fulfilled the requirement to recite birchas hagomeil, if he himself had not made the bracha, to which it replies that he answered ‘Amen’ to the blessing of Rav Chona of Baghdad.

Thus, we see a second halacha. Someone who is required to recite birchas hagomeil need not recite the entire bracha himself, but can fulfill his responsibility by answering amen to someone else thanking Hashem.

Deriving Halacha

In addition to what we noted above, this Gemara discussion teaches several other halachos about birchas hagomeil:

1. Although the authorities quote a standardized text for birchas hagomeil, we see that one fulfills the requirement to recite the bracha even if one recited a version that varies considerably from the standard text. As long as one recites or responds to a bracha that acknowledges appreciation to Hashem for the salvation, he has fulfilled his obligation.

2. The person who was saved can fulfill his obligation by answering amen when he hears someone else thank Hashem, even though the other person who recited the bracha has no requirement to bensch gomeil. This is a unique halacha, because usually one may fulfill a bracha or mitzvah by hearing it from someone else only when the person reciting the bracha is equally required to observe the mitzvah. Nevertheless, Rav Yehudah discharged his responsibility through Rav Chona’s bracha, even though Rav Chona had no requirement to recite birchas hagomeil.

3. We can also derive from this anecdote that someone may fulfill the requirement of birchas hagomeil through someone else’s bracha, even though the person who recited the bracha did not intend to recite it on behalf of the person who is obligated. This is also an unusual facet of birchas hagomeil, since, in all other instances, the person fulfilling the mitzvah does so only if the person reciting the bracha intends to be motzi him.

4. Some authorities ask: How could Rav Chona of Baghdad have recited a blessing, when he did not know that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah with this recital? Since Rav Chona was unaware that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah, why was he not concerned that he would be reciting a bracha levatalah, a blessing recited in vain?

The answer is that Rav Chona of Baghdad’s recital was certainly praise to Hashem and thanks for His kindness, and therefore this blessing would certainly not be a bracha levatalah, even if no one fulfilled any requirement through it (Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

Uniqueness of birchas hagomeil

From these last rulings, we see that the concept of birchas hagomeil is unlike other brachos, and, therefore, its rules are different. As long as the person obligated to thank Hashem is involved in an acknowledgement that Hashem saved him, he has fulfilled his obligation.

What about mentioning Hashem’s name?

One should not infer from the above story that one can fulfill reciting birchas hagomeil without mentioning Hashem’s Name. This is because the word rachmana, which translates literally into English as “the merciful One,” also serves as the Aramaic word for G-d. Thus, Rav Chona of Baghdad did mention Hashem’s name in his blessing.

What about mentioning malchus?

The Rishonim note that from the way the Gemara quotes Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is the merciful One Who returned you to us and not to the earth,” one might conclude that it is sufficient to recite Baruch Ata Hashem for birchas hagomeil, and that one does not need to say also Elokeinu Melech haolam, the standard text prefacing all brachos. This would be very novel, since all brachos require an introduction that includes not only mention of Hashem, but requires also proclaiming that Hashem is King. However, the Tur and the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) reject this conclusion, contending that one does not fulfill birchas hagomeil unless one does mention sheim and malchus. We must therefore assume that the Gemara abbreviated the bracha recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad, but that he had indeed mentioned Hashem’s monarchy in his blessing.

The text

What is the optimal nusach, the exact text, of this bracha?

Although our Gemara (Brachos 54b) quotes a wording for birchas hagomeil, it is apparent that different rishonim had variant readings of the text of the bracha. The most common version recorded is: Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam, hagomeil lachayavim tovos, shegemalani kol tov. “Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” The assembled then respond with “Amen,” and then add Mi shegemalcha kol tov hu yigmalcha kol tov sela, “May He Who has granted you much good continue to grant you much good forever.” The established Sefardi custom is to recite two pesukim prior to reciting the bracha, which calls people to attention, so that they can focus on the bracha and respond appropriately (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 219:14).

The wording of the bracha sounds unusual, for it implies that the person who recited this bracha is assuming that he was deserving of Divine punishment, yet was saved because of Hashem’s kindness. Why should the saved person make this assumption?

The Maharam Mintz (Shu’t #14), an early Ashkenazi authority, explains that someone who became ill or was imprisoned should be introspective, seeking to learn a lesson by discovering why this happened to him, and, in so doing, he should realize that he is indeed guilty of things for which he needs to do teshuvah. In this context, the Avnei Nezer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #39) asks the following: while the Maharam Mintz’s reason explains why a person who was captured or imprisoned should consider himself guilty, it is not clear how it applies to someone who survived a journey on the high seas or through the desert, since he himself chose to undertake the trip. To this, the Avnei Nezer answers that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the bracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily. In either instance, we can now appreciate why the person reciting the bracha refers to himself as being “guilty.”

What about a child?

If a child survived a situation that would require an adult to recite birchas hagomeil, does he do so?

Early halachic authorities rule that a child under the age of bar or bas mitzvah does not recite birchas hagomeil. The Maharam Mintz explains that it is inappropriate for a child to recite the wording hagomeil lachayavim tovos, “Who grants good to those who are guilty.” Since the evil that befalls a child is not a result of his own evildoing, but of his father’s, a child reciting this text implies that his father is guilty, which is certainly improper for a child. Furthermore, to modify the bracha is unseemly, since one should not change the text of the bracha handed down to us by Chazal (quoted by Elyah Rabbah 291:3).

Some authorities are dissatisfied with this last answer, since we see that Rav Yehudah felt he had fulfilled his requirement to recite birchas hagomeil on the basis of the bracha in the form of praise recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is Hashem that returned you to us and not to the earth,” which is quite different from the text “Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” It would seem that any bracha text that includes a praise acknowledging thanks for Hashem’s rescue fulfills the requirement (see Shaar Hatizyun 219:5). Thus, it should be relatively easy to structure a birchas hagomeil text for children.

The above-quoted Avnei Nezer similarly disapproves of the reason presented by the Maharam Mintz, although he agrees with the ruling that a child should not recite birchas hagomeil – but for a different reason. The Avnei Nezer explains that although one could modify the text so that a child would be able to recite birchas hagomeil, having a child recite a different bracha would no longer accomplish the mitzvah of chinuch, which requires a child to fulfill the mitzvah the way he would as an adult.

On the other hand, the Chida (Birkei Yosef 219:1) quotes authorities who disagreed with the Maraham Mintz, and ruled that a child should recite birchas hagomeil, although he does not cite the rationale for this ruling. Presumably, they contend that having a child recite this bracha is no different from any other mitzvah in which we are required to educate our children. Most authorities agree with the rulings of the Maharam Mintz and the Avnei Nezer and, as a result, in most communities, both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, children do not recite birchas hagomeil (Kaf Hachayim 219:2).

Travels daily

The Minchas Yitzchak (4:11) was asked by someone who lived in Copenhagen, whose livelihood required him to travel among the nearby Danish islands of the Baltic Sea, whether he was required to recite birkas hagomeil every time he traveled through the Sea, in which case he would be reciting it almost daily.

Based on the above-quoted Avnei Nezer, who explained why all four categories of people who recite birkas hagomeil are categorized as “guilty,” the Minchas Yitzchak concludes that one does not recite birkas hagomeil if one lives in a place where each day requires sea travel. One cannot consider someone “guilty” for living in a place that is considered a normal place to live, and if a recognized livelihood in such a place requires daily sea travel, this cannot be considered placing oneself in an unnecessary danger.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why the blessing can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birkas hagomeil gives us a concrete bracha to say to awaken our feelings of gratitude for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birkas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks. It is certainly appropriate to focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other point in our prayer.

May I Smell My Esrog and Hadasim on Sukkos?

Although this question may seem trivial, it is indeed a serious shaylah that requires explanation. Sometimes, one may smell an esrog, while at other times one may not. Why is this true? Also, when it is permitted to smell an esrog, do I recite a bracha beforehand? If I do, which bracha do I recite?

We may ask similar questions regarding the hadasim, although the answers are not always the same. May I smell my hadasim, and which bracha do I recite before smelling them?

In order to explain the background to these questions, I first need to explain two very different areas of halacha, one concerning the laws of brachos on fragrances and the other concerning the laws of muktzah.

MUKTZAH

The Gemara teaches us the following: One may not smell (during Sukkos) the hadas set aside for the mitzvah, but one may smell the esrog. The Gemara asks, “Why is there a difference between the hadas and the esrog?” The Gemara replies that since the main use of a hadas is for fragrance, it becomes muktzah, and one may not smell it. But since the main “use” of an esrog is for food, one may not eat it, but one may smell it (Sukkah 37b).

This Gemara teaches that an item used for a mitzvah becomes muktzah machmas mitzvah, that is, designated solely for its specific mitzvah and not for a different use. This category of muktzah is different from the more familiar types of muktzah in several ways:

1. As the Gemara teaches elsewhere (Sukkah 9a), this type of muktzah is prohibited min Hatorah, whereas other forms of muktzah are prohibited only miderabbanan.

2. These items are muktzah only to the extent that one may not use them, but one may move them. This is different from most types of muktzah, which one may not move on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

3. These items are muktzah in regard to their primary, normal purpose; for example, one may not smell a muktzah hadas. However, one may use it (or them) for a secondary use, and that is why, according to the Gemara, one may smell the esrog. (A person who is interested in purchasing a fragrant item would consider buying hadasim, not an esrog.)

4. This type of muktzah is prohibited even on Chol Hamoed, whereas other types of muktzah are prohibited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov.

5. It appears that this type of muktzah is limited to items used for a mitzvah that is temporary in nature, such as sukkah and esrog.

Thus, it would seem that we may answer the original question I asked: May I smell my esrog and hadas on Sukkos? And the answer is that I may smell my esrog under any circumstances, but I may not smell my hadas, because it is muktzah for its mitzvah.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 653:1) rules that I should also avoid smelling my esrog on Sukkos. Why does the Shulchan Aruch prohibit something that the Gemara explicitly permits?

The answer to this question takes us to the other topic – when does one recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance? Although the Gemara explicitly permits smelling an esrog on Sukkos, the Gemara does not mention whether one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Indeed, the Rishonim dispute whether or not one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog. Rabbeinu Simcha, one of the late baalei Tosafos, rules that one may not recite a bracha before smelling an esrog being used for the mitzvah, whereas the Ravyah, an early Ashkenazi posek, rules that one must recite a bracha. The later poskim conclude that this dispute is unresolved, and that, therefore, one may not smell an esrog during Sukkos whenever reciting a bracha would be a question. This topic requires some explanation: Why should an esrog on Sukkos be different from an esrog any other time of the year?

FRAGRANCES THAT ARE NOT FOR THE PLEASURE OF SMELL

One recites a bracha only on a fragrance that is avida lereicha, literally, “made for fragrance” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything whose current purpose is not for aroma is not considered a fragrance” (regarding recitation of a bracha). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha before smelling a deodorizer, even if it has an extremely pleasant fragrance, since its purpose is not aroma, but to mask unpleasant odor. Similarly, smelling the tantalizing aroma of a food or food flavoring does not warrant a bracha, since its purpose is not enjoyment of their aroma, per se. (I have actually written several other articles germane to the brachos on fragrances, which I will gladly send to those interested.) Furthermore, when the halacha rules that one is not required to recite a bracha, one is not permitted to recite the bracha, as doing so constitutes a bracha l’vatalah, a bracha recited in vain.

EXAMPLE:

When showing a house that is for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people to smell or purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

Based on the foregoing introduction, we can now explain the above-quoted dispute whether to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog on Sukkos. Rabbeinu Simcha contends that although one may smell an esrog, and it is not prohibited due to its being muktzah, this does not make it into a fragrance that warrants a bracha. The esrog on Sukkos is still primarily intended for the mitzvah and not for fragrance; therefore, smelling it does not require a bracha. In Rabbeinu Simcha’s opinion, reciting a bracha in this case constitutes a bracha l’vatalah.

The Ravyah disagrees, maintaining that since one may smell an esrog, it is considered as meant for fragrance, and one is required to recite a bracha before smelling it (Mordechai, Sukkah #751; Tur Orach Chayim 653).

This dispute now places us in a predicament. The halacha is that one may not benefit from something in this world without first reciting a bracha, and if, indeed, one is required to recite a bracha before smelling an esrog, then one may not smell it without reciting a bracha (Brachos 35a; Hagahos Smaq 193:11). On the other hand, if one is not required to recite a bracha before smelling it, then one may not recite the bracha, and doing so involves reciting a bracha in vain, a bracha l’vatalah.

Since there is no method of resolving this dispute, the poskim contend that one should avoid smelling the esrog used for the mitzvah during Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch 653), even though there is no muktzah violation in smelling it. Furthermore, one may smell the esrog, if he first recited a bracha on a different fragrant fruit.

ESROG ON SHABBOS

As I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Simcha contends that an esrog is not considered avida lereicha, meant for fragrance, and therefore one does not recite a bracha before smelling it. Does this halacha apply the entire week of Sukkos, or only when I pick up the esrog to fulfill the mitzvah? What if I smell the esrog on Shabbos, when there is no mitzvah to perform, or I pick it up on a different day of Sukkos, after I have already fulfilled the mitzvah? Do I recite a bracha before smelling it, according to his opinion?

Let us compare this shaylah to the following case —

The halacha is that someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha, because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will purchase them (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse, where he is not soliciting customers, one does not make a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why does one recite a bracha on the spices in the store, but not on those that are in the warehouse? This is because the fragrances in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed, and are therefore avida lereicha. However, the fragrances in the warehouse are not meant to be smelled – therefore, they are not avida lereicha. Note that we are discussing the same fragrances, and the only difference is whether they are in the owner’s warehouse or in his store.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in a flavor factory, and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff, or you pick up some of the fragrance in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as moving towards the fragrance in order to smell it, picking it up, or putting some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any such act makes the fragrance avida lereicha.

However, the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the fragrance afterwards to the storage bin in the warehouse, it is not avida lereicha, and you do not recite a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available that he wants people to smell and buy, then one does recite a bracha on them, and he also agrees that if you remove some of the spices to smell and will not return them, you do recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim ­­­­­­regarding kitchen spices. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container to smell it, you recite a bracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it, and it will eventually be added to food. (By the way, the poskim dispute which bracha one recites before smelling cinnamon. The accepted practice is to recite borei minei besamim.) However according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this fragrance, unless you no longer intend to cook with it. Someone who wants to avoid the dispute should sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are now not going to use this small amount of spice for cooking, it is besamim, and, according to all opinions, one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motzei Shabbos (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262).

WHAT ABOUT MY ESROG ON SHABBOS?

A dispute similar to the one quoted above exists concerning smelling my esrog on Shabbos, or picking up the esrog to smell it after I have fulfilled the mitzvah for the day.

The Magen Avraham rules that I recite a bracha before smelling the esrog under these circumstances, even according to Rabbeinu Simcha. Therefore, in his opinion, one may pick up the esrog specifically to smell it and recite the bracha before smelling it.

However, the Taz implies that one may not smell the esrog anytime during Sukkos. According to the Chazon Ish’s analysis of the subject, one can explain the Taz’s approach as follows: Since the esrog is meant for the mitzvah, it is not considered avida l’reicha that warrants a bracha, unless one permanently makes it into a fragrance. Thus, if an esrog became pasul, or for some other reason one will no longer use it for the mitzvah, it will be called avida l’reicha and warrant a bracha. Under any other circumstance, it remains a safek bracha, and one should not smell it until Yom Tov is over. One may recite a bracha and smell it on Shemini Atzeres or Simchas Torah, since it no longer serves any mitzvah purpose. Thus, it appears that the dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Taz is identical to the dispute between the Mishnah Berurah and the Chazon Ish.

WHAT BRACHA DO I RECITE ON AN ESROG?

Everyone agrees that one may smell an esrog that will no longer be used for the mitzvah, and that one must recite a bracha before smelling it. In such a case, which bracha do I recite?

Chazal established five different brachos that relate to scent, each for a different category of fragrance.

1. Borei shemen areiv, “The Creator of pleasant oil” is recited only on the fragrant oil extracted from the balsam tree (Mishnah Berurah 216:22). Because this tree was important and grew in Eretz Yisroel, Chazal established this special bracha (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 43a).

2. Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). We recite this bracha before smelling fragrant, edible fruits and other foods (Rama 216:14). Some poskim rule that the proper text for this bracha should be in past tense: Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Mishnah Berurah 216:9). This is the bracha one recites before smelling an esrog.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit, unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, one should be certain that the esrog one holds has a strong, pleasant fragrance before reciting a bracha. If one is uncertain, one may smell the esrog first to see that it is fragrant, and then recite the bracha hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and then smell it again.

3. Borei atzei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant wood (or trees).” One recites this bracha before smelling fragrant, woody plants and trees or their leaves, flowers, wood, or oils. Hadasim are certainly in this category. Although we mentioned above that it is prohibited because of muktzah to smell a hadas that was used for the mitzvah on Sukkos, if someone has extra hadasim that he is not intending to use or he has pasul hadasim, he may smell them on Sukkos, and he should recite this bracha before smelling them.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

4. Borei isvei besamim, “The Creator of fragrant grasses.” We recite this bracha before smelling non-woody plants, their parts and extracts. Before smelling a fragrant hyacinth, narcissus, or lily one recites this bracha. The custom among Sefardim is to recite this bracha before smelling mint, although, for reasons beyond the scope of this article, Ashkenazim recite borei minei besamim.

5. Borei minei besamim, “The Creator of different types of fragrances.” This is the “catch-all” bracha for all fragrances, the equivalent of reciting a shehakol on food. Sometimes, it is the preferred bracha, and sometimes it is the bracha used to resolve uncertain cases. Although I have not seen poskim discuss this case, it would seem to be permitted to recite a bracha on an item whose bracha is borei minei besamim and have in mind to include the esrog and then be able to smell the esrog. This would provide another method whereby one could smell one’s esrog on Yom Tov, according to all opinions.

Question: Why did Chazal create a unique bracha prior to smelling aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world, one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since they praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas fruits are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal needed to establish a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

As a side point, one should be cautious about eating an esrog today: Esrog is not regulated as a food crop, and it is therefore legal to spray its trees with toxic pesticides. Because of the rule of chamira sakanta mei’isurah (the halachos of danger are stricter than that of kashrus), I would paskin that it is prohibited to eat esrogim today, unless the owner of the orchard vouches for their safety. (We will leave for a different time the topic as to why this does not create a problem with using esrogim for the mitzvah if they should not be eaten.) Thus, although Aunt Zelda may have a great recipe for making esrog jam, substitute lemon or lime instead.

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches, “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance? Because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Because fragrance provides some physical pleasure but no nutritional benefit, the sense of smell represents an interface between the spiritual and the physical. Similarly, we find that we offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always take advantage of the opportunity to smell fragrant items as a stepping stone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.

What Warrants Birchas Hagomeil?

In parshas Chukas, the Torah alludes to a miraculous salvation that the Bnei Yisrael experienced prior to entering the Holyland. Certainly an appropriate time to discuss this topic.

Situation #1: “Frequent Flyer?!”

“I daven in an Ashkenazi shul, and a Sefardi fellow who attends the shul who must be some incredible, frequent flyer. He seems to recite birchas hagomeil every Monday and Thursday, whether or not they give him an aliyah.”

Question #2: Infrequent Flyer

“I do not understand why we bensch goimel when we fly over the ocean, but not when flying over land. It is just as dangerous to fly overland — as a matter of fact, it is actually somewhat safer to fly over water, since there is a far greater chance of surviving a crash landing at sea than on land.”

Question #3: Recuperating

“I recently underwent some surgery. At what point do I recite birchas hagomeil?”

Answer:

Our Sages instituted a beracha, called birchas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from four different types of treacherous predicaments: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered, and someone who was captured and gained release (Berachos 54b). In a different essay, I discussed the Biblical and Talmudic sources for this beracha, the requirements to recite it in the presence of ten people and its relationship to the reading of the Torah. This essay will discuss some of the circumstances for which one recites birchas hagomeil.

How much traveling?

One of the four instances for which the Gemara requires birchas hagomeil is surviving a trip through a desert. However, when the Rambam quotes this Gemara, he states, “those who traveled on intercity roads recite birchas hagomeil when they arrive at a settled place,” instead of “those who traveled through the desert.” The authorities dispute what the Rambam means. The Tur assumes that he means that one recites birchas hagomeil after any trip. This is the position held by the Ramban, who writes that the Gemara mentioned those who traveled through the desert only because that is the context of the verse in Tehillim, but that anyone traveling recites birchas hagomeil upon reaching his destination safely. For this reason, the Ramban and the Avudraham record that many Sefardim recite birchas hagomeil for any out-of-town trip, for, to quote the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 4:4), kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah, “all highways should be assumed to be dangerous.

The Rosh, however, disagrees with the Ramban, contending that there is a difference between tefillas haderech, which one recites for any trip, and birchas hagomeil, which one recites only when one would be required to offer a korban todah. In the Rosh’s opinion, the statement kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah means that one should recite tefillas haderech any time one travels between cities, but not that one should recite birchas hagomeil upon one’s return. Reflecting this approach, the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah mention that, in France and Germany, the practice was to refrain from reciting birchas hagomeil when traveling from one city to the next.

The Bach also follows this approach and takes issue with the Tur’s interpretation of the Rambam. He contends that the Rambam agrees that someone traveling through an area where food and water can be readily obtained does not recite birchas hagomeil afterwards. The Bach suggests that the Tur was not quoting the Rambam, but the Ramban, and that scribes erred while redacting.

How far?

The Beis Yosef rules that one should not recite birchas hagomeil or tefillas haderech if his trip takes him a parsah, a distance of somewhat less than two and a half miles, outside a city. In practical terms, many Sefardim recite birchas hagomeil only after an intercity trip that took longer than 72 minutes, regardless of the distance covered or the method of transportation (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2: Orach Chayim #14).

Port call

Does someone on an extensive sea voyage recite birchas hagomeil each time his ship docks or only when he has reached his final destination?

If the ship pulls into port for a day or two, one does not recite birchas hagomeil until the voyage is over (Bach and Elyah Rabbah 219:1, quoting Olas Tamid; Mishnah Berurah 219:1 adds that this also holds true if someone traveling through the desert visits a city en route). However, the Bach is uncertain whether one should recite birchas hagomeil if he will be in port for an extended period of time before continuing his voyage. He also writes that someone who survives a mishap at sea should refrain from reciting birchas hagomeil until he arrives ashore. At this point, the traveler should recite birchas hagomeil on the entire voyage, including the specific accident that he, fortunately, survived.

The Biur Halacha discusses whether one travelling a short trip by river on a raft should recite birchas hagomeil. He says that it depends on the above-mentioned dispute between Ashkenazim and Sefardim whether one recites birchas hagomeil for a short intercity land trip. According to minhag Ashkenaz, that one does not recite birchas hagomeil for a short trip, one should not recite birchas hagomeil for a trip by raft; whereas, according to minhag Sefard, which recites birchas hagomeil even for a short intercity trip, one should recite birchas hagomeil for a short river trip.

Travels daily

The Minchas Yitzchak (4:11) was asked by someone who lived in Copenhagen, whose livelihood required him to travel among the nearby Danish Islands of the Baltic Sea, whether he was required to recite birchas hagomeil every time he traveled through the sea, in which case he would be reciting it almost daily.

To answer the question, the Minchas Yitzchak refers to a responsum of the Avnei Nezer, who asks why the text of the beracha is that the traveler was chayov, guilty. The Avnei Nezer explains that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the beracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily.

Based on the above-quoted Avnei Nezer, who explained why all four categories of people who recite birchas hagomeil are categorized as “guilty,” the Minchas Yitzchak concludes one does not recite birchas hagomeil if one lives in a place where sea travel is required each day. One cannot label a person as “guilty” for living in a place that is accepted to be a normal place to live, and if a recognized livelihood in such a place requires daily sea travel, this is not considered placing oneself in unnecessary danger.

Airplane travel

Does someone who travels by airplane recite birchas hagomeil?

In researching the different teshuvos written on this subject, I found a wide range of halachic opinion. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that anyone traveling by airplane must recite birchas hagomeil, regardless as to whether he was traveling over sea or over land, exclusively. He contends that even those authorities who rule that one should recite birchas hagomeil only for the four types of calamities mentioned in Tehillim and the Gemara also require birchas hagomeil for flying, since flying by air is identical to traveling by ship, as the entire time that one is above ground, one’s longterm life plans are all completely dependent on one’s safe return to land (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:59). I found a ruling basically identical to Rav Moshe’s that cited a different reason. One should recite birchas hagomeil, not because air travel should be compared to seafaring, but because we rule that one recites birchas hagomeil for any type of danger to which one is exposed (Shu’t Betzeil Hachachmah 1:20).

Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim should recite birchas hagomeil after any air trip that takes longer than 72 minutes, just as they recite birchas hagomeil after any trip on land that takes this long (Shu’t Yabia Omer 2: Orach Chayim #14).

On the other hand, many contend that, since this is a different method of travel from what was included in the original takanas Chazal, and, in addition, air travel today is not highly dangerous, one should not recite birchas hagomeil, at least not with the Names of Hashem, out of the concern that this might result in a beracha levatalah (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:9; Rav Sion Levy, in his question to Rav Ovadyah Yosef, published in Shu’t Yabia Omer, Orach Chayim II #14).

According to what we have written thus far, there should be no distinction drawn as to the length of the flight or whether it traverses land or sea. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s approach, one should always recite birchas hagomeil for air flight, and according to those who dispute this approach, one should not. Notwithstanding the strong logic, there is a prevalent custom that people bensch gomeil when flying overseas, but not when flying domestically. The Be’er Moshe (2:68) notes this practice, which he feels has very weak halachic foundation. Nevertheless, since this is the prevalent custom, he attempts to justify it and says that people should follow the custom.

How sick?

How ill must a person have been to require that he recite birchas hagomeil upon his recovery? I am aware of three opinions among the rishonim concerning this question.

(1) Some hold that one recites birchas hagomeil even for an ailment as minor as a headache or stomach ache (Aruch).

(2) Others contend that one recites birchas hagomeil only if he was ill enough to be bedridden, even when he was not dangerously ill (Ramban, Toras Ha’adam, page 49; Hagahos Maimoniyus, Berachos 10:6, quoting Rabbeinu Yosef).

(3) A third approach holds that one should recite birchas hagomeil only if the illness was potentially life threatening (Rama).

The prevalent practice of Sefardim, following the Shulchan Aruch, is according to the second approach — reciting birchas hagomeil after recovery from any illness which made the person bedridden. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is to recite birchas hagomeil only when the illness was life threatening, notwithstanding the fact that the Bach, who was a well-respected Ashkenazic authority, concurs with the second approach.

How recuperated?

At what point do we assume that the person is recuperated enough that he can recite the birchas hagomeil for surviving his travail? The poskim rule that he does not recite birchas hagomeil until he is able to walk well on his own (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

Chronic illness

The halachic authorities rule that someone who suffers from a chronic ailment and had a life threatening flareup recites birchas hagomeil upon recovery from the flareup, even though he still needs to deal with the ailment that caused the serious problem (Tur).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why the blessing can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and, at the same time, an expression of the thanks that we owe Hashem.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank Him adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birchas hagomeil gives us a concrete beracha to say to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birchas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focusing these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other point in our prayer.

The Basics of Birchas Hagomeil

Among the many topics covered in this week’s reading are the mitzvos of the woman who just gave birth. This provides an opportunity to discuss the basics of Birchas Hagomeil:

Question #1: An offering or a blessing?

“The Torah describes bringing a korban todah as a thanksgiving offering. How does that relate to the brocha of birchas hagomeil? Did someone recite birchas hagomeil while offering the korban?”

Question #2: Blessing at home?

“May I recite birchas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?”

Question #3: Exactly ten?

“Our minyan has exactly ten people today. May someone recite birchas hagomeil?”

Answer:

There are two mitzvos related to thanking Hashem for deliverance from perilous circumstances. In Parshas Tzav, the Torah describes an offering brought in the Mishkan, or the Beis Hamikdash, called the korban todah.

There is also a brocha, called birchas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from a dangerous situation. The Rosh (Brachos 9:3) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 219) explain that this brocha was instituted as a replacement for the korban todah that we can no longer bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin. Thus, understanding the circumstances and the laws of the korban todah and of birchas hagomeil is really one combined topic. This article will discuss some of the basic laws of birchas hagomeil.

Tehillim on Salvation

The Gemara derives many of the laws of birchas hagomeil from a chapter of Tehillim, Psalm 107. There, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. Several times, the Psalm repeats the following passage, Vayitzaku el Hashem batzar lahem, mimetzukoseihem yatzileim, “when they were in distress, they cried out to Hashem asking Him to deliver them from their straits. Hashem hears the supplicants’ prayers and redeems them from calamity, whereupon they recognize Hashem’s role and sing shira to acknowledge Hashem’s deliverance. The passage reflecting this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, “they acknowledge thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind,” is recited four times in the Psalm, each time expressing the emotions of someone desiring to tell others of his appreciation. The four types of salvation mentioned in the verse are for: someone who successfully traversed a wilderness, a captive who was freed, a person who recovered from illness, and a seafarer who returned safely to land.

Based on this chapter of Tehillim, the Gemara declares, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos: yordei hayam, holchei midbaros, umi shehayah choleh venisra’pe, umi shehayah chavush beveis ha’asurim veyatza, “four people are required to recite birchas hagomeil: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered and someone who was captured and gained release” (Brachos 54b). (Several commentators provide reasons why the Gemara lists the four in a different order than does the verse, a topic that we will forgo for now.) The Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mentions an interesting method for remembering the four cases, based on words from our daily shmoneh esrei prayer: vechol hachayim yoducha selah, explaining that the word chayim has four letters, ches, yud, yud and mem, which allude to chavush, yissurim, yam and midbar, meaning captive, the sufferings of illness, sea, and desert: the four types of travail mentioned by the verse and the Gemara. (It is curiously noteworthy that when the Aruch Hashulchan [219:5] quotes this, he has the ches represent “choli,” illness [rather than chavush, captive], which means that he would explain the yud of yissurim to mean the sufferings of captivity.)

Not all troubles are created equal!

Rav Hai Gaon notes that these four calamities fall under two categories: two of them, traveling by sea and through the desert, are situations to which a person voluntarily subjected himself, whereas the other two, illness and being held captive, are involuntary (quoted by Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). Thus, we see that one bensches gomeil after surviving any of these types of dangers, regardless of their having been within his control or not.

Some commentaries note that the Rambam cites the Gemara passage, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos, “four people are required to thank Hashem,” only in the context of birchas hagomeil and not regarding the laws of korban todah. This implies that, in his opinion, korban todah is always a voluntary offering, notwithstanding the fact that Chazal required those who were saved to recite birchas hagomeil (Sefer Hamafteiach). However, both Rashi and the Rashbam, in their respective commentaries to Vayikra 7:12, explain that the “four people” are all required to bring a korban todah upon being saved. As I noted above, the Rosh states that since, unfortunately, we cannot offer a korban todah, birchas hagomeil was substituted.

Thus we can answer the first question asked above:

“The Torah describes bringing a korban todah as a thanksgiving offering. How does that relate to the brocha of birchas hagomeil? Did someone recite birchas hagomeil while offering the korban?”

At the time of the beis hamikdash, birchas hagomeil had not yet been invented. We look much forward to its rebuilding so that we can again offer the korbanos and thereby become closer to Hashem this way. (However, note that the Chasam Sofer shares another possible way which disagrees with this interpretation of the Rosh and the Tur.)

A Minyan

When the Gemara (Brachos 54b) teaches the laws of birchas hagomeil, it records two interesting details: (1) that birchas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan and (2) that it should be recited in the presence of two talmidei chachamim.

No Minyan

Is a minyan essential for birchas hagomeil, as it is for some other brachos, such as sheva brachos? If someone cannot arrange a minyan for birchas hagomeil must he forgo the brocha?

The Tur contends that the attendance of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim is not a requirement to recite birchas hagomeil, but only the preferred way. In other words, someone who cannot easily assemble a minyan or talmidei chachamim may, nevertheless, recite birchas hagomeil. The Beis Yosef disagrees regarding the requirement of a minyan, feeling that one should not recite birchas hagomeil without a minyan present. However, he rules that if someone errantly recited birchas hagomeil without a minyan, he should not recite it again, but should try to find a minyan and recite the text of the brocha while omitting Hashem’s Name, to avoid reciting a brocha levatalah, a blessing in vain (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 219:3). The Mishnah Berurah follows an approach closer to that of the Tur, ruling that if one will be unable to assemble a minyan, he may recite birchas hagomeil without one. However, someone in a place where there is no minyan should wait up to thirty days to see if he will have the chance to bensch gomeil in the presence of a minyan. If thirty days pass without the opportunity, he should recite the birchas hagomeil without a minyan and not wait any longer.

When do we recite Birchas hagomeil?

The prevalent custom is to recite birchas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah (Hagahos Maimaniyos 10:6). The Orchos Chayim understands that this custom is based on convenience, because kri’as haTorah also requires a minyan (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 219). The Chasam Sofer presents an alternative reason for reciting birchas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah. He cites sources that explain that kri’as haTorah serves as a substitute for offering korbanos, and therefore reciting birchas hagomeil at the time of kri’as hatorah is a better substitute for the korban todah that we unfortunately cannot offer (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). He concludes nevertheless that, under special circumstances, one may recite birchas hagomeil without kri’as hatorah, which answers the question asked above: “May I recite birchas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?” The answer is that, when there is no option of hearing kri’as hatorah, one may recite birchas hagomeil without it.

Do we Count the Talmidei Chachamim?

I quoted above the Gemara that states that one should recite birchas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim The Gemara discusses whether this means that birchas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan plus two talmidei chachamim, a minimum of twelve people, or whether one should recite birchas hagomeil in the presence of ten people which should include two talmidei chachamim. The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) rule that the minyan includes the talmidei chachamim, whereas the Pri Megadim rules that the requirement is a minyan plus the talmidei chachamim. Notwithstanding the Pri Megadim’s objections, the Biur Halacha concludes that one does need more than a minyan including the talmidei chachamim.

No Talmid Chacham to be found

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) then adds that someone located in a place where it is uncommon to find talmidei chachamim may recite birchas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan, even without any talmidei chachamim present.

Ten or ten plus one?

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the individual reciting the brocha is counted as part of the minyan or if we require a minyan aside from him (Raanach, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 219:3). Most authorities rule that we can count the person reciting the brocha as one of the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 219:6). Shaar Hatziyun rallies proof to this conclusion, since it says that one should recite the brocha during kri’as haTorah, and no one says that one can do this only when there is an eleventh person attending the kri’as haTorah.

Thus, we can answer the last question that was asked above:

“Our minyan has exactly ten people today. May someone recite birchas hagomeil?”

The answer is that he may.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birchas hagomeil gives us a concrete brocha to say to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birchas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayers.

Saying Amen to My Own Beracha

The beracha of Ga’al Yisrael, which commemorates our Exodus from Egypt, is one of the blessings whose laws are discussed in this article, and therefore this topic is very appropriate for parshas Bo.

Question #1:

“Why do Ashkenazim recite “amen” after the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after any other beracha that we recite?”

Question #2:

“Why do Sephardim follow a different practice? And, why do they appear to be inconsistent?”

Question #3:

“Someone once told me that some authorities rule that one may recite “amen” after reciting the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael right before Shemoneh Esrei, and that this does not constitute an interruption. Can this possibly be true?”

Answer:

The Gemara (Berachos 45b) quotes two apparently contradictory statements whether one should recite “amen” after one’s own beracha; one Beraisa stating that it is meritorious to do so, and the other frowning on the practice. To quote the Gemara:

“It was taught in one source, ‘Someone who responds “Amen” after his own blessings is praiseworthy,’ whereas another source states it is shameful to do this.” The Gemara explains that the two statements do not conflict, but refer to two different situations. The Beraisa that declares that it is praiseworthy to recite amen after one’s own blessing is referring to reciting amen after reciting the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim in bensching, whereas the Beraisa that asserts that reciting amen after one’s own beracha is shameful refers to someone reciting amen after any other beracha. The halacha concludes that one who completes a beracha at the same time as the chazzan or anyone else may not recite amen to the other person’s beracha, since, in doing so, he recites amen to his own beracha. For example, when reciting Baruch She’amar, if one completes the beracha at the same moment as the chazzan, one may not recite amen (Elyah Rabbah 51:2).

Why Bonei Yerushalayim?

What is unique about the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that one may recite “amen” after one’s own beracha?

The Rishonim note that it is not the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that makes its law special; rather, it is its location, as the last of the three main berachos of birchas hamazon. (Although there is still another beracha afterwards, this last beracha is not part of the series, since it was added later. The fourth beracha of birchas hamazon, which Chazal call Hatov vehameitiv, was added hundreds of years after the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah wrote the rest of the birchas hamazon as a commemorative to the burial of those who had fallen in the destruction of Beitar. This is a topic that I will leave for a different time.

Because it is not part of the series, it begins with a full berachaBaruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, whereas berachos that are part of a series do not begin with these words [Pesachim 104b].) Reciting amen after Bonei Yerushalayim demonstrates the completion of a series of berachos (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18). On the other hand, reciting amen after one’s own beracha any other time implies that one has completed a unit, which is not true (Rabbeinu Yonah). We find a similar idea that upon completing the pesukei dezimra where we repeat the last pasuk (both at the end of Chapter 150 and at the end of Az Yashir) to demonstrate that this section has now been concluded (see Tur, Orach Chayim Chapter 51).

Is Bonei Yerushalayim unique or simply an example of the last beracha of a sequence? If the latter is true, are there other instances when it is praiseworthy to recite amen to your own beracha at the closing of a sequence?

Rashi, in his comments to the above Gemara, indeed mentions that one concludes “amen” after reciting the last beracha of the birchos kerias shema, those berachos that surround the daily kerias shema that we recite every morning and evening. These two “concluding” berachosGa’al Yisrael in the morning, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad in the evening — would then both be followed by the word “amen” to indicate the end of the series. (The beracha that begins with the words Baruch Hashem Le’olam, recited after Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad on weekdays by Nusach Ashkenaz outside Eretz Yisrael, is a later addition added in the times of the Geonim, and technically not part of the birchos kerias shema.) Many other Rishonim advise reciting amen at the end of any sequence of berachos, adding to Rashi’s list also Yishtabach, considered to be the end of a “sequence” of two berachos that begins with Baruch She’amar; and the closing beracha of Hallel, considered the sequel to the beracha beginning Hallel (quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). Rabbeinu Hai Gaon goes even further, advising the recital of amen after every “after blessing,” considering it the end of a series begun with the beracha recited before (cited by Rabbeinu Yonah).

Ashkenazim all realize that there is something more to the story. Whereas Ashkenazim always complete the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim with amen, we do not follow this procedure for any of the other berachos mentioned. This specific practice is very old and is already mentioned by Tosafos.

To explain this practice, we will first see what other Rishonim have to say about it. For example, although accepting the premise that we may recite amen following the last beracha of a series, the Rambam appears to dispute what we have quoted above as to what is considered a succession. He appears to hold that if anything interrupts in the middle, the berachos are no longer considered a series – thus, Yishtabach, the latter beracha of Hallel and the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael are not considered the ends of series, although the berachos immediately before kerias shema are (see Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18, as explained by Beis Yosef). The pesukim recited in the middle break up the succession, and therefore one should not recite amen. Those who dispute with the Rambam contend that both Yishtabach and the ending beracha of Hallel are considered the end of a series, since they connect back to the original beracha.

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch, reflecting Sefardic halachic practice, rules a compromise position; contending that after Yishtabach one may add amen after his own beracha, but one is not required to do so (Orach Chayim 51:3). It is curious to note that in another place (Orach Chayim 215:1), the Shulchan Aruch mentions that Sefardic custom is to recite amen after Yishtabach and the last beracha of Hallel, and the Rama there notes that, according to the Shulchah Aruch’s conclusion, one should also recite amen after concluding the beracha Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, the last beracha of the evening kerias shema series.

Although Ashkenazim agree that one may recite amen after these berachos, we usually do not do so. However, if one hears the closing of someone else’s beracha when completing one of these berachos, one answers amen to the other person’s beracha (Elyah Rabbah 51:2). Thus, we see that there is a qualitative difference between berachos that complete a sequence and those that do not. After the first group, one may recite amen after his own beracha, whereas after the second group, one may not.

However, we have still not answered the original question: Why single out the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? If, indeed, one may recite amen after the last beracha of any series to signify that the series is completed, why does the Gemara mention this halacha only regarding the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? And, furthermore, why is the prevalent Ashkenazic custom to recite amen, almost as if it is part of the beracha, only after the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after other closing berachos?

Both of these questions can be answered by studying a different passage of Gemara (Berachos 45b), which cites a dispute between Abayei and Rav Ashi as to whether the word amen recited following Bonei Yerushalayim should be said aloud. Abayei used to recite this amen aloud, in order to let everyone know that he had completed the first three berachos of birchas hamazon. He did so in order to remind workers employed by other people that it was time for them to return diligently to work. That is, although Chazal had instituted a fourth beracha to birchas hamazon, they specifically exempted those working for others from reciting this beracha, thereby emphasizing the responsibility of an employee to his employer to observe a full day of work. (In today’s environment, where it is assumed that workers take off for coffee and rest breaks during the workday, an employee is required to recite the fourth beracha of birchas hamazon.) Abayei recited “amen” aloud at the end of the third beracha so that everyone would realize that the fourth beracha is not part of the series and is treated differently.

Rav Ashi, on the other hand, deliberately recited amen softly, so that people would not treat the fourth beracha with disrespect. It appears that the practice of reciting amen after the third beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim is a carryover of Abayei’s practice – that is, we choose to emphasize that the fourth beracha is not min haTorah.

At this point, we understand the laws applicable to whether one recites amen after Bonei Yerushalayim, Yishtabach, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, and the end of Hallel. Sefardim recite amen after all these berachos. Ashkenazim hold that this is permitted, but do so only when reciting amen to someone else’s beracha at the same time.

However, the Beis Yosef and other early Sefardic authorities note what appears to be an inconsistency in Sefardic practice: whereas they recite amen after the above-mentioned list of berachos, they do not do so after other series of berachos, such as the morning berachos, or sheva berachos. The answer is that a series for our purposes means a group of berachos connected into a unit in a way that it is forbidden to interrupt between them. Thus, although morning berachos, and the berachos of sheva berachos are recited as a group, they are technically not a unit. The designation of a group of berachos as a unit is limited to cases where one may not interrupt between the berachos, such as in Hallel, pesukei dezimra, birchos kerias shema and birchos hamazon.

Papaya and the Beginning of Elul

clip_image002Whether a particular plant is defined halachically as a tree or not influences several areas of halacha, including:

 

1. What bracha one recites on its fruit.

2. What bracha one recites on its fragrance.

3. Whether the prohibition of orlah applies to its fruit.

4. How severe is the prohibition to destroy it (ba’al tashchis).

5. There are several agricultural halachos concerning kilayim, shmittah, and ma’aser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisroel.

 

What does this have anything to do with the impending beginning of Elul and the papaya tree? Stay tuned and find out.

The Gemara mentions that a tree that takes root thirty days before Rosh Hashanah is halachically considered to complete its first year and begin its second year on Rosh Hashanah. This has major ramifications for determining which fruit are no longer prohibited as orlah, but more so, can actually be a factor as to whether certain crops are permitted or not. As we will soon see, the question germane to papaya is because most papaya fruit often grows before the tree is three years old, which may create a problem whether one may eat the papaya fruit. As we will soon see, although this problem is more serious in Eretz Yisroel, the question also exists germane to papaya that grows elsewhere.

What is a Tree?

Although it is obvious that an oak tree is not a vegetable, the status of many species of Hashem’s botanical wonders is questionable: are they trees or are they not? The Random House dictionary I have on my desk defines a tree as, “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.” If we exclude the two qualifiers, “ordinarily” and “usually,” then this definition does not consider a grape vine to be a tree since it lacks height if not supported and does not develop branches some distance from the ground. Since we know that halacha considers grapes to be fruits of the tree, this definition will not suffice. On the other hand, if we broaden the definition of “tree” to include all plants that have a “permanently woody stem or trunk” we will not only include grape vines, but also probably include eggplant, pineapple, and lavender, all of which have woody stems. On the other hand, several plants, such as the date palm and papaya, fit the Random House definition as a tree and yet grow very differently from typical trees. Are all of these plants trees?

For halachic purposes, a better working definition is that a tree is a woody perennial plant that possesses a stem that remains from year to year and produces fruit. This definition is also not without its difficulties. In a different article, I discussed the status of eggplant, several varieties of berry including raspberry and cranberry, and several fragrant plants and flowers, which may or may not qualify as trees, depending on our definition. There are many times that we treat a plant “lechumrah” as a tree regarding the very stringent laws of orlah, although we will not treat it as a tree regarding many or all of the other halachos mentioned. In that article, I noted that the following characteristics might be qualifying factors in providing the halachic definition of a tree:

(a) Is the species capable of producing fruit within its first year (after planting from seed)?

(b) Does the fruit production of the species begin to deteriorate the year after it begins producing?

(c) Does the species produce fruit from shoots that will never again produce fruit?

(d) Is its physical appearance markedly different from a typical tree?

(e) Many poskim contend that the prohibition of orlah does not apply to a tree that produces fruit for three years or less.

We should also note that poskim dispute whether the definition of a tree for the purposes of the bracha “borei atzei besamim” is the same as the definition for the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” and for the halachos of orlah, shmittah, ma’aser, and kilayim.

Is papaya a tree?

A papaya may grow ten feet tall or more, but it bears closer similarity in many ways to being a very tall stalk since its stem is completely hollow on the inside and it does not usually produce branches. Its leaves and fruits grow directly on the top of the main stem, and it usually produces fruit during the first year, unlike most trees.

Commercially, the grower usually uproots the plant after four to five years of production, although the papaya can survive longer, and in some places it is standard to cut it down and replant it after three years.

With this introduction, we can now begin to discuss whether papaya is a tree fruit and its proper bracha borei pri ha’eitz, or whether is it is considered a large plant on which we recite ha’adamah as we do for banana. A more serious question is whether the prohibition of orlah applies to papaya. If it does, this could create an intriguing problem, since it may be that there are plantations, or even countries, where the entire papaya crop grows within three years and may be prohibited as orlah.

Commercial and Halachic History of Papaya

The Spaniards discovered papaya in Mexico and Central America, from there it was transported to the Old World. The earliest halachic reference to it that I am aware of is a shaylah sent from India to the Rav Pe’alim (Vol. 2, Orach Chayim #30), author of the Ben Ish Chai, asking which bracha to recite on its fruit.

The Rav Pe’alim discusses what the appropriate bracha on papaya is. He begins by comparing papaya to the eggplant. Based on four factors, Rav Pe’alim rules that papaya is not a tree and that the appropriate bracha is ha’adamah. These factors are:

1. The part of the stem that produces fruit never produces again. Instead, the fruit grows off the newer growth higher on the plant. Initially, I did not understand what the Rav Pe’alim meant with this, since there are many trees, such as dates, which produce only on their new growth, not on the old. Thus, this does not seem to be a feature that defines a tree. After further study, I realized that the difference is that papaya produces fruit only on top of the “tree,” and it looks atypical, not resembling other trees, whereas with dates, although the fruit grows on the new growth high up on the tree, it does not grow on the top of the tree, but from branches on the new growth.

2. The stem of the papaya is hollow, which is not characteristic of trees. (Rav Moshe Shternbuch, in his teshuvah on whether papaya is included in the prohibition of orlah, describes papaya as a tall stalk. See Shu’t Teshuvos VeHanhagos 3:333).

3. The fruit grows directly on the trunk and not on the branches.

4. The papaya produces fruit within its first year.

In a follow-up letter, a correspondent wrote that the custom among Jews in India is to recite ha’eitz before eating the papaya’s fruit. Rav Pe’alim responded that he does not consider this custom to be a halachic opinion, since the community lacked Talmidei Chachomim to paskin shaylos. He points out that if the papaya is a tree, then we must prohibit its fruit as orlah since the grower usually cuts it down before its fourth year.

Among contemporary poskim, some follow the ruling of the Rav Pe’alim that papaya is exempt from orlah and its bracha is ha’adamah (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:52), whereas most rule that papaya does have orlah concerns (Shu’t Shevat Halevi 6:165; Mishpetei Aretz, page 27, quoting Rav Elyashiv; Teshuvos VeHanhagos). One should note that Rav Ovadyah Yosef, who rules that papaya is exempt from any orlah concerns, also rules that passionfruit, called pasiflora in Hebrew, is also exempt from the prohibition of orlah since it produces fruit in its first year. Most other authorities do not accept this approach.

Papaya outside Eretz Yisrael

There should be a difference in halacha between papaya growing in Eretz Yisroel and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of orlah exists both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, questionable orlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisroel but permitted if it grew in chutz la’aretz. This is because the mitzvah of orlah has a very unusual halachic status. There is a halacha leMoshe meSinai that prohibits orlah fruit outside of Eretz Yisroel, but only when we are certain that the fruit is orlah. When we are uncertain whether the fruit is orlah, the halacha leMoshe meSinai permits this fruit.

Based on the above, one should be able to permit papaya growing outside Eretz Yisroel either because (1) there is the possibility that this particular fruit grew after the orlah years had passed or (2) that perhaps papaya is not considered a tree for one of the reasons mentioned by the Rav Pe’alim.

There are two important differences in halacha between these two reasons. The first is whether the bracha on papaya is ha’eitz or ha’adamah. The Rav Pe’alim ruled that it is not a tree fruit and therefore its bracha is ha’adamah. According to the first approach, it may indeed be ha’eitz and still be permitted, since it is only safek orlah.

Here is another difference in halacha between the two reasons.

Papain

Papain is a highly popular enzyme extracted from the papaya. In the early twentieth century, Belgian colonists in the Congo noticed that the local population wrapped meat in papaya leaves. The colonists discovered that the papaya leaves preserved the meat and also tenderized it. Laboratory analysis discovered an enzyme, now called papain, as the agent of the process. This spawned a new industry producing and selling papain from papaya plantations around the world.  New applications were discovered, and papain is now also used in the production of beer, biscuits, and is very commonly used as a digestive aid.

If papain were still produced from leaves there would be no orlah issue, since orlah applies only to the fruit of a plant. Unfortunately, today’s papain is extracted not from the leaf, but from the peel of the papaya. If a fruit is prohibited as orlah, its peel is also prohibited.

In actuality, there is a more serious problem of orlah in papain than in eating the papaya fruit itself. Papain is collected by scratching the peel of the growing fruit, which causes a liquid containing the papain to exude from the peel, without harming the fruit. A bib is tied around the middle of a papaya tree, which catches all the papain from that particular tree. The papain is collected and sent to a plant where all the papain harvested is blended. The process can be repeated many times before the fruit is ripe for picking. Thus, the papain is a second crop.

However, this method of harvesting the papain creates a halachic complexity not encountered with the papaya fruit. Since safek orlah is permitted in chutz la’aretz, if we are uncertain as to whether a particular tree growing is within its orlah years, we may eat the fruit because of the halacha leMoshe meSinai that safek orlah is permitted. Therefore, even if we consider papaya a tree, the fruit grown outside Eretz Yisroel is permitted if there is a possibility that it is not orlah.  The papain, however, would be prohibited because the papain used is a mixture of extracts of all the fruit. If indeed this particular grove contained some trees that are orlah, then the mixture is permitted only if there are 200 parts of non-orlah fruit to one part orlah, which in essence prohibits all the papain.

The above is true if we assume that the papaya is a tree subject to the laws of orlah. However, if we assume that the different reasons suggested are enough bases to rule that it is questionable whether papaya is subject to the laws of orlah, then we may permit papaya from trees that grow outside Eretz Yisrael even when we are certain that the tree is less than three years old. The latter reason would permit papain that originates in chutz la’aretz.

Important Eating – The Halachos of Ikar and Tafeil

clip_image002  clip_image002[4]clip_image001

 

Question #1: You made a bracha on a cup of tea and sipped it, and then decided it needed more sugar. Do you need to make a bracha on the extra sugar?

Question #2: You cooked a delicious vegetable-barley soup. What bracha do you recite before eating it? Does it make any difference whether you want to eat the barley?

Question #3: I eat my potato latkes with apple sauce. How many brachos and which ones do I recite before eating them? Does it make a difference if I finish the latkes but am still eating the apple sauce?

The main theme of this week’s parsha, Balak, is mankind’s ability to recite berachos, and the opposite, and creating proper priorities in how we use this ability. This is certainly an opportune time to examine the complicated rules governing how we prioritize the brachos on what we eat.

We apply the rules governing ikar and tafeil, literally the “primary” item and the “secondary” one, numerous times throughout the day. Whether we are eating cereal, fruit and milk for breakfast, macaroni and cheese for lunch, chicken with rice for supper, or snacking on an ice cream cone, these halachos apply. It definitely behooves us to be sure we are applying the halachos correctly.

First an introduction:

The Mishnah (Berachos 44a) which discuss brachos recited before eating states, “This is the rule: Whatever is primary and is accompanied by something secondary, one recites the bracha on the primary and absolves the secondary item.” Thus, the secondary item does not receive its own bracha, but is included in the bracha of the primary item.

WHAT CONSTITUTES AN IKAR-TAFEIL SITUATION?

There are two general categories of situations included in the halachos of ikar and tafeil; (1) when the ikar is an enhancer and (2) when the two items are combined in a mixture.

(1) Enhancers: This category includes food items where the tafeil food makes the ikar food tastier. Some common examples include: Cereal with fruit and milk; eating latkes with apple sauce; stirring herbal tea with a cinnamon stick; breading fish or meat (schnitzel).

In all of these cases, one recites the bracha for the ikar; that is, the cereal, latkes, tea, or meat; and the tafeil is included – that is, the tafeil item loses its bracha.

The category of enhancers also includes cases where the ikar is too spicy or sharp to eat alone. Thus, eating a cracker or piece of bread with a very sharp food to make it edible is a case of ikar and tafeil and one recites the bracha only on the sharp food (Mishnah Berachos 44a).

We should note, however, that the tafeil item loses its bracha only when one eats it together with the ikar or afterwards. But if one eats the tafeil before one eats the ikar, one does recite a bracha on the tafeil. Thus, food eaten before schnapps to soften its “bite” requires a bracha since one is eating it before the schnapps. When this situation occurs, the poskim debate what bracha one recites on the tafeil.

(2) Mixtures: This category includes cases where one food is not specifically enhancing the other, but both foods are important. For example, someone eating macaroni and cheese, blintzes (they always contain a filling), cholent, kugel, or stew is interested in eating all the different foods that comprise the dish. The same halacha applies when eating soups, which may contain vegetables, meat, noodles, barley, or flour. In these cases, all the food items eaten are important and none of these ingredients serve only to enhance the rest. However, the food in these cases are mixtures they are considered one complete food item and therefore only recites one bracha for the entire food, although it contains items that eaten separately would require separate brachos. Thus, the concept of ikar and tafeil is very different here – it is the rule used to determine which bracha we recite on this food. In this case, the bracha of the ikar is the bracha on the entire item.

WHAT DETERMINES THE BRACHA ON A MIXTURE?

There are three rules that determine which bracha to recite on a mixture.

1. If one of the items in the mixture is clearly the most important, then that item determines the bracha (Pri Megadim, Pesicha Koleles, Hilchos Brachos s.v. HaTenai; Mishnah Berurah 212:1). For example, the bracha on chicken soup with vegetables is shehakol since the chicken is the most important flavor component in the soup. However, if it is a vegetable soup with some meat added for flavor, the bracha would be ha’adamah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 205:2 and commentaries).

2. When there is no most important ingredient, the bracha is usually determined by the majority item in the product. Thus, the bracha on a peanut bar containing peanuts, honey, and sugar is ha’adamah since peanuts are the major ingredient, and the bracha on a tzimmes consisting of prunes and sweet potatoes depends on which item is the major ingredient.

3. However, when the mixture contains one of the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye) then the bracha is usually mezonos, unless the flour or grain product is included only to hold the food together (Shulchan Aruch 204:12; 208:2,3). Because these grains are important, they are the ikar of the mixture even if they are a minority component.

However, when the flour’s purpose is only to hold the item together or to provide texture, then it is not the ikar of the food because its purpose is clearly to function is a subsidiary. (In this instance, the flour is being used to enhance the other food item, and thus it categorically becomes a tafeil.)

Therefore, the bracha on a trifle containing cakes and ice cream is mezonos even if there is more ice cream than cake, since the cake is a grain product; whereas the bracha on potato kugel that contains flour, bread crumbs, and/or matzoh meal to provide texture is ha’adamah. Since the grain product here functions only to hold the kugel together, it is tafeil and does not affect the bracha. Similarly, flour added to thicken soup is tafeil (Mishnah Berurah 212:1). When the flour provides taste or makes the product satisfying, then the flour is the ikar and the bracha is mezonos (Shulchan Aruch 204:12; 208:3).

Similarly, the bracha on vegetable-barley soup is mezonos. However, if the barley is completely dissolved, the bracha on the soup is usually ha’adamah. Similarly, if you do not want to eat the barley but a few pieces ended up in your portion anyway, the bracha is ha’adamah.

The same rules apply in the case of licorice candy whose bracha is shehakol even though it contains a significant amount of flour, since the flour is there only to give it a stiff texture. On the other hand, the bracha on kishka is mezonos, since the main ingredient is the flour.

BEFORE AND AFTER

Until now we have been discussing situations when you are eating the ikar and tafeil together. What do you do if you are eating the tafeil item either before or after you eat the ikar?

A TAFEIL EATEN BEFORE

A tafeil loses a bracha only when it is eaten together with the ikar or afterwards, but not when it is eaten before. Again, the reason for this becomes fairly clear once we think about it. A tafeil’s bracha is subsumed by the bracha on the ikar. This helps us as long as one has already recited the bracha on the ikar. However, if one has not yet recited the bracha on the ikar, how can one eat the tafeil without reciting any bracha at all since we are forbidden to benefit from the world without first reciting a bracha? Thus, it must be that we recite a bracha on the tafeil when eating it before the ikar.

However, this does not tell us whether the bracha on the tafeil is the same bracha one would usually recite on it, or whether it is automatically reduced to a shehakol. Let us say that someone is going to drink a powerful beverage or a very spicy pepper, and in order to tolerate it, he is first going to eat some bread or crackers. What bracha does he recite on the bread or cracker?

The Rama (212:1) rules that one recites a shehakol on the bread or cracker!

WHY DOES THE CRACKER LOSE ITS BRACHA?

The Rama’s ruling is based on an earlier psak of the Terumas HaDeshen, who discusses a case of someone who wants to drink wine, but can not drink the wine on an empty stomach. Therefore he eats some seeds whose bracha is usually ha’eitz before imbibing the wine. The Terumas HaDeshen rules that he recites a shehakol on the seeds since he is not getting his primary benefit from the fruit (Darchei Moshe 212:2). However, the Beis Yosef disagrees and rules that he should make ha’eitz on the seeds.

On what concept is this dispute dependent? One could explain that this dispute reflects two different ways of explaining why one does not recite a bracha on a tafeil. The Terumas HaDeshen contends that a tafeil is unimportant and therefore does not warrant a bracha, however, one cannot benefit from this world without a bracha — therefore one recites shehakol. On the other hand, the Beis Yosef holds that the bracha on the ikar counts as the bracha on the tafeil and therefore one does not need to make a bracha on it- but if the tafeil were to require a bracha, it does not lose its status or its bracha.

EATING A TAFEIL AFTER THE IKAR

What do you do if you finished eating the ikar, but you have not yet completed the tafeil. Do you recite a bracha on the tafeil since you are no longer eating the ikar, or do we say that the bracha on the ikar still suffices? For example, you finished your cereal, but there is still some milk left, or you finished the barley of the soup, but there is still more soup to eat. Do you recite a new bracha on the rest of the soup?

The halacha is that if you finished the ikar first, and a small amount of tafeil remains, one does not recite a bracha on the remaining tafeil. However, if a large amount remains, one does recite a bracha (Mishnah Berurah 168:46).

At the beginning of the article I asked the following shaylah, “You made a bracha on a cup of tea and sipped it and then decided it needed more sugar. Do you need to make a bracha on the extra sugar?”

The question here is that the sugar is tafeil to the tea, but can it be a tafeil when it was not in front of you when you made the bracha?

The halacha is that if you begin eating something and afterwards decide to eat a tafeil food alongside, the tafeil requires a bracha- but only shehakol (Mishnah Berurah 212:4). This is true only if the tafeil is an enhancer (see our category above). However, if it is a tafeil because it is a mixture, it receives its regular bracha. Thus, if after making a bracha on cereal, someone decided to add milk and fruit, he recites ha’eitz on the fruit and shehakol on the milk. On the other hand, if he knew he would add fruit and milk when he recited the bracha on the cereal, then they are tafeil to the cereal and he does not recite a bracha on them even though they were not present when he recited the bracha.

What should you do if someone brought you a cup of tea and you then decided to add sugar? Do you need to recite a bracha on the sugar?

If you usually add sugar to your tea, you do not need to recite a new bracha. However, if you do not, then you will need to recite a bracha on the sugar.

Not everything we do in life qualifies as our ikar purpose in life- often we must do things that are tafeil to the more important things in life. However, paying attention to the halachos of ikar and tafeil should encourage us to focus on our priorities in life- and not allow the tafeil things we must do become more important than they are.

Flavor and Fragrance – The Bracha on Fragrant Fruits

clip_image001In honor of the month of Shvat, and a bit before Tu Beshvat, I decided to send an article that explains the halachos of the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits.” Many authorities prefer the version Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, in past tense, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Eliyah Rabbah 216:5; Mishnah Berurah 216:9).

Here are some curious questions about this bracha that we need to resolve:

1.  Do we recite this bracha on a food that is not a fruit?

2. Assuming that we recite this bracha on any food, do we recite this bracha on a seasoning that is not eaten by itself, such as cinnamon or oregano?

3. If I am eating a fragrant fruit, do I recite a bracha when I smell it while I am eating it?

4. Do I recite this bracha when smelling a delicious cup of coffee or a freshly-baked pastry? After all, the coffee bean is a fruit, and the flour of the pastry is a grain, which is also halachically a fruit. As we will see, the answer to this question is not so obvious.

ORIGINS OF THE BRACHA “HANOSEIN REI’ACH TOV BA’PEIROS”

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches that someone who smells an esrog or a quince should first recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros.

Question: Why did Chazal institute a unique bracha for aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, all the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since the other brachos praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas esrog and quince are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal established a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim end of Chapter 297).

It is noteworthy that although quince is still considered a fruit for the purpose of this bracha even though it is not edible raw. More on this question later…

DO WE RECITE THIS BRACHA ON FRAGRANT FOODS THAT ARE NOT FRUITS?

This leads us to a fascinating halachic discussion with a surprising conclusion.

A BRACHA ON SMELLING BREAD?

Several early poskim contend that one should recite a bracha before smelling hot fresh bread (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 297, quoting Avudraham and Orchos Chayim). However, when discussing what bracha one should recite, these poskim contend that mentioning besamim (such as the brachos of Borei isvei besamim or Borei minei besamim) is inappropriate since bread is not a fragrance but a food that has a pleasant fragrance. It is also inappropriate to recite on it Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, since it is not a fruit. We therefore find some authorities who conclude that one should recite Hanosein rei’ach tov bapas, “He who bestows pleasant fragrance in bread.” Indeed, one contemporary posek rules that someone who smells fresh cookies should recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’ugah, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in cake.”

However the Beis Yosef and other poskim disagree, contending that one does not recite a bracha before smelling bread or cake, pointing out that the Gemara and the early halachic sources never mention reciting a bracha before smelling bread. These poskim contend that we do not recite a bracha on smelling bread because its fragrance is not significant enough to warrant a bracha (Beis Yosef, Chapter 297).

This creates a predicament, since according to the “early poskim,” one may not smell bread without first reciting a bracha, whereas according to the Beis Yosef, reciting a bracha on its fragrance is a bracha recited in vain! The only way of resolving this predicament is by trying not to smell fresh bread, which is the conclusion reached by the Rama (216:14).

(Incidentally, the Rama’s ruling teaches a significant halacha about the rule of safek brachos li’kula, that we do not recite a bracha when in doubt. Although one may not recite a bracha when in doubt, one also may not smell a fragrance or taste a food without reciting the bracha because that would be benefiting from the world without a bracha. This halacha applies whenever someone has a doubt about reciting a bracha.)

The concept, introduced by the Beis Yosef, that one recites a bracha only on a significant fragrance is hard to define. What is considered significant? The following is an example in which poskim dispute whether a fragrance is considered significant.

WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE!

The Mishnah Berurah (216:16) rules that someone who smells fresh-roasted ground coffee should recite a bracha of Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros. However, the Kaf HaChayim (216:86), one of the great Sefardic poskim, rules that it is uncertain whether the fragrance of coffee is significant enough to warrant a bracha. Thus, most Sefardim will not recite a bracha prior to smelling fresh-roasted coffee, whereas those who follow the Mishnah Berurah would recite a bracha before smelling roasted coffee beans.

As we have discussed, although some poskim (Avudraham and Orchos Chayim) limit the bracha of Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros to fruits, other poskim contend that this bracha should be recited before smelling any fragrant food. This dispute influences the next discussion.

DO WE RECITE HANOSEIN REI’ACH TOV BA’PEIROS ON A FRAGRANT SEASONING?

The question here is what defines an edible fruit for the purposes of this bracha. Do we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros only on fruit or do we recite it on any edible item? Furthermore, is a flavoring or seasoning considered a food for the purposes of this bracha or not?

Spices that are used to flavor but are themselves never eaten, such as bay leaves, are not considered a food. For this reason, there is no requirement to separate terumos and maasros on bay leaves even if they grew in Eretz Yisroel (Tosafos Yoma 81b; Derech Emunah, Terumos 2:3:32). A seasoning that is never eaten by itself, but is eaten when it is used to flavor, such as cinnamon, oregano, or cloves is questionable whether it is considered a food, and we separate terumos and maasros without a bracha; if eaten by itself, it does not recite a bracha of borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 202:16). What bracha do we recite before smelling a seasoning?

CINNAMON, SPICE AND EVERYTHING NICE

What bracha does one recite before smelling cinnamon?

The Tur quotes a dispute between the Rosh, who contends that the bracha is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, and the Maharam, who contends that one should recite Borei atzei besamim. In the Rosh’s opinion, cinnamon should be treated as a food. Thus, we may assume that he contends that the bracha before smelling all spices is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, even though they are not eaten by themselves. We can also draw a conclusion from this Rosh that we recite the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros even on the bark of a tree that is eaten, such as cinnamon. Thus in his opinion, the word ba’peiros in the bracha should be translated as food rather than as fruit. (In truth, the word pri in the bracha Borei pri ha’adamah should also not be translated as fruit, since we recite it on stems, roots, and leaves when we eat celery, carrots, and lettuce.)

On the other hand, the Maharam contends that Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros is inappropriate, presumably because cinnamon is usually not eaten by itself. Alternatively, the Maharam may hold that Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros is inappropriate for cinnamon because it is a bark and not a fruit.

Either way, many Ashkenazi poskim rule it is a safek whether the bracha on cinnamon is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros or Borei atzei besamim and therefore one should recite borei minei besamim (Eliyah Rabbah 216:9; Mishnah Berurah 216:16). Many Sefardim recite Borei atzei besamim before smelling cinnamon (Yalkut Yosef 216:4). Everyone agrees that the bracha before smelling cinnamon leaf is Borei atzei besamim.

AND THE LEMON SMELLS SO SWEET!

But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat! Is the bracha before smelling a lemon Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros because it is after all a fruit, or do we recite a different bracha since it is too bitter to eat by itself?

Some poskim rule that one should recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros before smelling lemons (Ginas Veradim 1:42; Yalkut Yosef 216:7), whereas others contend that one should recited Borei minei besamim before smelling a lemon, treating the lemon as a safek as to whether it is considered a fruit or not (Ketzos Hashulchan 62:9 in Badei Hashulchan).

However, this latter opinion causes one to wonder why the bracha before smelling a lemon is different from the bracha before smelling an esrog? After all, the Gemara teaches that before smelling an esrog we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, although an esrog is also too bitter to eat. Possibly, the esrogim in the days of Chazal were less bitter and were edible. This is implied by the Gemara (Sukkah 36b), which mentions that Rav Chanina took a bite out of his esrog, something difficult to imagine doing to a contemporary esrog.

An alternative approach is that an esrog is a fruit because it can be made edible by adding sugar. However according to this reason, a lemon should also be considered a fruit, since one can eat candied lemon, which I presume would require the bracha of Borei pri ha’eitz (Vezos Ha’beracha pg. 366). Similarly, some people eat the slice of lemon they used to season their tea, and lemon is also eaten as a pudding or pie filling. I presume that the bracha on these items when eaten alone would be Borei pri ha’eitz. The fact that lemon cannot be eaten unsweetened should not affect what bracha we recite before eating or smelling lemon just as the bracha before smelling fresh quince is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros even though it is also not edible raw.

Furthermore, we noted above that Chazal instituted the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros on fragrant fruits and foods because one cannot recite a bracha on them by calling them fragrances. Few people would describe lemon as a fragrance, but as a fruit.

Because of these reasons, I believe the bracha before smelling a lemon should be Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, but I leave it for the individual to ask their rav a shaylah.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

As a side point, one should be very cautious about eating esrog today. Esrog is not a food crop and it is legal to spray the trees with highly toxic pesticides. Because of the rule of chamira sakanta mi’isurah (the halachos of danger are stricter than that of kashrus), I would paskin that it is prohibited to eat esrogim today unless the owner of the orchard will vouch for their safety. Thus, although Aunt Zelda may have a great recipe for making esrog jam, substitute lemon or lime instead. Incidentally, the bracha on eating lemon jam should be Borei pri ha’eitz, which is additional evidence that the bracha before smelling a lemon is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros.

There is a major shaylah in halacha whether one may smell one’s esrog and hadasim during Sukkos. I have written a separate article on this subject.

EATING AND SMELLING A FRUIT

If I am eating a fragrant fruit, do I recite a bracha before I smell it even though I am not deliberately trying to?

One does not recite the bracha on fragrance if one is picking up the fruit to eat and happens to smell it at the same time (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). However, if one intends both to smell the food and also to eat it, then it would seem to be a question of dispute whether one should recites both brachos, Borei pri ha’eitz and Hanosein Rei’ach Tov ba’peiros. This issue is dependent on a dispute between poskim whether one recites a bracha on a fragrant item that is intended to be used for another purpose. I analyzed this subject in a different article in which I discussed when one should not recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance.

WHICH BRACHA SHOULD I RECITE FIRST?

The poskim disagree as to whether one should first recite the bracha on eating the fruit because one gains a more significant benefit than from smelling it (Olas Tamid), or whether one should first recite the bracha on smelling it, since one will smell the fruit before he eats it (Eliyahu Rabbah 216:6). The Mishnah Berurah (216:10) rules that one should recite the bracha on smelling the fruit first, although he also cites another suggestion: have in mind not to benefit from the fragrance until after one has recited the bracha on eating it and has tasted the fruit. Then, recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and benefit from the fragrance.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason some hold that one should not make a bracha when smelling an apple since apples are often not that fragrant, but one could recite a bracha when smelling guava which is usually much more aromatic. (However, note that Rambam and Mishnah Berurah [216:8] mentions reciting a bracha before smelling an apple, although it is possible that the apples they had were more fragrant than ours.)

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance, because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Although the sense of smell provides some physical pleasure, it provides no nutritional benefit. Thus, smell represents an interface of the spiritual with the physical. Similarly, we find that we are to offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always utilize our abilities to smell fragrant items as a stepping stone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.

The author acknowledges the tremendous assistance provided by Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky for the horticultural information used in researching this article.

When Do We Not Make a Bracha on a Fragrance?

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This article was originally published in the American edition of Yated Neeman

Question #1: My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a bracha whenever I visit her and walk through the garden, and if so, which bracha?

Question #2: On my way to work I pass a spice factory that has a wonderful aroma. Do I recite a bracha every day as I drive by?

Question #3: Someone told me not to recite a bracha on regular perfume today because it is synthetic. Is this true?

Question #4: I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a bracha when I smell it?

In general one should not benefit from a pleasant aroma without first reciting a bracha. Nevertheless, not all fragrances require a bracha before we smell them. Furthermore, when a bracha is not required, it is forbidden to recite one.

Fragrances upon which one may not recite a bracha fall under three general categories:

I. Forbidden fragrances

II. Fragrances whose purpose is not for pleasurable smelling.

III. Fragrances whose source no longer exists. This would include a case where you put the fragrance into a closed bag, but can still smell the residual aroma in the air outside the bag (Biyur Halacha 217:3), or when you enjoy the smell of an empty besamim box.

I. FORBIDDEN FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a bracha on a fragrance that it is forbidden to smell, such as a scent used in idol worship, or sorcery, or the perfume of an ervah (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 9:7, based on Gemara Berachos 53a). Smelling something used for idol worship is prohibited because one may not have any benefit from idols. Since we are not permitted to smell these fragrances, it is understood why Chazal ruled that one should not make a bracha on them.

One does not recite a bracha before smelling these prohibited fragrances even if a small amount is mixed into a potpourri of other fragrances (Biyur Halacha 217:8; cf. Gra ad loc. who implies that if most of the fragrance is from a different source, one should recite a bracha before smelling it. However this is very strange, because the Torah forbids smelling the entire fragrance whenever the prohibited source is discernable.)

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I PASS AN IDOL AND SMELL INCENSE?

Although this is unusual in America, there are many places in the world where this is a common shaylah. May I walk down this street if I might smell a forbidden fragrance?

According to halacha, I am permitted to walk down the street provided I try not to appreciate the fragrance. The Gemara discusses a category called Hana’ah haba’ah lo le’adam baal korcho, “benefit that a person receives against his will.” Although a person has control over what he eats, he has more limited control over what he smells or hears. If someone is exposed to a pleasurable fragrance that is forbidden according to halacha, there is no violation involved provided he does not try to enjoy the aroma (Gemara Pesachim 25b).

II. FRAGRANCES WHOSE PURPOSE IS NOT TO PROVIDE THE PLEASURE OF SMELLING

“One does not make a bracha on a fragrance unless it was made for the pleasure of smelling,” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). One only recites a bracha on a fragrance that is avida lireicha, literally, “made for fragrance.” In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything that it not specifically meant to smell, is not considered a fragrance.” Thus the definition of the word besamim is something made to provide pleasurable scent and does not include aromas not meant for smelling.

There are several headings of aromatic fragrances that are not for the pleasure of smelling. They include:

A. Deodorizing fragrances

B. Fragrances whose current purpose is not for their aroma.

C. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

D. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

IIA. DEODORIZING FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance whose purpose is to neutralize a bad odor, such as a room deodorizer, deodorant, or oil rubbed on the skin to dispel malodor (Gemara Berachos 53a). Even though these items may be highly aromatic, since their purpose is not for enjoyment but to neutralize an unpleasant odor, we do not recite a bracha.

One does not recite a bracha before smelling a room deodorizer even if he enjoys the aroma and even if he sprayed it in a room without a bad odor or brings it to his nose for a pleasant whiff. Since the deodorizer was made expressly to dispel malodor and not for enjoyment, it is not considered besamim even if the individual enjoys smelling the deodorizer (Shaar Hatziyun 217:16, based on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 297:2).

USING OILS AS A DEODORIZER

Some people use pleasant-smelling essential oils to combat malodors. Does one make a bracha before smelling these fragrances?

It depends on why one smells them. If they are functioning as deodorants, then one does not recite a bracha, whereas someone who uses the oil with the intent of enjoying its aroma does recite the appropriate bracha before smelling it (Gemara Berachos 53a with Rashi). (See my other articles on this subject to know which bracha one recites.)

WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER A FRAGRANCE IS BESAMIM OR A DEODORIZER?

Some items are obviously deodorants or deodorizers and are not besamim. However, the essential oils we mentioned and other fragrances may sometimes be used to deodorize and sometimes for pleasure. What determines whether this particular fragrance is besamim over which we recite a bracha or not?

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:2) explains that the determining factor is why you brought the fragrance to this location. If you brought it for pleasure, then it is besamim and you recite a bracha. If you brought the fragrance to neutralize an odor, then you do not recite a bracha even if you smell it for pleasure.

However, if you removed some of the fragrance permanently to enjoy its aroma, this part becomes besamim and warrants a bracha. The Chazon Ish uses the example of someone who applies fragrant oil to his or her skin. Even if the person originally used the oil to deodorize, if he subsequently sprinkled some onto a handkerchief to enjoy the aroma, he recites a bracha on the sprinkled oil.

IIB. INCIDENTAL TO PURPOSE

We learned above that one does not recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance whose current purpose is not for its aroma. What does this mean?

Imagine yourself outside the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of flavors and fragrances. The aroma outside this plant is indescribable — I can tell you because I have been there. Yet the halacha is that one does not recite a bracha on this fragrance. Why not?

The halacha is that someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a bracha because the owner wants customers to smell his wares so that they will make a purchase (Gemara Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a bracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why do you recite a bracha on the spices in his store but not those that are in his warehouse? Because the fragrances in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed; the ones in the warehouse are not. Thus, the fragrances in the warehouse are not avida lireicha and are not besamim.

Thus, smelling the most fantastic aroma in the world from the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of pleasant flavors and fragrances does not warrant a bracha. These fragrances do not qualify as besamim since they are not there for people to enjoy their aroma.

THE SPICE MERCHANT HIMSELF

Does the spice seller himself recite a bracha upon entering his own shop? He does not enter intending to smell fragrant spices in order to decide what to buy. He enters because it is his livelihood. Can a fragrance be avida lireicha for one person but not for another?

Poskim dispute this question, many ruling that the merchant should recite a bracha since the fragrance has the status of avida lireicha. Others contend that for the merchant the fragrances are merchandise and not avida lireicha and therefore he should not recite a bracha (Mishnah Berurah 217:4; Shaar Hatziyun 217:7).

Other poskim present a different reason why the merchant should not recite a bracha on the fragrance. The Taz (217:1) contends that one recites a bracha over a fragrance only if one demonstrates that he wants to smell it, such as by picking up the fragrance and raising it to his nose. The customer who enters the shop recites a bracha because he walked into the shop intending to smell and purchase fragrances — thus, his entry is itself demonstration that he wants to smell the spices, and therefore he recites a bracha. However, the owner’s entry does not demonstrate intent to smell the product. According to this opinion, someone who makes a delivery to a perfumery would not recite a bracha.

On the other hand, most poskim contend that once a fragrance qualifies as avida lireicha, one recites a bracha over it even if one is not specifically trying to smell it (Pri Megadim MZ 217:1; Shaar Hatziyun 217:4). Thus, the poskim dispute whether the merchant himself recites a bracha. Later in the article we will suggest an approach whereby he can avoid a safek bracha completely.

The same dispute also applies to the neighbors of the perfumery, its workers, and people making deliveries to the shop. According to the Taz’s opinion, only the customers recite a bracha on the magnificent fragrance of the shop since they come to smell and purchase. Also, if you entered the store to enjoy the fragrance, you recite a bracha according to all opinions.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in the flavor factory and you know that you do not make a bracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff or you lift some of the fragrance in order to smell it? Do you recite a bracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as you move towards the fragrance or you pick it up or you put some into your hand, you should recite a bracha. Any act makes the fragrance avida lireicha.

However the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that if you will return the fragrance it is not avida lireicha and you do not make a bracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available because he wants people to smell and buy, then one does recite a bracha.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two Gedolim regarding spices in the kitchen. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container to smell it, then you recite a bracha on the spice even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it. However according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a bracha on this fragrance unless you do not intend to cook with it later. (See Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 262). Someone who wants to avoid the dispute would sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a bracha on that. Since you are not going to use this spice for cooking, it is besamim and one recites a bracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motzei Shabbos (Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262). Why do people do this? Couldn’t you just use a fragrant kitchen spice for the bracha?

However according to the Chazon Ish, one does not recite a bracha on a kitchen spice if one intends to cook with it. Only if one removed some of the spice from kitchen use and set it aside for besamim does that spice warrant a bracha.

THE GARDEN

At the beginning of the article I asked, “My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a bracha whenever I visit her, and if so, which bracha?” We are now prepared to answer this question.

The fragrant garden itself is avida lireicha since the owner or gardener presumably planted it wanting to benefit from the beautiful aroma. Do we therefore recite a bracha upon entering the garden? According to most poskim, one would recite the bracha upon entering the garden even if he is not entering the garden to enjoy the aroma at all, since it is avida lireicha. The bracha will depend on what is growing in the garden, but assuming that there are items growing with different brachos, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim.

However according to the Taz, one recites a bracha only if he wants to smell the fragrance. In order to avoid this shaylah, one should have in mind before entering the garden that one is entering the garden to enjoy the fragrance and recite a bracha immediately before entering the garden, just as one recites a bracha immediately before eating a delicious fruit.

Similarly, someone whose house is permeated with aromatic flowers should recite a bracha before entering the house since the flowers were acquired with the intention of making the house pleasantly fragrant. However, if the flowers are there only for beauty and their owner was not concerned with their fragrance, then one does not recite a bracha before entering the house. According to the Mishnah Berurah we quoted above, one should recite the appropriate bracha (either Borei Atzei Besamim or Borei Isvei Besamim) before smelling an individual flower. According to the Chazon Ish, it would seem that one should not recite a bracha unless he removed a leaf or trimming from the flowers that he wants to smell.

THE FRUIT MARKET AND THE CONFECTIONER

Does one recite a bracha when entering a fragrant fruit market, since smelling the delicious fruit may entice one to make a purchase? The same question applies to a confectionary store – Does one recite a bracha before entering this store since the delicious smell of all the sweets may entice the customer to purchase?

If indeed the owner feels that the fragrance of his wares encourages people to buy them, then one should recite a bracha before entering. This case is similar to an interesting dispute that we find in earlier poskim.

THE PHARMACY

In earlier days, a pharmacy was a store in which the apothecary sold raw herbs for their medicinal value. The poskim ask whether one recites a bracha before entering the apothecary shop just as the Gemara says that one recites a bracha before entering the besamim seller’s store.

Some poskim rule that one should recite a bracha before entering a pharmacy because the permeating fragrance encourages people to purchase herbs. Other poskim disagree for an interesting reason — people do not purchase medicinal herbs because of fragrance, but for medical need (see Biyur Halacha 217:1). Thus, since healthy people do not make purchases even if the herbs smell pleasant, and sick people will buy even if the herbs are not fragrant, no one is deciding to buy because of the fragrance. Therefore, these herbs are not avida lireicha.

The Mishnah Berurah (Biyur Halacha 217:1) compromises between the two positions quoted above. In his opinion, if people use the fragrance to find the location of the store, that is reason enough to make a bracha. However, he points out two other reasons why one should be careful before reciting a bracha.

1. That according to the Taz (mentioned above) one does not recite a bracha unless one intends to smell the fragrance.

2. One should recite a bracha only if the fragrances are open. However, if the herbs are all closed in bags, but the air is fragrant from the previously opened bags, this is considered a rei’ach she’ayn lo ikar, upon which one does not recite a bracha.

Thus upon entering a fragrant fruit store, one should recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Ba’peiros and then intend to enjoy the fragrance, since the fruits are always out in the open to encourage people to buy them.

It is uncertain whether the same halacha applies to a florist’s shop. Flowers today are not cultivated for fragrance, and most people purchase flowers because of beauty, not fragrance. However, if there is a florist who feels that customers purchase because of fragrance, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim and enjoy the fragrance.

IIC. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

In the time of Chazal, it was common to burn incense in order to give clothing or dishes a pleasant fragrance. The Gemara (Berachos 53a) mentions that one does not recite a bracha when smelling this beautiful aroma because its purpose is not for the fragrance itself.

When showing a house for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people either to smell or to purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a bracha.

IID Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

There are items that some people enjoy smelling, but most people do not consider fragrant. One should not recite a bracha before smelling such an item.

Examples: The poskim dispute whether one recites a bracha on freshly baked bread. Those who contend that one does not recite this bracha is because they feel that this is not a significant fragrance to warrant a bracha (Beis Yosef 216; Rama). Thus, some people enjoy smelling certain plants or herbs whereas other people do not. If most people do not consider a particular smell to be a fragrance, you should not recite a bracha even if you enjoy it.

TURPENTINE

Question #4 above, a shaylah someone recently asked me, was: “I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a bracha when I smell it?”

Dear reader, how would you answer this shaylah?

Perfumeries do not sell turpentine as a fragrance. Hardware stores sell it as a solvent and paint thinner. Many people consider the odor of turpentine pungent and not fragrant. Since most people do not consider turpentine to be a fragrance, one should not recite a bracha before smelling it.

III Ayn lo ikar – A fragrance whose source no longer exists.

In the case mentioned above where one burns incense to impart aroma onto clothing or pots, one does not recite a bracha on the clothing afterwards because the fragrance has no ikar (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 9:8). For this reason, one does not recite a bracha on a bag that has a pleasant smell because it once held fragrance or when you can still smell the residual aroma that is in the air after a spice has been put into a closed bag

(Biyur Halacha 217:3).

SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES

Some poskim contend that one does not make a bracha on a synthetic fragrance (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 263 note 32). Apparently, they hold that one can only recite a bracha on a fragrance whose source was originally besamim. However most poskim dispute this ruling, contending that fragrance should not be different from a “synthetic food”- a food made from a non-food substance, such as alcohol or vinegar whose source is petrochemical – which is very common today.

This situation is very common today, since most inexpensive fragrances and perfumes are synthetic. Because of the above dispute, if I have a reason to smell a synthetic fragrance I try to recite a bracha on a different fragrance whose bracha is Borei Minei Besamim, such as cloves or cinnamon, and thereby be motzi the synthetic fragrance. (Neither of these options will work for Sefardim, since they usually recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Ba’peiros on cloves and Borei Atzei Besamim on cinnamon.)

As a quick review, we do not recite a bracha on the following categories of fragrances:

Those that we are not permitted to smell.

Deodorizers

If the fragrance is incidental to the item’s main purpose or if it provides aroma to something else.

Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

Where one does not smell the source of the fragrance.

Some poskim hold that we should not recite a bracha on a synthetic fragrance.

EXPRESSIVE FRAGRANCE

In a monumental essay, Rav Hirsch (Breishis 8:21) explains that the expression rei’ach nicho’ach, usually translated as “a pleasant fragrance,” should more accurately be rendered “an expression of compliance.” He demonstrates that the word nicho’ach means “giving satisfaction” and the concept of “rei’ach” is used because fragrance implies receiving a very slight impression of something that is distant. Thus, when a korban is offered as a rei’ach nicho’ach it means that it shows a small expression of our fulfilling Hashem’s will. Similarly, our attempt to observe the halachos of brachos on fragrances correctly demonstrates a small expression on our part to praise Hashem for even His small kindnesses to us.

Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry

Shaylah 1. Yehuda is famished and spots a pizza shop with a reliable hechsher. Entering the shop, he sees no place to wash before eating, but the friendly counterman assures him, “No problem, our pizza is mezonos!” Is the counterman’s psak correct?

Shaylah 2. While driving inter-city, Baila snacks on some packaged cookies. Before realizing it, she has single-handedly eaten the entire box! Must she bensch or does she recite al hamichyah?

Shaylah 3. It is hard for Dovid to wash at work, so instead of taking sandwiches, he eats crackers with his meal. Can he thereby avoid washing netilas yadayim?

Shaylah 4. When Shifra invited her new Sefardi neighbor for a Shabbos meal, they told her that they do not make hamotzi on challah that tastes sweet. When Shifra offered them matzoh instead, she was told that they make mezonos on it! Why is there such a difference between our practices?

To answer each of these shaylos, we need to study the halachic subject known as “pas haba’ah bikisnin,” a term we will translate later. As a working definition, we could say that this includes baked goods usually eaten as a snack rather than as a meal. Although we will discuss the halachic details of pas haba’ah bikisnin, in general these items are mezonos and al hamichyah when eaten as a snack, and require washing, hamotzi, and the full bensching when eaten as a meal.

HOW CAN SOMETHING SOMETIMES BE HAMOTZI AND SOMETIMES MEZONOS? DOES IT HAVE AN IDENTITY CRISIS?

In a way, yes. Sometimes these items fulfill the role of bread and sometimes they do not. But before we explain the role of pas haba’ah bikisnin, we must first explain why bread is unique.

As we know, Chazal established a special bracha just for bread, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, and it is the only food that requires full bensching. The Torah views bread as mankind’s staple food and as such it has brachos of its own.

WHAT IS BREAD?

My dictionary defines bread as something made from flour and water (or another liquid) and baked. This definition is highly inadequate, since according to this definition, croissants, cake, cookies, pretzels, pastry, tarts, pies, teiglach, kichel and many other items are all “bread,” yet even Marie Antoinette did not serve them as substitutes for bread on a regular basis.

Thus, we need a better definition for bread, or at least for bread that always requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 168) explains that these halachos apply to bread prepared the way it is typically used for sustenance, rather than as a snack. Baked goods that are typically eaten not as a staple but as a snack are placed in a different halachic category.

With this introduction, we can now discuss our subject. The Gemara (Berachos 42a) tells us that if one eats as much pas haba’ah bikisnin as most people consider a meal, one must treat it as bread. Under such circumstances, one must wash netilas yadayim, make hamotzi and bensch. The rationale is that by eating pas haba’ah bikisnin for sustenance, we are treating it like bread. Thus, usually pas haba’ah bikisnin is eaten as a snack, and when eaten this way its bracha is mezonos and al hamichyah (Rosh).

WHAT CONSTITUTES PAS HABA’AH BIKISNIN?

There are three basic interpretations of pas haba’ah bikisnin:

1. Bread made from spiced or sweetened dough (Rashi, Berachos 41b; Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 3:9). Most pastry and cake fit into this category.

2. Bread made with pockets that are filled with sweets before it is baked (Tur). This is similar to kokosh and rugelach, where regular bread dough is rolled between layers of chocolate or cinnamon before it is baked.

3. Hard bread like a cracker, biscuit, kichel or pretzel (Rav Hai Gaon).

The “bread” of all three above instances is usually not eaten as a staple, but as a snack. According to many later authorities we rule like all three opinions above: therefore, any baked item that is sweetened, spiced or has too hard a texture to be eaten as regular bread, is considered pas haba’ah bikisnin (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:7; see also Maamar Mordechai and Biyur Halacha to 168:8). All of these items will be mezonos and al hamichyah if eaten as a snack, and will be hamotzi and require full bensching if eaten as a full meal.

Matzoh is baked similar to a cracker, yet is usually eaten as a substitute for bread rather than as a snack. Since it is usually eaten in order for one to be satiated rather than as a snack, Ashkenazim treat matzoh as regular bread. On the other hand, they are not eaten that regularly the rest of the year and are also not too different from other crackers. For these reasons, Sefardim treat them as pas haba’ah bikisnin the rest of the year, and only treat them as bread on Pesach when they function as our regular bread, whereas Ashkenazim contend that they are a staple and are therefore hamotzi. (It should be noted that on Pesach Sefardim also recite hamotzi over matzoh, since this is the regular bread of the Yom Tov, see Machazik Bracha 158:5). Thus, we have explained Shifra’s questions (that we mentioned above) why Sefardic and Ashkenazic practice are so different.

We should note that boiled or fried items never have the law of pas haba’ah bikisnin, but are always mezonos even if eaten as a full meal. Thus, most authorities rule that pasta, kneidlich, donuts and chremzlich (the latter two are deep fried) are mezonos and al hamichyah and do not require netilas yadayim, no matter how much you eat and regardless how many calories one gains. (It should be noted that there is an opinion that disagrees, see Shulchan Aruch 168:13).

A LITTLE SWEET

What about an item that is just a bit sweet, such as many Ashkenazi Shabbos challos?

The poskim dispute how sweet something must be to be considered pas haba’ah bikisnin. The Shulchan Aruch, followed by the Sefardim, rules that even if the dough is only a little sweet, one should treat it as pas haba’ah bikisnin and it is mezonos as long as the sweetness is noticeable, whereas the Rama, who is followed by Ashkenazim, rules that it has to be very sweet or very spicy to be pas haba’ah bikisnin.

WHEN IS PAS HABA’AH BIKISNIN CONSIDERED A STAPLE?

I mentioned before that one must wash netilas yadayim before eating pas haba’ah bikisnin, and recite hamotzi and bensch on it when it is eaten as a staple rather than as a snack. What defines the difference between a staple and a snack?

According to many poskim, if what one ate is enough to be considered a large meal then it is treated like bread. Other poskim contend that even if one ate an amount the size of four eggs, one is already required to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi. (For our purposes, we will say that four kibeitzim is approximately 8.4 ounces.)

Some contend that one makes hamotzi even for the equivalent of three kibeitzim, or about 6.3 ounces. Thus, someone who eats four kibeitzim or more of pastry outside a meal creates a shaylah as to what bracha to recite before and after eating, and whether he must wash netilas yadayim. One should avoid this shaylah by eating less than four kibeitzim unless one eats it as part of a meal (Mishnah Berurah 168:24), and some contend less than the equivalent of three kibeitzim (Birkei Yosef 168:4).

DOES THIS AMOUNT INCLUDE THE OTHER ITEMS ONE IS EATING, OR JUST THE “PAS” PART OF THE MEAL?

If someone ate an entire meal of meat and vegetables without bread but with pas haba’ah bikisnin, must he wash netilas yadayim, and does he recite hamotzi and bensch? The Magen Avraham (168:13) rules that he must wash netilas yadayim, make hamotzi and bensch since he ate pas haba’ah bikisnin together with the meal. Thus, he is satisfied from eating a meal containing pas haba’ah bikisnin, which requires him to treat it as bread. As we will see, Ashkenazim usually follow this psak (Mishnah Berurah 168:24). Thus, substituting crackers instead of bread for supper and eating as many crackers as is typical with a meal will not exempt someone from washing netilas yadayim and he will still recite hamotzi and bensching.

Birkei Yosef (168:6) disagrees, contending that we calculate only how much pas haba’ah bikisnin he is eating. Thus, one is exempt from netilas yadayim as long as one ate less than four kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin. If someone eats less than three kibeitzim, one recites mezonos on the crackers, ha’adamah on the vegetables, and shehakol on the meat, and afterwards recites al hamichyah and borei nefashos since he did not eat four kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin. One should avoid eating between three kibeitzim and four outside a meal, but if one did eat this much, he would make an al hamichyah afterwards (VeZos HaBeracha pg. 37). This is the approach usually followed by Sefardim.

We can now explain how Shifra can accommodate the needs of her Sefardic guests. There are a total of three different disputes all related to the halachos of pas haba’ah bikisnin.

1. Do we consider sweet challah to be bread or pas haba’ah bikisnin?

2. Do we consider matzoh to be regular bread or pas haba’ah bikisnin?

3. If someone eats a full meal containing less than three kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin does he recite hamotzi and bensch or not?

In all three of these shaylos, Ashkenazim follow the first alternative and Sefardim the second. Therefore, whereas an Ashkenazi makes hamotzi on a sweet challah or on matzoh, a Sefardi will not make hamotzi on it unless he intends to eat four kibeitzim. Thus, an Ashkenazi inviting a Sefardi should ideally provide challah that has no noticeable sugar to make his guest comfortable. A Sefardi eating at an Ashkenazi’s house where there is only sweet challah should eat four kibeitzim of the challah in the course of the meal.

TRAVELING NOSHER

We can also now paskin Baila’s shaylah – our traveler who ate an entire bag of cookies while driving. If she ate so many cookies that she is full from them, she must bensch, even though she did not wash netilas yadayim before imbibing her cookies, since she ate enough to be considered a filling, if not particularly balanced, meal.

THE KIDDUSH

At a large kiddush or a smorgasbord, many courses are served that certainly suffice for a full meal. In addition, crackers and cake are usually also served, both of which qualify as pas haba’ah bikisnin. Thus, an Ashkenazi who eats enough for a full meal should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on the crackers if he intends to eat the amount of crackers that one would usually eat with this meal.

According to many poskim, a Sefardi merely needs to keep track that he eats less than three kibeitzim of pas haba’ah bikisnin to avoid a shaylah.

How does an Ashkenazi participate in the kiddush without eating a full seudah and yet without creating a shaylah what bracha to make?

The two best options are to eat the cake and crackers either before or after he eats the rest of the Kiddush foods. If he eats them first, the optimal way to avoid the shaylah is by reciting an al hamichyah and then eating the other items at the kiddush (VeZos HaBeracha pg. 35). This demonstrates that the pas haba’ah bikisnin and the rest of what he is eating are not one big meal.

An interesting phenomenon results from this discussion. It is not uncommon for someone to attend a kiddush and eat a considerable amount of cake, crackers and other food without washing netilas yadayim. This is incorrect because they have eaten a full seudah that requires washing and bensching. Then, they come home fairly full and, wanting to save room for the rest of the Shabbos meal, they eat only a small piece of challah, less than they need to fulfill the mitzvah of seudas Shabbos, or even to require them to bensch. They should make sure to eat a kibeitzah of challah within a few minutes in order to make sure that they fulfill the mitzvah of seudah.

What if someone decides in the middle of a snack that he is going to eat enough to make a meal? If he will still be eating enough to be considered a meal, he should wash, and make hamotzi on what he is yet to eat. On the other hand, if what he intends to eat is not enough for hamotzi by itself, but only in combination with what he ate already, then he should not make a new bracha but complete eating what he has left without washing (Magen Avraham 168:14). When he finishes eating, he bensches – creating the rather unusual situation of reciting mezonos before eating and bensching afterwards.

“MEZONOS ROLLS”

Bakeries that produce so-called “mezonos rolls” knead them with enough juice or milk to consider them pas haba’ah bikisnin according to some authorities. These rolls should taste fairly sweet, and if they do not, are hamotzi for an Ashkenazi even if one takes only a nibble from them.

However, the bracha is mezonos only when one eats a small amount. When eating a full meal together with mezonos rolls, one must wash netilas yadayim, recite hamotzi, and bensch afterwards. Thus, the “psak” of the pizzeria’s counterman (quoted above) that the pizza is mezonos was certainly not accurate if the partaker is an Ashkenazi eating a full meal. Furthermore, it is not the preferred method if he eats three kibeitzim or more of pizza, and certainly not if he ate four.

There is another reason to question his psak, as we will discuss.

PIZZA, BUREKAS AND MEAT PIES

The Shulchan Aruch (168:17) rules that the bracha on an item called “pashtida,” a baked item filled with meat, fish or cheese, is hamotzi. This sounds exactly like a case that should have the halachic status of our second type of pas haba’ah bikisnin mentioned above, where one filled a dough, yet the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is considered bread! Why is pashtida different?

The poskim present several answers to this question.

(A) Pashtida is indeed a form of pas haba’ah bikisnin. The Shulchan Aruch is discussing a case in which he ate a full meal and that is why the bracha is hamotzi (Taz 168:20).

(B) There is a difference between dough filled with sweet things and one filled with satisfying things like cheese, fish or meat. The latter case, which is the case of pashtida, is always hamotzi since it is meant to satisfy and not as a sweet snack (Emek Bracha, quoted by Taz 168:20; Graz 168:10).

(C) Pashtida is regular bread dough and therefore its bracha is hamotzi. If it was made with a oily dough, such as one makes burekas, then indeed it would be considered pas haba’ah bikisnin (Birkei Yosef 168:7; see a similar approach in Aruch HaShulchan 168:50).

At first glance, pizza and pashtida seem comparable and both should be hamotzi. However according to the first approach above, this is true only if one ate a lot of pashtida and pizza, otherwise it is still comparable to pas haba’ah bikisnin. According to the second approach above, both pashtida and pizza are hamotzi even if one eats only a small amount. Thus, there is an additional reason why pizza might be hamotzi even if one ate only a small amount.

Adding milk or juice to the flour will only make a difference according to the last approach. According to this opinion, pizza produced with regular bread dough is hamotzi, whereas adding milk or juice to the dough might make it into pas haba’ah bikisnin. Even this is by no means certain, since the pizza itself does not taste different by virtue of the milk or juice added to its dough.

Thus, according to many poskim, pizza is always hamotzi, whereas according to some poskim it is pas haba’ah bikisnin and therefore sometimes mezonos as I explained above. As in all other shaylos, one should ask one’s individual Rav what to do.

According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a), someone who desires to become a chassid (exemplary in his behavior) should toil in understanding the halachos of brachos. By investing energy into understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem. Furthermore, when reciting the proper bracha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bikisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct bracha focuses on our understanding the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.