May I Daven in English?

The end of parshas Noach teaches about the beginning of languages…

Question #1:

I received the following e-mail question from Verna Acular:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur in Hebrew provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Question #2:

Bella, a middle-aged new immigrant from Central Europe, struggles to ask the rabbi:

Hungarian is the only language that I can read and understand. Someone told me that, now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so? I am really too old to learn a new language.

Question #3:

Bracha Acharona asked me the following:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not understand a word of Japanese; yet, if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between the brachos recited before and after eating?

Those That Can and Those That Cannot

The Mishnah (Sotah 32a) supplies a rather long list of mitzvos that are fulfilled only when recited in Hebrew and those that are fulfilled when recited in any language. For example, one cannot fulfill the requirements of chalitzah (see Devarim 25:7-10), duchening (see Bamidbar 6:24-26), and the narration that accompanies bikkurim (see Devarim 26:5-11), unless one recites the exact Hebrew words that the Torah cites. On the other hand, other mitzvos, including the reciting of shema, prayer (including shemoneh esrei), and birkas hamazon (bensching) can be fulfilled by translating the relevant passages into a language that one understands. Indeed, the Gemara (Brachos 40b) records an instance in which an individual named Binyomin the Shepherd bensched in Aramaic, and Rav ruled that he had fulfilled his requirement. The Gemara explains the reason why some mitzvos may be fulfilled in translation, but not others, on the basis of several intricate interpretations from various verses.

Which is preferable?

Having established that one may pray in a vernacular, the first question on which we will focus is whether it is preferable or perhaps even essential for someone who does not understand Hebrew to pray in a language that he understands, or whether it is preferred to pray in Hebrew, even though it is not understood.

Tosafos’ opinion

From Tosafos (Sotah op. cit.) we see that someone who does not understand Hebrew and recites a prayer, shema, or bensching in Hebrew does not fulfill the mitzvah. Tosafos asks why the Mishnah omits hearing megillah from its list of mitzvos that may be fulfilled in any language. Tosafos answers that the mitzvah of megillah is qualitatively different from all the other mitzvos mentioned in this Mishnah, because one who does not understand Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah of megillah in Hebrew. Tosafos clearly understands that someone who prays, bensches or reads shema in a language he does not understand does not fulfill the mitzvah, even if the language is Hebrew, and the Mishnah is listing mitzvos that someone who doesn’t understand Hebrew will fulfill only in the vernacular. Thus, according to Tosafos’ opinion, Verna should be reciting her prayers in English, and Bella should recite them in Hungarian.

Hebrew for the Hungarians

Although Tosafos holds this way, later authorities reject this conclusion. The Keren Orah notes that, according to Tosafos, someone who does not understand Hebrew will be unable to fulfill the mitzvos of bensching and davening if he does not have a siddur handy with a translation in a language that he understands. The Keren Orah cites other early authorities who answered Tosafos’ question (why Megillah is not cited in the Mishnah) in a different way, and he concludes that one who prayed, bensched or read shema in Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand Hebrew, providing that he knew that he was about to fulfill the mitzvah.

Quoting other authorities, the Mishnah Berurah (62:2), rules that someone who does not understand Hebrew should preferably daven, bensch and recite shema in Hebrew.

What does veshinantam mean?

The Mishnah Berurah adds an additional reason to recite shema in Hebrew; there are several words in shema that are difficult to translate, or whose meaning is unclear. For example, the word veshinantam may often be translated as and you shall teach them, but this translation does not express the full meaning of the word. The word for teach them in Hebrew is velimad’tem, which is used in the second parsha of shema. The word veshinantam means teaching students until they know the Torah thoroughly, and simply translating this word as and you shall teach them does not explain the word adequately.

This difference in meaning is reflected in Targum Onkeles, where velimadtem is translated vesalfun, whereas veshinantam is translated u’sesaninun, which comes from the Aramaic root that is equivalent to the Hebrew veshinantam. Thus, Aramaic possesses two different verbs, one of which means to teach and the other meaning to teach until known thoroughly, whereas English lacks a short way of expressing the latter idea.

I have heard it suggested that one may alleviate this problem of reciting shema in English by translating the word veshinantam with the entire clause you shall teach it to your sons until they know it thoroughly. This approach should seemingly resolve the concern raised by the Mishnah Berurah, although I am unaware of an English translation that renders the word veshinantam in this way.

Other hard translations

Whether or not one can translate veshinantam accurately, the Mishnah Berurah questions how one will translate the word es, since it has no equivalent in most languages. He further notes that the word totafos, which refers to the tefillin worn on the head,is also difficult to translate. However, when we recite these words in Hebrew, we avoid the need to know the exact translation, since we are using the words the Torah itself used. The Mishnah Berurah feels that, for the same reasons, someone who can read but does not understand Hebrew should recite kiddush, bensching, davening and his other brachos in Hebrew.

Although the Mishnah Berurah does not mention this predicament, a problem similar to the one he raises concerns the translation of the Name of G-d. When reciting a bracha or any of the above-mentioned requirements in a different language, one must be careful to translate this Name accurately (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:40:27). Rav Moshe Feinstein notes this problem in the context of the anecdote I mentioned above about Binyomin the Shepherd, who bensched in Aramaic. The Gemara records that Binyomin referred to G-d as Rachmana. In a teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe notes that although the word Rachmana obviously derives from the same source as the word rachum, mercy, one would not fulfill the requirement of reciting a bracha by substituting the word rachum for Hashem’s Name. Thus, Rav Moshe asks, how could Binyomin the Shepherd have fulfilled his bracha by reciting the translation of the word rachum?

Rav Moshe answers that although the source of the word Rachmana and the word rachum are the same, Rachmana is the translation of G-d’s Name in Aramaic, and therefore it is used in Aramaic prayers and blessings. However, rachum is not a translation of G-d, but an attribute of G-d, and its recital in a bracha is not adequate.

We thus realize that someone translating Hashem’s Name into any language must be careful to do so accurately.

Is “G-d” correct?

I have seen two common ways of translating the Name of Hashem into English, one as Lord and the other as G-d. Translating His Name as Lord is based on the meaning of the Name Adnus as Adon hakol, the Lord of all, which is the basic understanding one is required to have when reciting His Name. However, I have noticed that some recent translations now transliterate the Name in English as Hashem. This is not an accurate translation, and a person reciting the bracha this way will not fulfill his responsibility. I strongly suggest that the publishers not do this, since they are performing a disservice for people using their translation.

The position of the Sefer Chassidim

Notwithstanding that the Mishnah Berurah prefers that someone who does not understand Hebrew daven, bensch, and recite shema in Hebrew, the Sefer Chassidim (#588) advises, “A G-d-fearing man or woman who does not understand Hebrew who asks, tell them to learn the prayers in the language that they understand. Prayer can be recited only with the understanding of the heart, and if the heart does not understand what the mouth expresses, nothing is accomplished. For this reason, it is best to pray in a language one understands.

He states this even more clearly in a different passage (#785).

It is better for a person to pray and recite shema and brachos in a language that he comprehends, rather than pray in Hebrew and not understand… It is for this reason that the Talmud, both in Bavel and in Eretz Yisrael, was written in Aramaic, so that even the unlettered can understand the mitzvos.

The Sefer Chassidim’s position is subsequently quoted by the Magen Avraham (101:5), who also cites this approach in the name of the Asarah Ma’amaros of the Rama miFanu.

The Yad Efrayim’s approach

The Yad Efrayim quotes the Magen Avraham (who ruled as the Sefer Chassidim), but contends that one should recite the tefillah in Hebrew. To quote him: In our days, when there is no one who can translate the Hebrew accurately, one should rebuke anyone who follows a lenient route and prays in the vernacular. Rather, one should not separate himself from the community that reads the prayer in Hebrew, and one fulfills the mitzvah even if he does not understand. Someone concerned about the issues raised by Sefer Chassidim should learn enough basic understanding of Hebrew to know what he is asking. Although he does not understand every word, this is not a concern… If he does not want to learn Hebrew, he should pray in Hebrew with the community, and afterwards read the prayer in translation.

Thus, the Yad Efrayim is a strong advocate of praying only in Hebrew, and he is presumably one of the authorities upon whom the Mishnah Berurah based his ruling.

At this point, we can return to Verna’s question:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew, even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Verna has been told to follow the ruling of the Yad Efrayim and the Mishnah Berurah, which is the most commonly, followed approach today. The “other people” that Verna mentions were instructed to follow the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Sefer Chassidim. It is also possible that the “other people” cannot read Hebrew properly. Someone who cannot read Hebrew has no choice but to recite prayers in the best translation that he/she can find.

Is this the language of the country?

At this point, I would like to address Bella’s predicament:

Hungarian is the only language that I read and understand. Someone told me that, now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so?

What is the halacha if someone does not understand the language of the country in which he/she lives? Can one fulfill the mitzvos of shema, brachos and davening by reciting these prayers in his native language, notwithstanding the fact that few people in his new country comprehend this language?

Although this may seem surprising, the Bi’ur Halacha rules that one fulfills the mitzvos in a vernacular only when this is the language that is commonly understood in the country in which he is currently located. The Bi’ur Halacha based his ruling on a statement of the Ritva (in the beginning of his notes to the Rif on Nedarim), who implies that halacha recognizes something as a language only in the time and place that a people has chosen to make this into their spoken vernacular.

Following this approach, one who recites a bracha in America in a language that most Americans do not understand is required to recite the bracha again. Bella was indeed told the position of the Bi’ur Halacha that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of praying in the United States in Hungarian or any other language that is not commonly understood, other than Hebrew.

Rav Gustman’s position

Other authorities dispute the Bi’ur Halacha’s conclusion, demonstrating that this concern of the Ritva refers only to a slang or code, but not to a proper language (Kuntrisei Shiurim of Rav Gustman, Nedarim page 11; and others). This means that if someone prayed or recited a bracha in something that is not considered a true language, he would not fulfill his mitzvah and would be required to recite the prayer or bracha again. However, although most Americans do not understand Hungarian, this is a bona fide language, and Bella fulfills the mitzvah by davening in Hungarian. Rav Gustman writes that he told many Russian baalei teshuvah that they could pray in Russian when they were living in Israel or the United States, even though Russian is not understood by most people in either country. He acknowledges that, according to the Bi’ur Halacha, this would not fulfill the mitzvah.

Must one understand the foreign language?

At this point, we will address Bracha’s brachos question:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not know a word of Japanese; yet if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between a bracha before eating and one after?

According to Tosafos, someone can fulfill reciting the brachos before eating, Hallel and Kiddush even in a secular language that one does not understand. Tosafos contends that we see from the Mishnah that these mitzvos have a difference in halacha with bensching, davening and shema, where one fulfills the mitzvah only in a language that one understands.

Do we follow Tosafos’ opinion?

Although the Magen Avraham (introduction to Orach Chayim 62) rules in accordance with this Tosafos, most later commentaries do not (Keren Orah and Rav Elazar Landau on Sotah ad loc.; Bi’ur Halacha 62 s.v. Yachol; Aruch Hashulchan 62:3). Several authorities state that they do not understand Tosafos’ position that there is a difference between shema, shemoneh esrei and birkas hamazon, which can only be recited in a language one understands, and Kiddush, Hallel, birkas hamitzvos and brachos before eating, which Tosafos rules one may recite even in a language that one does not comprehend.

I suggest the following explanation of Tosafos’ view: The drasha of Chazal states that one fulfills shema only in a language that one understands. This is logical, because shema is accepting the yoke of Heaven, and how can one do this without comprehending the words? The same idea applies to the shemoneh esrei — how can one pray if he does not understand what he is saying? Birkas hamazon is also a very high level of thanks, and what type of acknowledgement is it, if one does not know the meaning of the words he is saying? However, one can praise in a language that he does not understand, as evidenced by the fact that chazzanim or choirs may sing beautiful praise, although they do not necessarily comprehend every word. Similarly, as long as one knows that kiddush sanctifies Shabbos, he fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand the words.

Conclusion

Some people, who cannot read Hebrew at all, have no choice but to pray in the language that they can read and understand. However, anyone who can should accept the challenge of studying the prayers a bit at a time, thereby gradually developing both fluency and comprehension. In the interim, they can read the translation of each paragraph first, and then read the Hebrew, which will help them develop a full understanding of the prayers as Chazal wrote and organized them.

The Bracha on Blossoming Trees

Question #1: How Many?

“May I recite birkas ilanos when I see only one blossoming tree?”

Question #2: What Type?

“Must it be a fruit-bearing tree?”

Question #3: When?

“Must I recite this bracha in the month of Nissan? I live in Australia!”

Foreword:

Since Chodesh Nissan is arriving, we will discuss birkas ilanos, the special bracha that Chazal instituted to be recited when observing trees in bloom. As an introduction, I note the words of the Aruch Hashulchan about this bracha, “The observance of reciting this bracha is weak among the common people. Furthermore, the Bedek Habayis (notes that Rav Yosef Karo, himself, added afterward to his Beis Yosef commentary) writes that the custom is not to recite this bracha. However, all talmidei chachamim and G-d-fearing people are meticulous about observing this bracha.”

Introduction:

The Gemara that provides the source of this bracha is extremely brief and in an unusual location. Whereas other similar brochos recited upon items that one sees are discussed in the last chapter of mesechta Brochos, birkas ilanos is discussed in the sixth chapter of Brochos, which is the source for the brochos recited before eating and drinking. In the midst of a discussion of the brochos on fragrances, the Gemara inserts the following passage:

Rav Yehudah said,  “Someone who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees that are blooming, says  ‘Blessed (is Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe) Who did not leave anything lacking in His universe, and He created good creations and good trees so that mankind can have pleasure from them’” (Brochos 43b).

As we will soon see, although the Gemara mentions only the first word of the bracha, Boruch,it means that we should recite a full bracha. The Gemara then resumes its discussion on fragrances, without any further mention of birkas ilanos.

The wording of the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 226) is remarkably and unusually similar to that of the Gemara. To quote the Shulchan Aruch: “Someone who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees that are blossoming, recites, ‘Blessed is Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who did not leave anything lacking in His universe, and He created good creations and good trees so that mankind can have pleasure from them.’ This bracha is recited only once each year, and if he waited until after the fruits are grown, he should no longer recite it.” (See also Mishnah Berurah 225:12.) The wording of the bracha as quoted in Shulchan Aruch is Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam shelo chisar be’olamo kelum, uvara bo beriyos tovos ve’ilanos tovos leihanos beham benei adam.

It is surprising that there is very little Mishnah Berurah on this halacha, and no Biur Halacha at all, but there is much discussion on this bracha in the writings of other halachic authorities, such as the Kaf Hachayim, who lived shortly after the Mishnah Berurah.

Required?

The wording of the Gemara implies that there is no requirement to look for a blooming tree – if you happen to notice one, you should recite a bracha. This sounds similar to the bracha we recite upon hearing thunder, seeing lightning or a rainbow, or seeing something very unusual. There is no requirement to look for them, but a bracha praising Hashem is recited when you see any of these natural phenomena. This is as opposed to the bracha on kiddush levanah, which is a requirement. Perhaps this explains why the common people were not so concerned about reciting birkas ilanos, as the Aruch Hashulchan reports.

However, notwithstanding this point, the sifrei kabbalah assume that this mitzvah is an obligation, or, at least, a very important bracha to recite. The fact that this bracha assumes a greater role in kabbalistic sources than in halachic sources may explain another phenomenon that I will discuss shortly.

Season or date?

Reading the Gemara carefully, we should ask several questions. For example, the words of the Gemara say that you should recite this bracha “in the days of Nissan.” If this means during the month of Nissan, then the Gemara should say “the month of Nissan,” not the “days of Nissan,” which implies that the season is important. On the other hand, if the season is the most important factor, then the Gemara should have said, “in the spring,” and not mentioned Nissan at all.

This question results in a dispute among halachic authorities. The Birkei Yosef writes that it is preferred to wait until Nissan to recite birkas ilanos. On the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah rules that the Gemara mentions Nissan only because it was written in a place where fruits usually began blossoming then, but that you should recite the bracha whenever you first see trees blossom in your climate and place. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah rules that you should recite it whenever you see the first blossoms, and the Aruch Hashulchan, who also lived in a cold climate, notes that, where he lived, the bracha was usually not recited until Iyar or even Sivan, when it finally became warm enough for fruit trees to blossom. The Kaf Hachayim quotes several sources who contend that this bracha should not be recited before Nissan. Specifically, he quotes authorities who rule that birkas ilanos should not be recited when seeing the blossoming of almonds, which bloom well before Nissan; the same is true of the loquat, called shesek in Modern Hebrew, which also blossoms in the middle of the winter.

The conclusion of most authorities is that it is preferred to wait until Nissan in order to recite the bracha according to all opinions, but not required. Based on the conclusion of these authorities, we can answer one of our opening questions:

“Must I recite this bracha in the month of Nissan? I live in Australia!”

Australia, South Africa and most of South America are located in the southern hemisphere, where the month of Nissan is in the fall and Tishrei occurs in the spring. The answer to the question is that you can recite the bracha of birkas ilanos in whatever season fruits blossom, in your climate. If you live in a place where there are blossoming trees readily available in the month of Nissan, but some trees already blossom earlier, there are authorities who suggest waiting until Nissan to recite the bracha.

One or more?

The Gemara states that birkas ilanos is recited when a person sees “trees.” Does he recite this bracha if he sees only one blossoming tree?

The Birkei Yosef mentions that there must be at least two blossoming trees, and this is quoted subsequently by the Kaf Hachayim. However, I note that the Mishnah Berurah does not quote this halacha, although he had ready access to the Birkei Yosef and quotes him innumerable times in the context of many other laws.

Among those who require that there be at least two trees, the Kaf Hachayim mentions that there is no requirement that there be trees of more than one species.

Two date palms

While researching materials for this article, I found the following curious question, raised by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, son-in-law of Rav Elyashiv and a well-respected rav in Bnei Brak.

“Do you recite birkas ilanos if you see two date palms?”

What is the question? The Gemara (Pesachim 111a) rules, ha’oveir bein shenei dekalim damo berosho venischayov benafsho,“someone who walks between two palm trees, his blood is on his head and he is obligated for the damage that he will bring upon himself.” Rashi and the Rashbam there explain that the concern is because of ruach ra’ah.

A question regarding birkas ilanos is that since the wording of the bracha states “for mankind to benefit,” perhaps it should not be recited over two palm trees, since this might be harmful for someone who walks between them. The case in question was when there is a path running between the two trees that individuals walk through. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein suggests that, since the halacha is that you may recite this bracha when you see only one tree, and one palm is not dangerous, you may recite it. Then he asks that since the two trees together are dangerous, one of them should be removed, so that they not continue to present a hazard to people walking between them. Since we are not sure which tree will ultimately be removed, perhaps you cannot recite the bracha!

We should note that this question is probably theoretical. Dates do not usually blossom until late in the season, and, since are other fruit trees that blossom much earlier. Someone concerned about reciting the bracha would have recited it already — unless he lives in an area where there are few other species of trees that blossom.

As many as possible?

Some authorities quote that, according to kabbalah, you should try to recite this bracha in a place where there are as many trees as possible. I have been told that even among those who do practice according to the kabbalah, most do not follow this approach. There are also opinions quoted that you should not recite this bracha while in the city, but should go outside the city (Kaf Hachayim quoting Rav Chayim Palagi). I personally do not know of anyone who observes the bracha this way. Again, Mishnah Berurah does not mention this.

Many Sefardim make it a lengthy procedure, including going as a group. They recite several chapters of Tehillim, then an extensive lesheim yichud, some other kabbalistic prayers, and a tefillah that our bracha should be valued as if we had all the deep kabbalistic ideas that are included in this bracha that Chazal implemented. They also recite the versesof Ve’yitein lecha and Vihi noam (recited on Motza’ei Shabbos), before making the birkas ilanos (Kaf Hachayim). After reciting birkas ilanos in a very loud voice, each person sets aside three coins for tzedakah. They then recite several more chapters of Tehillim, a tefillah that is taken from the middle of the musaf shemoneh esrei of Yom Tov, a tefillah that moshiach come, and the part of the Zohar that begins with the words Patach Eliyahu that many Sefardim recite daily before davening mincha. They conclude the procedure with the passage that begins with the words Rabbi Chananya ben Akavyah omer, and then recite a kaddish derabbanan. This is the procedure that I saw followed in the Kaf Hachayim. In the Sefardic siddurim that I examined, I found similar procedures. All of this means that it is a far more elaborate procedure than that followed by Ashkenazim, who simply recite the bracha without any fanfare.

Edible fruits?

There is no mention in the Gemara that the bracha is recited only if the tree bears edible fruit. However, this halacha could perhaps be inferred from the wording of the bracha, since it implies that mankind receives some direct pleasure from this tree, which is the case when people will enjoy eating its fruit. The halachic conclusion of the late authorities is that it should be recited on a tree whose fruit is edible (Be’er Heiteiv, Mishnah Berurah, Kaf Hachayim).

How many species?

Do we recite this bracha for each species that we see blossoming, just as we recite a bracha for each species of new fruit we observe or eat in the course of the year, or is this bracha recited only once each year? The Mordechai, a rishon, implies that this bracha is recited only once each year, and when the Mishnah Berurah discusses this question, he reaches the same conclusion.

Missed first time?

If someone did not recite birkas ilanos the first time he saw a blossoming tree, can he still recite the bracha the next time he sees one? The halachic conclusion of the Mishnah Berurah is that he can still recite the bracha, even if the blossom has already developed into a fruit, as long as the fruit is not fully grown.

Shabbos or Yom Tov

The prevalent custom is not to recite this bracha on Shabbos or Yom Tov, although the Mishnah Berurah makes no mention of such a rule. The Kaf Hachayim does, prohibiting it because of a gezeirah that you might pull off leaves or flowers. He also mentions that there are kabbalistic reasons not to recite this bracha on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Prohibited fruit

Can you recite this bracha on a tree planted (or transplanted) within the previous three years, whose fruit, when it grows, will be prohibited because of orlah? The Kaf Hachayim rules that you should not. The reason is, presumably, because the wording of the bracha is that these blossoms are for mankind to benefit from, and any benefit from the fruit of this particular tree is prohibited. Nevertheless, I note that the Mishnah Berurah does not mention anything about this ruling.

Grafted trees

Can you recite birkas ilanos on a grafted tree? Several late authorities discuss whether you can recite this bracha for a tree that is grafted from different species, such that it would be forbidden for a Jew to graft these trees. (The fruit of this tree may be eaten, so this is a different question from the previous one, regarding a tree producing orlah fruits.)

There is a dispute among earlier acharonim regarding whether you can recite a shehecheyanu on a fruit from a tree that was grafted. Quoting the Halachos Ketanos (1:60) as his source, the Be’er Heiteiv (Orach Chayim 225:7) rules that you cannot recite shehecheyanu on a fruit from a grafted tree. However, the She’eilas Yaavetz (#63) disagrees and rules that you may. Among later authorities, several discuss how we rule between these authorities. Biur Halacha 225:3 s. v. Peri quotes both opinions, but implies, slightly, that the bracha can be recited. (See also Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:58.) Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:25 concludes that it is better to find something else on which to recite the shehecheyanu.

Regarding birkas ilanos, I found one responsum among the late halachic authorities, which concluded that it is preferred not to recite the bracha on a tree grafted in a way that would violate halacha (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:25). This case is actually quite common, since most fruit trees today are grafted, and frequently from one species onto another. There is an article on this subject on RabbiKaganoff.com

From a passing vehicle

If you see the blossoming tree while you are in a passing vehicle, can you recite the bracha? Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, whom we quoted above, discusses this question. He compares it to a Biur Halacha (218:1 s. v. Bimkom), which is based on the law regarding the bracha recited upon hearing thunder (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 227:3). The Biur Halacha concludes that you can recite the bracha on a place where a miracle occurred only as long as you see the place. Rav Zilberstein adds that the Shulchan Aruch rules that you can recite the bracha for thunder, as long as it is within the period of time of toch kedei dibbur, enough time either to say shalom alecha rebbe, or shalom alecha rebbe umori (this is a dispute among halachic authorities), which is only a few seconds after you heard the thunder. The same halacha, concludes Rav Zilberstein, should be true regarding someone who sees the blossoming trees while traveling – if it is within a few seconds, he may still recite birkas ilanos, but if more time has elapsed since he saw the blossoms, he may not (Chashukei Chemed, Pesachim 111a).

Ripping up a tree

Rav Zilberstein has another teshuvah about the following question: An ailing father wants desperately to recite birkas ilanos, but cannot physically be taken outdoors to see a tree. Is it permitted to rip up a blossoming tree by its roots and bring it to the ill man, so that he may recite the bracha? Since this question is not about birkas ilanos, but about the issue of bal tashchis (destroying fruit trees), we will not discuss it in this article.

Conclusion

In a monumental essay, Rav Hirsch (Bereishis 8:21) explains that the expression rei’ach nicho’ach that we find in the context of korbanos, 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, the concept of birkas ilanos is that we thank Hashem, not only for the essential things in life, but also for the extras – the things that we can live without, but that Hashem gave us as extra pleasures. Fruits are usually not essential for life, but make our sojourn through earth a bit more pleasurable. And for that also, we must be sure to thank Hashem.

Brachos on Good Tidings

After the wondrous splitting of the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisroel recited a brocha of thanks to Hashem.

close up photography of wet leaves
Photo by Sitthan Kutty on Pexels.com

Question #1: Raining brachos

What brocha do we recite when it rains?

Question #2: Grandson?

Do we recite a brocha upon hearing of the birth of a new grandson?

Origin

Rashi, in parshas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 12:7), notes that Avraham Avinu built a mizbei’ach to commemorate the two wonderful messages he had just received, that he would have children and that his descendants would receive Eretz Yisroel. This provides another source for the brachos that Chazal instituted when someone hears good news, including, the brachos of shehecheyanu and hatov vehameitiv. The sources in the Mishnah and the Gemara for most of these halachos are in the ninth chapter of Brachos. The Mishnah (Brachos 54a) states, “On the rains and on good news one recites [Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam] hatov vehameitiv… Someone who built a new house or purchased new items recites shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi’anu lazman hazeh.”

Brocha on rain

Chazal instituted a brocha to be recited when it begins to rain heavily (Brachos 59b; Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 10:5; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 221). Those of us who live in North America, where rain is not seasonal, may find the idea of “the beginning of the rains” to be strange, since, in most of North America, it rains at all times of the year. However, much, if not most, of the world has seasonal rainfall. In Eretz Yisroel, for example, it does not rain in the summer. All rain begins in the late fall, hopefully, and it rains, occasionally, during the winter. By mid-spring, it stops raining for the next six to eight months.

When living in such a climate, it is, quite literally, vitally important that it rain during the correct season. Chazal instituted a brocha to be recited when the first significant rain falls (Brachos 59b). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 221:1) adds a requirement that this brocha be recited only when the populace has been concerned regarding the lack of rainfall, a condition to which the Biur Halacha agrees.

The Rema, who lived in Poland, notes “that the reason we do not recite this brocha is because in our areas, rain is frequent, and it is rare that there is a drought.” However, those who live in Eretz Yisroel or other places where droughts are, unfortunately, not uncommon should recite this brocha (Mishnah Berurah 221:2). In addition, the Mishnah Berurah notes that, even in a land in which rain is usually plentiful, should there be a drought, this brocha is recited when it finally rains.

What brocha?

The Gemara has a discussion as to which brocha a person should recite when it begins to rain. The halachic authorities understand that the Gemara’s conclusion which brocha is recited depends on an individual’s circumstances. However, there is a dispute between the Rif and the Rosh regarding some of the details of these laws. The Rambam’s understanding of the topic appears to be very similar to the Rif’s.

According to the Rif:

(1) Someone who owns agricultural land, and has partners who also benefit from the rain, recites hatov vehameitiv.

(2) Someone who owns agricultural land, but has no partners who also benefit from the rain, recites shehecheyanu.

(3) Someone who does not have any agricultural land recites a special brocha established for the occasion of the rain falling. The Gemara asks what brocha is recited on the rains and quotes a dispute between Rav Yehudah and Rabbi Yochanan. Rav Yehudah cites the following brief text, “[Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam] modim anachnu loch al kol tipah u’tipah shehoradta lanu, we thank You for each and every drop that you brought us.” Rabbi Yochanan adds to this an extensive passage and then adds a closing to the brocha. Among the rishonim, we find at least four different opinions as to how Rabbi Yochanan rules that this brocha should be concluded.

As I mentioned above in (3), this is the text of the brocha recited only when someone does not own a piece of agricultural property. Someone who has a field that benefits directly from the rain recites hatov vehameitiv upon witnessing the rain [(1) above]. If he has no partners in his land, the Rif rules that he recites shehecheyanu (2) whereas the Rosh rules that he recites hatov vehameitiv. I will explain shortly why these two authorities dispute this matter.

Seeing is believing!

Are there any other halachic distinctions between reciting hatov vehameitiv or shehecheyanu for the new rain and reciting the special brocha on rain?

Indeed, there are. By way of introduction: The Sefer Chassidim (#844) instructs that, when we hear good news, we should immediately recite the brocha, either hatov vehameitiv or shehecheyanu, in order to make the brocha as close as possible to hearing the welcome news, and then thank the person who told us the good tidings. The Pri Megadim notes that you should recite the brocha only when you know that the source of your information is reliable. In today’s world, if your source is not necessarily reliable, you can try to verify the information relatively quickly.

All authorities agree that the brachos of hatov vehameitiv and shehecheyanu may be recited, whether you saw the gift that Hashem has now provided, or a reliable source verifies the good news. However, regarding the special brocha recited for rain, the halachic authorities dispute as to whether this brocha is recited only when you actually see it rain, or even if you only heard that it rained. The Magen Avraham contends that you do not recite this brocha if you heard that it rained, but did not see it, whereas the Shitah Mekubetzes rules that you do. The Mishnah Berurah (221:7) concludes that, because of the rule of safek brachos lehakeil, the special brocha is recited only if you actually see it raining.

New house

As we mentioned above, the Mishnah instructs someone who built a new house or purchased new items to recite shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi’anu lazman hazeh.

If someone’s house burnt down, and he is now able to rebuild it, he recites hatov vehameitiv, notwithstanding that he would have preferred to have his original house and avoid all the aggravation and grief that transpired (Pri Chadash; Mishnah Berurah 223:12). If he tore down his house and rebuilt it, he does not make a brocha. However, if he enlarged it in the process, he recites a brocha.

Shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv

The Gemara (Brachos 59b) asks what criterion determines whether we recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv. The Gemara concludes that, when the benefits are shared with someone else, we recite hatov vehameitiv, whereas when only one person receives direct benefit, he recites shehecheyanu. Therefore, if a married couple purchases or receives something from which both will benefit, they recite hatov vehameitiv, whereas upon acquiring an item that only one of them uses, such as a garment, the brocha is shehecheyanu (see Brachos 59b). In the first case, one of them may be motzi the other in the brocha, or they may, each, recite the brocha separately.

Upon this basis, the Rosh explains the dispute between himself and the Rif, germane to which brocha is recited for rain by someone who owns agricultural property. The Rif and Rosh agree that if the field owner has partners in the land he owns, he recites hatov vehameitiv. If he does not have partners, the Rif rules that he recites shehecheyanu, whereas the Rosh rules that he recites hatov vehameitiv. The Rif understands that the appropriate brocha is shehecheyanu, since he has no partners who directly benefit from his field receiving rain. The Rosh contends that the determinant is not whether you have partners in your field, but whether you have partners in the chesed that Hashem did, and you were not the only one for whom it rained. Since the entire local population benefits directly from the rain, he has partners in the chesed, and therefore recites hatov vehameitiv.

Since the Rambam agrees with the Rif, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 221:2) follows his usual approach of ruling according to the majority opinion among these three luminaries, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh.

Friends and family

There are many other instances in which you recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv. The Gemara (Brachos 58b) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 225:1) rule that seeing a close friend or family member whom you have not seen for thirty days is cause to recite shehecheyanu. The Shulchan Aruch explains that this brocha is recited only upon seeing a friend “who is very dear to him and he is happy to see.” The Mishnah Berurah (225:1) explains that a “close family member” means a sibling, spouse, parent or child. The Gemara teaches that hatov vehameitiv is recited upon the birth of a son, and the Shulchan Aruch rules that both parents are equally obligated. The Mishnah Berurah rules that a brocha is also recited on the birth of a daughter.

Grandson?

At this point, we have enough background to discuss the second of our opening questions: “Do we recite a brocha upon hearing of the birth of a new grandson?”

The Gemara mentions reciting a brocha only on the birth of a son, but does not mention a grandson, although this event certainly generates a huge amount of simcha. For this reason, the Sefer Chassidim (#843) rules that we recite a brocha upon the birth of a grandson.

However, not all rishonim agree. The Rashba rallies proof that reciting shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv is not only because of the happiness of the event, but also because there is some physical benefit from the event. In the case of a child being born, he contends that only parents recite the brocha, because of the long-term benefits of having someone who can assist parents in their senior years. This particular benefit is more certain of a child than of a grandchild; therefore, the Rashba contends that, since Chazal never mentioned reciting a brocha upon the birth of a grandchild, there is no brocha on this occasion (Shu’t Harashba 4:77). The Biur Halacha (223:1 s.v. yaldah) concludes that since he found no early authority other than the Sefer Chassidim who requires a brocha upon hearing of the birth of a grandchild, he advises refraining.

Correspondent

What is the halacha if your correspondence with someone has caused you to form a very close friendship, but you have never met him in person? Do you recite a brocha of shehecheyanu when meeting for the first time? Based on a responsum authored by the Rashba (4:76), the Shulchan Aruch rules that you do not recite shehecheyanu when meeting him for the first time in person (Orach Chayim 225:2). In my opinion, the same thing is true if you have met virtually, via Zoom or Skype, but will now meet in person for the first time.

Twins

The Mishnah Berurah (222:2) rules that someone who heard several good tidings at the same time makes only one brocha on all the good news. Therefore, the birth of twins generates only one brocha.

Too much of a good thing

The Kaf Hachayim (222:10) points out the following: if the person hearing the good news may become overly excited, and this excitement might endanger his health, tell it to him gradually, just as you would tell him bad news gradually so as not to shock him.

New clothes

The Mishnah quoted above says, “Someone who built a new house or purchased new items says shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi’anu lazman hazeh.” This halacha is true whether the new item is clothing or anything else that makes this particular individual happy (Mishnah Berurah 223:13). Obviously, this will depend on the personality of the individual and on how wealthy he is.

The halacha states that shehecheyanu is recited, even if the item is not brand new, as long as this person has never owned it before. If he is happy to now own this item, there is enough reason to recite shehecheyanu (Shulchan Aruch). This may be true, even if it is a garment and someone else wore it already.

New socks?

The rishonim dispute whether we recite shehecheyanu when acquiring new items that most people consider of less significance. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 223:6) rules not to recite a brocha on an item that people consider less significant, such as a robe, shoes or socks. However, he adds that a poor person, who is happy about the acquisition of the item, does recite shehecheyanu. The Rema disagrees, quoting several sources that even a poor person does not recite shehecheyanu on the acquisition of simple garments, and notes that this is the accepted practice.

New shul

When a new shul is built or purchased, the chazzan should recite hatov vehameitiv for everyone in the congregation (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah 223:11).

What about a new sefer?

Some acharonim mention that you may recite a brocha of shehecheyanu when acquiring a new sefer (Mor Uketziyah 223; Chayei Adam). Others contend that shehecheyanu on new items is restricted to those from which one gets personal benefit or pleasure, whereas the “benefit” of seforim is categorized as mitzvos lav lehenos nitnu, mitzvos are not intended for physical benefit.” The Mishnah Berurah (223:13) concludes that someone who has been hunting for a specific sefer and has finally succeeded to acquire it should not be rebuked for reciting shehecheyanu for his achievement, but it is clear that the Mishnah Berurah feels it is better not to recite shehecheyanu, even in this instance.

Conclusion

According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should make certain to fulfill the laws of brachos correctly. By investing energy in 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.

How Much Must I Bensch?

Question:

I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?

Introduction

Prior to answering our opening question, we need to review many of the basic laws of brachos after eating, and their sources, which will help us understand the topic at hand. Parshas Eikev opens by teaching that when we observe all of Hashem’s mitzvos, we will be rewarded with a beautiful land. Shortly afterwards, the Torah continues: Ki Hashem Elokecha me’viacha el eretz tovah… eretz chitah u’se’orah vegefen u’se’einah verimon eretz zeis shemen u’devash. Eretz asher lo bemiskeinus tochal bah lechem, lo sechsar kol bah.“For Hashem, your G-d, is bringing you to a good land… a land of wheat and barley, grape vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey. A land where you will eat bread without poverty; you will be missing nothing” (Devorim 8:7-9).

Bensching in the Torah

The Torah then continues: Ve’achalta ve’savata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha al ha’aretz hatovah asher nosan loch, “And when you eat and are satisfied, you shall bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.” This wording implies that we are required to bensch min haTorah only when a person has eaten enough to be fully satisfied, and this is the halachic opinion of most, but not all, rishonim. This law has halachic ramifications for someone who is uncertain whether he has a requirement to recite bensching. This uncertainty might be due to the fact that he does not remember if he bensched, or he was delayed and does not know if he has missed the time in which he can still bensch. When his doubt involves a possible Torah requirement, the rule is safeik de’oraysa lechumra, and he should recite bensching. However, if his question is regarding a rabbinic requirement, then the rule is safeik brachos lehakeil, and he does not recite the bracha acharonah. According to most rishonim, someone who ate a full meal and now is uncertain whether he is required to bensch should do so. If he ate less than a full meal, he does not bensch in case of doubt.

The requirement to recite a bracha acharonah after eating a snack is only miderabbanan. Therefore, if someone has a doubt whether he is required to recite this bracha, he does not, because of the rule of safeik brachos lehakeil.

Three aspects

The wording of the posuk that we should bless Hashem al ha’aretz hatovah asher nosan loch, “for the good land that He gave you,” implies that, in addition to thanking Hashem for providing us with sustenance, our bensching must include a reference to Hashem granting us Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, the Gemara (Brachos 48b) derives that bensching must include reference to Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. These three aspects are represented in the first three brachos that we recite in our bensching. The first bracha is thanks for the fact that Hashem provides us, and the entire world, with food and sustenance. The second bracha praises Him for having given us Eretz Yisroel; and the third bracha is for the special gift of Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. Since, unfortunately, the Beis Hamikdash is now destroyed, the third bracha emphasizes our plea that Hashem have mercy on the land and rebuild it.

The Gemara explains that Moshe established the first bracha of bensching when the man first fell in the desert, Yehoshua established the second bracha of bensching when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel, and Dovid Hamelech and Shelomoh Hamelech established the third bracha of bensching – Dovid establishing the reference to Yisroel and Yerushalayim, and Shelomoh adding the reference to the Beis Hamikdash (Brachos 48b).

Borei Nefashos

As we are all aware, other than the full bensching, there are two forms of bracha acharonah that we recite after we eat. One is a short bracha that begins with the words borei nefashos, which we recite after eating foods not mentioned in the above pesukim, including, but not exclusively, items upon which we recite the brachos of shehakol and ha’adamah. According to all opinions, this bracha is required only because of a takkanas chachomim, but is not included under the Torah’s mitzvah.

Bracha mei’ein shalosh

The other bracha, colloquially referred to as al hamichyah, is called in halachic sources bracha mei’ein shalosh, literally, a bracha that abbreviates three. This is because this bracha acharonah includes all three of the themes that are included in the posuk, similar to the full bensching. The difference is that in al hamichya, each theme does not have its own separate bracha, whereas in the full bensching that we recite after eating bread, each theme does.

There are three types of bracha mei’ein shalosh. We recite most frequently al hamichyah, the version that is said after eating grain products other than bread. This bracha is derived from the fact that the Torah praises Eretz Yisroel as “a land of wheat and barley.” Although there are also three other grains upon which we recite al hamichyah, namely spelt, rye and oats, these three are considered halachically as sub-categories of wheat and barley.

The second version of bracha mei’ein shalosh, al ha’eitz, is recited after eating olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, all of which are also included in these pesukim. The order I chose, which has halachic significance, is not the order of the posuk, but reflects the proximity of each fruit to the word eretz in the posuk.

Although dates are not mentioned explicitly, the honey referred to in the posuk is date honey, not bee honey. (Silan, or date syrup, often used today as a natural, although not dietetic, sweetener, is similar to date honey. Silan is usually produced by cooking dates into syrup, whereas date honey in earlier days was produced simply by crushing dates.)

The third version of the bracha mei’ein shalosh is recited after drinking wine or grape juice, also alluded to in the posuk as the product of grapes. This is the only instance in which we recite bracha mei’ein shalosh after consuming a beverage. It is a reflection of the prominence we give wine, also evidenced by such mitzvos as kiddush and havdalah, and the fact that wine is used for such ceremonies as weddings, sheva brachos, brissin and pidyon haben.

These three versions are not mutually exclusive. Someone who ate grain products and fruit includes both texts in his bracha, as does someone who ate grain products and wine. Someone who ate all three “special” foods recites a bracha that includes all three references.

We should note that, since the Torah mentions all these varieties of food, there are rishonim who contend that the requirement to recite a bracha after consuming them is min haTorah. There are many halachic ramifications that result from this issue; however, that sub-topic requires its own article.

Fourth bracha

Our full bensching also has a fourth bracha, which is usually referred to as Hatov vehameitiv, which was added to the bensching by Chazal after the destruction that took place in Beitar, two generations after the churban (Brachos 48b). We will leave discussing the details of that topic for a different time, but I want to point out that this explains why this theme is not mentioned in the bracha of al hamichyah. When Chazal added this bracha, they added it only to the full bensching and not to the abbreviated version that is al hamichyah.

Harachaman

Common custom is to add a long list of general requests (Avudraham, Seder Birchas Hamazon) followed by a recital of several pesukim, after the fourth bracha of bensching. The origin for this practice is a passage of Gemara (Brachos 46a) that quotes a text that a guest should recite to bless his host. There, the Gemara quotes a basic bracha and then notes that others added to it. Based on this background, the Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 2:7) teaches that a guest can freely add to this blessing, and this has generated various additional texts to this bracha.

In his monumental work, Even Ha’azel, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer notes that, according to the Rambam, the prayer of the guest for the host is an addendum to the fourth bracha of bensching. It would appear that, in the Rambam’s opinion, a person should not answer “amen” when a guest recites the words leolam al yechasreinu, since he has not yet completed his bracha until he blesses the host. This approach is not accepted, practically. The opinion of other halachic authorities (Avudraham, Seder Birchas Hamazon) as well as prevailing custom is to recite the blessing for the host a bit later in the bensching, after other prayers beginning with word Harachaman have already been expressed.

With time, many other requests were added to the bensching. Some individuals follow the practice of the Gra and recite these prayers only on weekdays, but not on Shabbos and Yom Tov when we generally do not make personal prayer requests, although theaccepted halachic practice is to recite these prayers and blessings on Shabbos, also.

Three brachos or one?

We noted above that the Torah requires the mention of three topics in our bensching, (1) thanks for sustenance, (2) thanks for the Land of Israel, and (3) a prayer for Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. However, it is disputed whether the Torah requires that each of these three themes have its own bracha, and that bensching min haTorah must contain at least three different brachos, or whether the Torah requirement is fulfilled by reciting one bracha that emphasizes the three different themes, and reciting three different brachos is only a rabbinic requirement.

There are several differences in practical halacha that result from this dispute.  One obvious difference is that, although one is certainly required to recite all the brachos of bensching, according to one approach, this requirement is only miderabbanan,whereas, according to the other approach, reciting three brachos is required min haTorah. We will soon see other halachic differences that result from this dispute.

This question, whether bensching min haTorah must contain at least three different brachos, or whether the Torah requirement is fulfilled by reciting one bracha, is the subject of a dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam. The opinion of Tosafos is stated in his comments germane to the following topic, to which I provide an introduction:

There is a general Talmudic assumption that a worker who is hired for a day is required to work a full day, and that taking time to check his personal email or to make a phone call violates his contractual obligation to his employer. (In today’s world, when it is assumed that a worker may take an occasional coffee break, presumably one may take time off that is assumed to be included in one’s work schedule. However, doing anything else at the time that a person is obligated to work for someone is certainly forbidden.)

In this context, the Gemara (Brachos 16a) quotes the following beraisa:

“Hired workers are required to read the Shema and to pray. When they eat bread, they are not required to recite a bracha before eating, but after eating they are required to recite two brachos. Which two brachos do they recite? The first bracha of bensching is recited in its usual fashion. The second bracha begins the way it usually begins, but includes the third bracha.” In other words, the Gemara assumes that the worker’s responsibility to his employer is more important than his requirement to recite the full bensching!

Tosafos, there, notes: “Although reciting both the second and third bracha is required min haTorah, the Sages have the ability to uproot a Torah requirement for the benefit of these workers, who are occupied with performing the work of their employer.” In order to explain how a worker is permitted to omit a bracha of the bensching, Tosafos utilizes a halachic principle called yeish koach be’yad chachomim la’akor davar min haTorah, that the Sages have the ability to “uproot” a law of the Torah, when deemed necessary. It is clear that Tosafos assumes that the requirement to recite three brachos is min haTorah.

In his monumental anthology, in which he gathers all the earlier halachic opinions, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 191) indeed quotes Tosafos’ approach, but then disagrees, contending that there is no need to apply the principle of yeish koach be’yad chachomim la’akor davar min haTorah in this case. To quote the Beis Yosef: “It appears to me that there is no need for this answer, since there is no requirement min haTorah to recite several brachos to fulfill the mitzvah of birchas hamazon. This can be demonstrated from the words of the Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvos, in which he writes: ‘The nineteenth mitzvah is that we are commanded to bless Him after eating.’ The Rambam makes no mention that there is a Torah requirement to recite several brachos. Notwithstanding that the Gemara derives the requirement of three brachos from verses, these derivations are only asmachta (which means that the requirement to do so is only rabbinic).”

In other words, although one is required min haTorah to mention all three themes, there is no Torah requirement that each theme have its own bracha. That requirement is only rabbinic. Since Chazal were the source of the requirement to recite three brachos for bensching, they had the ability to dispense with the requirement to recite all three brachos in the case of the hired worker. Thus, in the Beis Yosef’s opinion, whether three brachos are required min haTorah is a dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam, and the halacha follows the Rambam’s approach,that the requirement to recite three brachos is only miderabbanan. Those who disagree with the Rambam and contend that all three brachos are required min haTorah will be forced to find a way of explaining why the workers are exempt from reciting a full bensching, and will probably have to follow Tosafos’ difficult approach to resolve the conundrum.

It is significant that the Bach, in his commentary on the same chapter of Tur Orach Chayim,agrees that the Rambam rules that the requirement to recite three brachos for bensching is not min haTorah, but contends that his opinion is the minority. The Bach concludes that Tosafos’ approach is the primary one. In other words, both the Beis Yosef and the Bach recognize that there is a dispute among the rishonim whether we are required min haTorah to recite three brachos for bensching; they dispute regarding which of these approaches is considered the normative halacha.

Al hamichyah

Here is another practical difference that results from this dispute: According to the Beis Yosef, someone who recited al hamichyah when he was required to recite the full bensching has fulfilled his requirement min haTorah, although he has not fulfilled his requirement miderabbanan. A ramification of this will be that if he recited al hamichyah and he has a safeik whether he is required to recite the entire bensching, he will neither be required nor permitted to recite the full bensching. Since he has fulfilled his Torah requirement and what remains is an unresolved question regarding a rabbinic requirement, the rule of safeik brachos lehakeil applies.

However, according to the Bach, someone who recited al hamichyah when he was required to recite the full bensching may be missing a Torah requirement to recite three brachos.  This could mean that the rule of safeik de’oraysa lechumra applies, and he is required to repeat the bensching.

Uncertain identity

This analysis may explain exactly such a dispute between the Beis Yosef and the Bach that appears in a different context (Orach Chayim 168). The question concerns a food about which there is an unresolved question whether it is considered regular bread, requiring full bensching, or whether its bracha is mezonos, after which one should recite al hamichyah. The Beis Yosef appears to hold that one may eat the food and recite al hamichyah afterwards, whereas the Bach does not permit this approach, insisting that such a food should be eaten only as part of a regular bread meal in which hamotzi and full bensching were recited for the regular bread. Apparently, the Beis Yosef considers al hamichyah to be a type of bensching, whereas the Bach rejects this approach, which implies that they are consistently following the positions that each advocated in chapter 191.

Before we close, let us return to our opening question, which we can now resolve:

“I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?”

The answer is that in this instance, one is required to bensch to fulfill the recitation of the three brachos that Chazal instituted. However, if there is a safeik whether there is a requirement to bensch, then, according to the Beis Yosef, since one has already fulfilled his Torah obligation by reciting al hamichyah, there is neither a requirement, nor should one bensch.

Conclusion

According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his spiritual behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brachos. By investing energy in 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 Him.

Birkas Kohanim

Question #1: Why is this bracha different?

“Why is the bracha for duchening so different from all the other brochos we recite before we perform mitzvos?”

Question #2: Hoarse kohein

“If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, how does he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Question #3: The chazzan duchening

“If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

Answer:

I have written other articles about the mitzvah of duchening; this article will deal with a few specific issues not mentioned in the other articles.

First of all, I should explain the various names of this beautiful mitzvah. Ashkenazim usually colloquially refer to the mitzvah as duchening. The word “duchen” means a platform, and refers to the raised area in front of the aron kodesh on which the kohanim traditionally stand when they recite these blessings. However, in many shullen today, there is no platform in front of the aron kodesh, and, even when there is, in many shullen there are more kohanim than there is room for them on the duchen. In all these instances, the mitzvah is performed with the kohanim standing on the floor alongside the wall of the shul that has the aron kodesh, facing the people.

There are at least two other ways of referring to this mitzvah. One way of referring to the mitzvah is “Birkas Kohanim,”which is very descriptive of the mitzvah. I will use this term throughout this article, because it avoids confusion.

Nesi’as kapayim

The Mishnah and the Shulchan Aruch call this mitzvah by yet a third term, nesi’as kapayim, which means literally “raising the palms,” a description of the position in which the kohanim hold their hands while reciting these blessings. According to accepted halacha, the kohanim raise their hands to shoulder level, and each kohein holds his hands together. (There are some mekubalim who raise their hands directly overhead while reciting the Birkas Kohanim [Divrei Shalom 128:2]. However, this is a very uncommon practice.) Based on a midrash, the Tur rules that, while he recites the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein should hold his hands in a way that there are five spaces between his fingers. This is done by pressing, on each hand, the index finger to the middle finger and the small finger to the ring finger. This creates two openings — one between the middle finger and the ring finger on each hand. Another two are created between the index finger and thumb on each hand. The fifth opening is between the thumbs. There are various ways for a kohein to position his fingers such that he has a space between his thumbs. I know of several different methods, and I have never found an authoritative source that states that one way is preferable over any other. Most kohanim, myself included, follow the way that they were taught by their father.

An unusual bracha:

Immediately prior to beginning Birkas Kohanimbracha, the kohanim recite a birkas hamitzvah, as we do prior to performing most mitzvos. The text of the bracha is: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people, Yisroel, with love.”

Two aspects of this bracha are different from the standard structure of brochos that we recite prior to fulfilling mitzvos. The first change is that, instead of the usual text that we say, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav ve’tzivanu, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us,” the kohanim leave out the reference to “His mitzvos” and instead say “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon.” The second change is that the kohanim not only describe the mitzvah that they are performing — that Hashem “commanded us to bless his people Yisroel” –but they add a qualitative description, “with love.”

The fact that the kohanim make reference to Aharon’s sanctity is, itself, not unusual. It is simply atypical for us to recite or hear this bracha since, unfortunately in our contemporary world, we have no other mitzvos for which we use this text. However, when we are again all tehorim and when we have a Beis Hamikdash, every time a kohein performs a mitzvah that only a kohein can perform, such as eating terumah, korbanos or challah, donning the bigdei kehunah in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b), or performing the mitzvos of offering korbanos, he recites a bracha that includes this reference. Unfortunately, since we are all tamei and we have no Beis Hamikdash, a kohein cannot perform these mitzvos today, and therefore we do not recite this bracha text at any other time.

“With love”

The other detail in this bracha that is highly unusual is the statement that the mitzvah is performed be’ahavah,“with love.” No other mitzvah includes this detail in its bracha, and, in general, the brochos recited performing mitzvos do not include details about how the mitzvos are performed. For example, the bracha prior to kindling the Shabbos or Chanukah lights says simply lehadlik neir shel Shabbos or lehadlik neir shel Chanukah,and does not add that we do so “with wicks and oil.” Similarly, note that the bracha recited before we pick up and shake the lulav and esrog does not even mention the esrog, aravos and hadasim, and says, simply, al netilas lulav. Again, the bracha for washing our hands is simply al netilas yadayim without mentioning any of the important details of the mitzvah. Yet, the bracha recited prior to Birkas Kohanim includes the word be’ahavah, with love. Why is this so?

Let us examine the original passage of the Gemara (Sotah 39a) that teaches us about the text of this bracha: “The disciples of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (who was a kohein) asked him, ‘Because of what practices of yours did you merit longevity?’ He answered them, ‘I never used a shul as a shortcut, I never stepped over the heads of the holy nation (Rashi explains that this means that when people were sitting on the floor in the Beis Hamedrash, as was common in his day, he never walked over them, but either arrived before everyone else did, or else he sat outside) and I never recited the nesi’as kapayim without first reciting a bracha.’”

The Gemara then asks, “What bracha is recited prior to Birkas Kohanim? Answered Rabbi Zeira, quoting Rav Chisda, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah.

Thus, we see that the text that we recite prior to Birkas Kohanim is exactly the way the Gemara records it, and that the word “be’ahavah” is part of the original text. Why is this required?

The Be’er Sheva, a European gadol of the late 16th-early 17th century, asks this question. To quote him (in his commentary, Sotah 39a): “Where is it mentioned or even hinted in the Torah that the kohein must fulfill this mitzvah ‘with love’? The answer is that when the Torah commanded the kohanim concerning this mitzvah, it says Emor lahem, ‘Recite this blessing to the Jewish people,’ spelling the word emor with a vov, the full spelling of the word, when it is usually spelled without a vov. Both the Midrash Tanchuma and the Midrash Rabbah explain that there is an important reason why this word is spelled ‘full.’ ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the kohanim that they should bless the Jewish people not because they are ordered to do so, and they want to complete the minimum requirement of that “order,” as if it were “forced labor” and therefore they say it swiftly. On the contrary, they should bless the Jews with much focus and the desire that the brochos all be effective – with full love and full heart.’”

We see from this Gemara that this aspect of the mitzvah, that the kohanim bless the people because they want to and not because they are required to, was so important to Chazal that they included an allusion to this in the text of the bracha, something that is never done elsewhere!

Brochos cause longevity

There are several puzzling questions germane to this small passage of Gemara that we quoted above. What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s three practices that he singled them out as being the spiritual causes of his longevity? The commentaries explain that each of these three acts were personal chumros that Rabbi Elazar, himself one of the last talmidim of Rabbi Akiva and a rebbe of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, practiced (Keren Orah, Meromei Sadeh et al). Since our topic is Birkas Kohanim, we will address only that practice: What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s practice of reciting a bracha before performing the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim? Didn’t every kohein do the same? And, if so, why did the other kohanim not achieve the longevity that he did?

The Keren Orah commentary notes that the Gemara quotes the amora, Rav Zeira, as the source for the bracha on Birkas Kohanim, implying that the bracha on Birkas Kohanim was not standardized until his time, and he lived well over a hundred years after Rabbi Elazar’s passing. This implies that a bracha on this mitzvah was not necessarily recited during the era of the tanna’im and early amora’im. The Keren Orah suggests the reason for this was because Birkas Kohanim itself is a blessing, and we do not recite a bracha prior to reciting birkas hamazon or birkas haTorah, even though they themselves are mitzvos. Notwithstanding this consideration, Rabbi Elazar was so enthusiastic about blessing the people that he insisted on reciting a bracha before performing Birkas Kohanim. This strong desire to bless people was rewarded by his having many extra years to continue blessing them (Maharal).

Notwithstanding that the mitzvah is such a beautiful one, technically, the kohein is required to recite the Birkas Kohanim only when he is asked to do so, during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. We will see shortly what this means practically.

Hoarse kohein

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, how does he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Let us examine this question thoroughly, starting from its sources in the Gemara: “One beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu (‘this is how you should bless’): face to face… therefore the posuk says Emor lahem (say to them), as a person talks to his friend. Another beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu, in a loud voice. Perhaps it means that the bracha should be said quietly, therefore the posuk says Emor lahem, as a person talks to his friend” (Sotah 38a).

This derives from the words of the posuk Koh sevarchu and Emor lahem two different laws. The first is that the audience receiving the kohanim’s bracha should be facing them during the Birkas Kohanim. (In error, some people turn around while the kohanim recite Birkas Kohanim, in order to make sure that they do not look at the kohanim’s hands. It is correct that they should not look at the hands of the kohanim who are duchening, but they can look down to avoid this problem, and, anyway, most kohanim cover their hands with their talis while duchening.)

The second law derived from these pesukim is that the kohein should recite the Birkas Kohanim loudly enough so that the people can hear him. Although there are kohanim who shout the words of the Birkas Kohanim, the continuation of the Gemara clearly explains that be’kol ram, in a loud voice, means simply loud enough for the people to hear the kohein. However, someone whose voice is so hoarse that people cannot hear him is not permitted to recite Birkas Kohanim and should leave the sanctuary part of the shul before the chazzan recites the word retzei in his repetition of shemoneh esrei (Mishnah Berurah 128:53).

Why retzei?

Why should the kohein leave the shul before retzei?

Some mitzvos aseh, such as donning tefillin daily, making kiddush, or hearing shofar, are inherent requirements. There isn’t any way to avoid being obligated to fulfill these mitzvos. On the other hand, there are mitzvos whose requirement is dependent on circumstances. For example, someone who does not live in a house is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah. Living in a house, which most of us do, creates the obligation to install a mezuzah on its door posts. Someone who lives in a house and fails to place a mezuzah on the required doorposts violates a mitzvas aseh.

Similarly, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is not an inherent requirement for the kohein. However, when someone asks the kohein or implies to him that he should perform the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein is now required to do so, and, should he fail to, he will violate a mitzvas aseh.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:2) rules that a kohein who remains in shul is required to recite Birkas Kohanim if (1) he hears the chazzan say the word kohanim, (2) someone tells him to ascend the duchen or (3) someone tells him to wash his hands (in preparation for the Birkas Kohanim). Any of these three actions summon the kohanim to perform the mitzvah, and that is why they create a requirement on the kohein. A kohein for whom it is difficult to raise his arms to recite the Birkas Kohanim should exit the shul before the chazzan says the word kohanim (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 128:4 and Mishnah Berurah). The Magen Avraham and the Elyah Rabbah conclude that it is preferred if he exits before the chazzan begins the word retzei. The Shulchan Aruch mentions that the custom is for any kohein who is not reciting Birkas Kohanim to remain outside until the Birkas Kohanim is completed.

Washing hands

The Shulchan Aruch we just quoted rules that telling a kohein to wash his hands creates the same obligation to recite Birkas Kohanim as directly summoning him to recite the Birkas Kohanim. Why is that so?

This is because the Gemara rules that “any kohein who did not wash his hands should not perform nesi’as kapayim.” The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah Uvirkas Kohanim 15:5) rules that the washing before Birkas Kohanim is similar to what the kohanim do prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash. For this reason, he rules that their hands should be washed until their wrists. We rule that this is done even on Yom Kippur, notwithstanding that, otherwise, we are not permitted to wash the entire hand on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:6). Several acharonim rule that, since Birkas Kohanim is a form of avodah, washing before performing this mitzvah includes other requirements, such as washing with a cup, with clear water, and with at least a revi’is (about three ounces) of water (see Magen Avraham, Yeshuos Yaakov, Shulchan Shelomoh and Mishnah Berurah).

In many shullen, a sink is installed near the duchen, so that the kohanim can wash immediately before Birkas Kohanim. Others have a practice that water and a basin are brought to the front of the shul for this purpose. These customs have a source in rishonim and poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. Kol) concludes that the kohein should wash his hands immediately before ascending the duchen. He rules that the kohein should wash his hands within twenty-two amos, a distance of less than forty feet, of the duchen. The Magen Avrohom (128:9) rules according to this Tosafos, and adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzei, the chazzan should recite the bracha of retzei rapidly. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohein washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos, and, therefore, retzei should be recited as quickly as possible. The Biur Halacha (128:6 s.v. Chozrim) adds that the kohanim should not converse between washing their hands and reciting Birkas Kohanim, because this also constitutes a hefsek.

The chazzan duchening

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: “If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

This question is the subject of a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Chodosh. According to the Shulchan Aruch, if the chazzan is a kohein, he should not recite Birkas Kohanim, unless he is the only kohein. The reason he should not recite Birkas Kohanim is out of concern that he might get confused and not remember the continuation of the davening. The Pri Chodosh disagrees, concluding that this was a concern only when the chazzan led the services from memory, which, although very common in earlier era, is today quite uncommon. If the koheinchazzan is using a siddur, such that Birkas Kohanim will not confuse him from continuing the davening correctly, he can recite Birkas Kohanim

In chutz la’aretz, the accepted practice in this halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, customs vary in different locales. In Yerushalayim and most other places, the accepted practice follows the Pri Chodosh, and the chazzan performs Birkas Kohanim.

When the chazzan does recite Birkas Kohanim, he turns around to face the people, recites Birkas Kohanim, and then turns back to complete the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. He is even permitted to walk to the front of the shul from his place in order to recite Birkas Kohanim should he be leading the services from the middle of the shul rather than the front.

Conclusion

As a kohein myself, I find duchening to be one of the most beautiful mitzvos. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. All the more so, the nusach of the bracha is to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohein must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

The Fourth Brocha of Birkas Hamazon

Parshas Va’eira opens with Moshe Rabbeinu receiving admonition from Hashem for not being appreciative of His Ways. Thus, this is certainly an excellent time to study the brocha of bensching called Hatov Vehameitiv, “He Who is good and does good.”

Question #1: Why Beitar?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate the events that transpired in Beitar?

Question #2: Why in Birkas Hamazon?

Why was that brocha added to Birkas Hamazon?

Question #3: What a strange brocha!

Why does the brocha Hatov Vehameitiv have such an unusual structure?

Introduction:

The fourth brocha of bensching, which is called Hatov Vehameitiv, has little to do with the rest of the bensching. Whereas the first three brochos are to thank Hashem for our sustenance, the fourth brocha was created by Chazal for a completely unrelated reason. This brocha is called Hatov Vehameitiv because of the words it contains, “hamelech Hatov Vehameitiv lakol.” This article will discuss some of the halachos andconcepts of this unusual brocha.

Although in two different places (Brochos 46a; 49a) the Gemara quotes opinions that this fourth brocha is min haTorah, the consensus is that it is only rabbinic in origin. (We should note that the Midrash Shmuel [13:9] attributes the opinion that Hatov Vehameitiv is min haTorah to a very early authority, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael.) To quote the Gemara:

Hatov Vehameitiv was established by the Sanhedrin when it was located in Yavneh, because of those who were killed in Beitar, as noted by Rav Masneh, “On the very day that those killed in Beitar were allowed to be buried, they established, in Yavneh, Hatov Vehameitiv. Hatov’ is to acknowledge that their bodies did not decompose; ‘Vehameitiv’ is to acknowledge that permission was granted to bury them” (Brochos 48b; Taanis 31a; Bava Basra 121b; see also Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

Hatov Vehameitiv

To avoid confusion, we must realize that there are two completely different brochos that Chazal call Hatov Vehameitiv. The other brocha, which is only eight words long, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam Hatov Vehameitiv, is recited upon hearing certain special, wonderful events or when breaking out a new bottle of wine. The laws germane to the shorter brocha will be left for a future article.

What happened in Beitar?

The Mishnah in Taanis (26b) records the calamities that occurred on Shiva Asar beTamuz and on Tisha Be’Av. Regarding Tisha Be’Av, it states, “On the ninth of Av, it was decreed upon our forefathers that they would not enter Eretz Yisroel, both the first and the second Batei Mikdash were destroyed, the city of Beitar was conquered, and the city of Yerushalayim was plowed under.” The Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanis 4:5), quoting the tanna, Rabbi Yosi, dates the destruction of Beitar as being 52 years after the churban of the second Beis Hamikdash, or, almost exactly 1900 years ago.

To understand the extent of the tragedy that happened in Beitar, let us quote some of the sources of Chazal.

A large city called Beitar, whose population was many tens of thousands of Jews, was ruled by a great Jewish king. All the Jews, including the greatest of the chachamim, thought that this king was the Moshiach, until he fell in battle to the non-Jews and the entire city was slaughtered (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:3).

The Roman emperor Hadrian owned a massive vineyard, twelve mil long and twelve mil wide (about fifty square miles). The Romans used the bodies of those who were killed when Beitar was destroyed as a wall, the height of a man, around the vineyard. Hadrian refused to allow the casualties of Beitar to be buried. Only with the succession of a new emperor was their burial permitted (Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

The city of Beitar had 400 shuls, each of which had 400 cheder rabbei’im teaching in them, and each rebbe taught 400 children. When the Romans conquered the city, they wrapped all the students and all the teachers in their seforim (which, in their day, were rolled like scrolls) and set them ablaze (Gittin 58a).

Enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found from those who died in Beitar to fill a mikveh. According to a second opinion, enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found to fill three mikvaos (Gittin 57b).

For seven years, the non-Jews fertilized their vineyards, exclusively, with the Jewish blood of those who were martyred in Beitar (Gittin 57a).

Fifteenth of Av

We should also note the following passage of Gemara: “No festivals of the Jews were celebrated to a greater extent than were the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. We understand why Yom Kippur has this unique quality – it is the day that forgiveness is granted – but why the fifteenth of Av?” Among the many answers the Gemara provides is “Rav Masneh explained, because that was the date when permission was granted to bury those killed in Beitar” (Taanis 30b-31a).

An unusual brocha

Now that we know a bit about the history behind this brocha, let us discuss the brocha itself, particularly, its structure. Of the many questions that we can ask, let us focus on the following three, which were our opening questions:

1. Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

2. Why was that brocha made part of Birkas Hamazon?

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

1. Why a brocha?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

Unfortunately, there have been many catastrophes in Jewish history, which we have, thank G-d, survived, but we do not have extra brochos to commemorate them (Kenesses Hagedolah, Tur Orach Chayim 189). Most tragedies are commemorated with fast days and the recital of selichos, and most miraculous events are celebrated on their anniversary, but not with a brocha that we recite daily.

These questions are already asked by very early authorities, who suggest the following answers:

The tragedy of the destruction of Beitar was great and unique in the bizayon haTorah that resulted, when thousands and thousands of observant Jews lay unburied. When Hadrian died, and his successor permitted their burial, Chazal felt the need to demonstrate, significantly, that this chillul Hashem had ended and was, on the contrary, accompanied by a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that the bodies of the fallen had not deteriorated, notwithstanding that they had been exposed to the elements for many years.

In addition, the events of Beitar teach that, even when Hashem is angry at us, He still performs miracles. This is to teach us that Hashem never abandons us, even at times when we sin and deserve punishment (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:2)

2. Why in bensching?

Why did Chazal place this brocha in bensching (Rosh, quoted by Tur, Orach Chayim 189)? The rest of Birkas Hamazon is acknowledgement to Hashem for providing for us and for the wonderful land of Eretz Yisroel that He gave us. Why commemorate the tragedy of Beitar during Birkas Hamazon?

This brocha was instituted in Birkas Hamazon as a constant reminder (Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351; Shu”t Mishpetei Shmuel #11). In addition, it was placed in Birkas Hamazon, which is, in its entirety, thanks to Hashem (Rosh, Brochos 7:22). Furthermore, the Rosh notes that the Yerushalmi (see our version, Sukkah 5:1 at end) states that the loss that the Jews suffered at Beitar will not be restored until the Moshiach comes. It is unclear to which specific loss this Gemara is referring, but regardless, this is another reason why the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv was placed immediately following the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim.

Several prominent gedolim provide an additional reason why this brocha was added specifically to bensching. After celebrating a joyous meal, people might lose sight of life’s priorities. To prevent this from happening, Chazal instituted a brocha reminding people of the tragedy of Beitar (Rabbeinu Bachya, Kad Hakemach #60; Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351). This is similar to the idea of breaking a glass at a wedding and mentioning the churban then, so as to keep our celebrations in a balanced perspective. We celebrate, but still need to remember that we are missing important aspects of life that we require as Jews.

Why not in Shemoneh Esrei?

The Binyamin Ze’ev, who lived in Greece and in Venice, Italy, during the first half of the sixteenth century, asks that, if Chazal wanted the association of this new brocha to be with the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, why was the brocha placed in Birkas Hamazon and not in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei, after Boneh Yerushalayim?

The answer is that inserting this brocha in the midst of the Shemoneh Esrei would be an interruption, whereas at the time that Chazal incorporated this fourth brocha into Birkas Hamazon, bensching included only the Torah required portions, which end with the words Boneh Yerushalayim (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:1). (The other requests that begin with the word Harachaman,the pesukim that we traditionally recite at the end of the bensching, and the blessing we recite for the household where we ate were all added to Birkas Hamazon after this time in history.)

Text of brocha

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

Let me explain. The numerous brochos that we recite daily follow three specific structural patterns:

A. Either they are very short brochos, such as those that we recite prior to eating, performing mitzvos, seeing unusual sites, or enjoying other pleasures, which begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and then close with the appropriate ending. These are called brochos ketzaros, short brochos.

B. A second structure of a brocha is the most common for a longer brocha. This type of brocha begins with the same words, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and ends the brocha by repeating the words Boruch Attah Hashem and closing with the theme of the brocha. These brochos are called brochos aruchos, long brochos.

Part of a series

C. The third type of brocha is one that follows another brocha in a series. Such a brocha does not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, but ends with Boruch Attah Hashem and closes with the theme of the brocha. This type is categorized as a brocha hasemucha lachaverta, literally, a brocha that follows another brocha; in other words, a brocha that is part of a series. For this reason, the brochos of Shemoneh Esrei, the brochos that surround the Kerias Shma, and the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon do not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam (except for the first brocha in the series). All begin by explaining the theme of the brocha and end with Boruch Attah Hashem and an appropriate conclusion.

The brochos of bensching

Now that we realize that all brochos fit into one of three categories, let us examine the four brochos of Birkas Hamazon and see under which category each brocha belongs.

The first brocha, Ha’zon es ha’olam, begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and closes with Boruch Attah Hashem hazan es hakol, “He who sustains all.” This structure fits our rules nicely, as category B: It is a classic “long brocha.”

The second and third brochos are part of a series and, therefore, do not begin with a brocha, but end either with the words Boruch Attah Hashem al ha’aretz ve’al hamazon, or with Boruch Attah Hashem boneh (berachamav) Yerushalayim. This follows the rule of brocha hasemucha lachaverta, a brocha that follows another brocha, which we called category C.

The unusual fourth

However, the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon does not seem to fit any of the above three categories. It begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, which means it is not considered part of a series. Although it is always recited as the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon, immediately after the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim, and you would think that it should be considered part of a series (Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov), our introduction can help explain why it is not. Since this brocha was not originally part of Birkas Hamazon, but was added for a completely unrelated reason, it is considered a beginning brocha and not a brocha hasemucha lachaverta.

Which remaining category?

The list above contains two categories of brocha that begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam: category A, the short brochos, and category B, the long brochos. However, Hatov Vehameitiv does not seem to fit either category. It is too long to be considered a short brocha, nor does it follow the structure of a long brocha, since it does not end with Boruch Attah, Hashem and a closing.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question. The rishonim do, and provide three answers to resolve this conundrum. But first, we need to provide another introduction.

Chazal instituted that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv should include three references to Hashem being King, a concept that Chazal call malchus (Brochos 47a). This we do, when we recite the following: (1) the word melech in the very beginning of the brocha, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, (2) the next words of the brocha are ha’keil avinu malkeinu, (3) ro’einu ro’eih Yisroel hamelech hatov (Divrei Chamudos, Brochos 7:69).

Why three times? The Gemara (Brochos 49a) explains that since the third brocha of Birkas Hamazon (that ends with the words, Boneh Yerushalayim) mentions the kingdom and royal family of David, there should be mention of Hashem’s monarchy in all four brochos of Birkas Hamazon. However, the mention of Hashem’s malchus that should be in the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon are delayed until the fourth. (The first brocha of Birkas Hamazon, begins with Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and therefore contains a reference to Hashem’s monarchy.) Thus, in addition to the basic theme of acknowledgement and thanks to Hashem for His performing a miracle, Chazal added a theme to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv, making sure that Hashem’s malchus is mentioned three times.

Three hatavos

The rishonim quote a midrash that states that Chazal required adding to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv three hatavos: We are to say three times that Hashem is beneficial to us. Although I was unable to locate this midrash, it definitely existed at the time of the rishonim but has been lost since their era.

Among the rishonim, I found several different texts for this concept. The standard nusach Ashkenaz says hu heitiv, hu meitiv, hu yeitiv lanu,“He has done good, He does good, and He will do good to us”. The Rosh discusses the correct text, and concludes that the correct text should be hu heitiv lanu, hu meitiv lanu, hu yeitiv lanu, with the word lanu repeated each time (“He has done good to us, He does good to us, and He will do good to us.”). The Shulchan Aruch rules that this is the correct practice, and this is the standard, accepted nusach used by eidot hamizrah and Sefardim. This is a very interesting point, because the Rosh is usually the source for minhagei Ashkenaz that differ from Sefardic practice, and here, he is the source for the Sefardic custom, and most Ashkenazim do not follow his approach.

Hu Gemalanu

In addition, the rishonim mention that we should also mention three times that Hashem grants us good, which we add with the words, hu gemalanu, hu gomleinu, hu yigmeleinu la’ad –“He granted us, He grants us and He will grant us forever…”

Why no ending?

Thus, we see that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv is a long brocha, and yet it does not end with the words Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, as a long brocha normally does.

Why not?

Again, the rishonim raise this question and provide several differing approaches to answer it. Rabbeinu Yonah (Brochos 36a) quotes two reasons:

I. Notwithstanding that the brocha is somewhat lengthy, it is still considered a short brocha, because all the ideas included are simply different aspects of the same theme – that Hashem is Hatov Vehameitiv.

II. When the original brocha was created, Hatov Vehameitiv was a short brocha that did not warrant an ending. Although other parts were gradually added, the original structure of the brocha was not changed (see also Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov).

III. The Rashba (Brochos 46a s.v. Teida) provides a third answer. Although this brocha should have been a long brocha, Chazal did not treat it as such, because they did not want this brocha, which is miderabbanan, to be more prominent than the two brochos that proceed it, which are min haTorah and which each have the words Boruch Attah Hashem only one time. Therefore, they decided to omit an ending to this brocha, making it an exception to the rule.

Conclusion

The most important message of Birkas Hamazon is our expressing thanks to Hashem for everything He provides for us. We see how Chazal also wanted us to remember to thank Hashem for kindnesses that He did for our people, thousands of years ago. It certainly behooves us to recite the Birkas Hamazon carefully and with kavanah, and to demonstrate at least a small expression to praise Hashem.

A Sweet Change of Pace

The Torah teaches that the second time the brothers came down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov told them to bring treats from Eretz Yisroel with which to woo Pharoah. Of course, they had no chocolate to bring, but we can discuss a different royal treat that the Aztecs considered a royal beverage.

What beracha does one recite over chocolate-covered raisins?

Before answering this question, we need to ascertain the correct beracha for chocolate itself. Although the accepted practice is to recite shehakol on chocolate bars and other products, the question is, why? After all, chocolate is the product of the bean from the cocoa tree. Shouldn’t its beracha be borei pri ha’eitz? As we will see, many poskim, indeed, contend that the correct beracha on chocolate is ha’eitz, accepted custom notwithstanding. We will also investigate whether there is a difference between the beracha on dark chocolate and white chocolate.

Furthermore, to resolve our question, we must analyze which beracha one recites on fruit products that have undergone extensive processing, such as sugar, peanut butter, jams, jellies, applesauce, and chocolate. We also need to understand something about the history and methods of chocolate production. We will discover that, aside from this being interesting, all this information impacts on halacha.

Chocolate history

Chocolate is native to southern Mexico and Central America, where the Maya, and later the Aztecs, cultivated the cocoa (also called the cacao) tree for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. In fact, the word chocolate originates from an Aztec word meaning “warm liquid.” In their society, the royal family drank warm, unsweetened chocolate from golden goblets, and cocoa beans were used as currency. Thus, if a Jew had accompanied Hernando Cortez on his trip to the New World, he might have recited kiddush and havdalah over hot chocolate, since it qualified there as chamar medinah, a beverage used to honor guests!

The Spaniards transported cocoa trees to the Old World. Later, industrialists developed vast plantations of cocoa trees in Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical areas.

The Native Americans drank their chocolate unsweetened, whereas the Spaniards added sugar to it. This created two industries in the New World, the cocoa industry and the sugar industry. By 5340 (1580), hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was a common Spanish drink, and from there it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.

As long as chocolate was drunk as a beverage, its beracha was certainly shehakol, since we recite shehakol on all beverages (except, of course, grape juice and wine), even if, such as beer and whiskey, they are made from the five grains (Tosafos, Berachos 38a s.v. Hai).

Chocolate in the 19th century

Two major 19th century developments vastly changed the way people consumed chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid, eating chocolate. Until this time, chocolate had never been eaten.

The second development occurred in 1876, when the Swiss devised a method of adding milk to chocolate, thereby creating what we know today as milk chocolate. Prior to this invention, all chocolate was pareve. (By the way, some European manufacturers currently add animal fat to chocolate, obviously making it non-kosher.)

How does cocoa grow?

The cocoa tree grows with large, colored fruits the size of melons or small pineapples that hang from the branches and trunk of the tree. Each huge fruit contains a sticky pulp that holds about 20-50 almond-shaped seeds, that are usually called cocoa beans. The growers separate the beans from the pulp, ferment the beans for about a week, dry them in the sun, and then ship the semi-processed cocoa beans to a chocolate maker.

How is chocolate made?

The chocolate maker roasts the beans to bring out the flavor, and then removes the shell from the bean, leaving the kernel. The kernel is ground and becomes a thick, viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The bean turns into a liquid when it is ground, because it contains over 50% fat.

The chocolate liquor I am describing contains no alcohol – that is simply the name for the ground, liquefied chocolate. Chocolate liquor is pure, bitter, unsweetened chocolate, similar to what the Aztecs drank in their time.

The chocolate maker now separates the cocoa liquor into its two main components: the fat, or cocoa butter (nothing to do with the butter that is made from milk), and cocoa bean solids. The solids are ground into cocoa powder. The chocolate we eat consists of a mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, along with several other ingredients: notably sugar, and usually, milk. This product is ground fine in a machine called a “conch” to give it a smooth consistency and taste. The chocolate is then tempered, which means that it is heated slowly and then cooled slowly, to enable the chocolate to harden properly, and so that the cocoa butter does not separate from the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is flavored and shaped into the final product.

Thus, before being ready to eat, chocolate has been separated, fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, ground, liquefied, separated again, ground again, mixed with milk and/or cocoa butter, ground yet again in a conch, tempered, flavored and shaped.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and, sometimes, milk. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate, and that is how it maintains its light color. Some “white chocolate” products are, in reality, made of vegetable oil and chocolate flavoring instead of cocoa butter.

So, what beracha do we make on chocolate?

To this day, there is a dispute among the authorities as to whether the correct beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro. To comprehend this dispute, we need to understand the halachos of fruit and vegetable products that no longer have their original consistency. Is the correct beracha on these items borei pri ha’eitz (or borei pri ha’adamah in the case of some), or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro?

The Rishonim dispute this question, many contending that even fruit that is completely pureed is still borei pri ha’eitz, whereas a minority rule that the beracha on a fruit or vegetable that no longer has its original consistency is shehakol.

What do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:7) rules that the beracha on date butter is ha’eitz, and this is the ruling followed by most Sefardim. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Rama, who contends that one should recite shehakol, because of the safek as to which opinion we should follow. In practice, Ashkenazim usually recite borei pri ha’eitz when eating a product that has some of the consistency of the original product, as is the case of jam containing recognizable fruit pieces or “chunky” applesauce, but recite shehakol before eating a completely smooth applesauce, or a smooth jam, where the fruit has completely lost its consistency (Mishnah Berurah 202:42).

However, since the reason we recite shehakol is because it is a safek, several halachic differences result. For example, someone having a snack of applesauce and a beverage should make sure to recite the shehakol on the applesauce rather than on the beverage. If he recites the shehakol on the beverage without specifically including the applesauce, he now has a safek whether he has fulfilled the obligation to make a beracha on the applesauce. This is because, according to the opinions that the beracha should be ha’eitz, one does not fulfill the beracha by reciting shehakol on something else.

Similarly, someone eating a fruit and applesauce at the same time who recited ha’eitz on the fruit should not recite shehakol (and certainly not ha’eitz) on the applesauce. This is because, according to the poskim who contend that applesauce is ha’eitz, he has already fulfilled his duty to recite a beracha by reciting ha’eitz on the other fruit. In this situation, he should first recite shehakol on the applesauce and then ha’eitz on the fruit (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas #16).

Some poskim are stricter, ruling that one should not eat an item that is definitely borei pri ha’eitz together with an item that is questionably borei pri ha’eitz, such as applesauce. This is because there isn’t any way to fulfill the need for reciting a beracha on both items without creating an unnecessary beracha. If you recite the beracha on the fruit first, then you have a safek as to whether you can recite a beracha on the safek item. On the other hand, if you recite the shehakol on the safek item first, then, according to the opinions that the beracha is ha’eitz, you have now recited an unnecessary beracha (Maamar Mordechai 203:3).

How does this discussion affect chocolate?

The average person looking at a chocolate bar does not recognize the cocoa beans, since they have been ground, liquefied, and reconstituted into a solid in the process. Can he still recite ha’eitz on the finished chocolate product, or does it become shehakol?

Many assume that the beracha on chocolate products is shehakol, based on the rulings of the Divrei Yosef and other authorities quoted by the Shaarei Teshuvah (Orach Chayim 202:19). However, since all these authorities lived at the time when chocolate was only drunk, it is difficult to base any halachic conclusion on what beracha to recite before eating chocolate, since we recite shehakol on all beverages, as mentioned above.

Among the more recent authorities who discuss which beracha one should recite before eating chocolate, two of the most respected authorities are Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, who reach diametrically opposite conclusions. In his Minchas Shelomoh, Rav Shelomoh Zalman suggests that one should recite ha’eitz before eating chocolate (Volume 1:91:2). He compares chocolate to a case of spices ground so fine that their source is no longer identifiable. The beracha recited on them is whatever would have been the appropriate beracha on the particular spice before grinding (usually ha’adamah), even if the spice is mixed with sugar, and even if it is mostly sugar (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 203:7). Let me explain this case with an example.

What beracha does one make on cinnamon sugar?

Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, and as such its beracha is borei pri ha’adamah (we do not recite borei pri ha’eitz, since we eat the bark and not the fruit). “Cinnamon sugar” is a blend of cinnamon and sugar, in which the cinnamon cannot always be identified by appearance, although it is clearly the more pronounced flavor. Based on the above-quoted ruling, one should recite ha’adamah before eating cinnamon sugar.

Why are spices different from finely ground fruit and vegetables, over which Ashkenazim recite shehakol?

Since this is considered the way that one “eats” spices, they do not lose their beracha, even though they can no longer be identified (Mishnah Berurah 203:12).

What beracha do we recite on sugar?

As I discussed in a different article (See Topical Tropical Plants — Papaya, Pineapple, and Palm Hearts), there is a thousand-year-old dispute concerning whether the correct beracha one should recite before eating cane sugar is borei pri ha’eitz, borei pri ha’adamah or shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:15) concludes that we recite shehakol on sugar; however, someone who recited either borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar should not recite a new beracha, since the correct beracha is disputed.

Originally, sugar was produced only from sugar cane. Today, a large percentage of the world’s sugar crop is extracted from the sweet white root of the sugar beet, and a much smaller amount is produced from corn (maize). However, mass cultivation and production of sugar beets did not begin until the 19th century and was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. When the British blockaded Napoleon’s Europe, one of the products that became unavailable was cane sugar, which does not grow in Europe’s cold climate. Out of concern that his subjects might revolt over the unavailability of imported sugar, Napoleon built sugar refineries throughout Europe. He even awarded a medal for perfecting the production of white sugar from the white root of the sugar beet, which thrives in cold climates.

Although Napoleon was not worried about it, some Rabbonim were concerned whether the beracha over the new type of sugar was also shehakol, just as the beracha over cane sugar. (The two types of sugar cannot be distinguished one from the other.) The Mishnah Berurah (202:76) rules that one should recite shehakol over beet sugar, although if someone recited borei pri ha’adamah, he should not make another beracha.

Thus, we see that there is a halachic difference between spices that are ground up and cannot be identified, whose beracha remains ha’adamah, and beet sugar, whose beracha is shehakol. We must now analyze the difference between these two foods and figure out where chocolate fits into the picture.

Beating a beet

After the sugar beets ripen, they are harvested, washed thoroughly, and sliced into thin chips. The beet chips are then soaked in hot water for about an hour, which extracts the sugar from them and creates a strong sugar solution. Chalk is added to the sugar solution, which causes the non-sugar parts of the solution to clump together, so that they can be filtered out. The sugar solution is then evaporated to concentrate the sugar. Eventually, the sugar concentration is great enough to form crystals, which are then removed from the solution.

An important fact affecting our halachic discussion is that, in the case of both cane and beet, the sugar is extracted, or removed, from the stem or root, rather than being simply processed.

Now our question is, do we compare chocolate to spices, which maintain their beracha even after they have been ground until they are no longer identifiable, or to sugar, which, we rule, loses its beracha and becomes shehakol?

Rav Shelomoh Zalman compares chocolate to the case of ground spices that maintain their original beracha, although they are no longer recognizable. (Dayan Gavriel Krausz, formerly the Av Beis Din of Manchester, devotes a lengthy essay to advocate this position in his sefer, Mekor Haberacha.) Apparently Rav Shelomoh Zalman felt that chocolate, which is refined from the cocoa bean, should not be compared to sugar, which is extracted from the cane or beet.

(In my opinion, those poskim who contend that the beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz should agree that the beracha on white chocolate is shehakol, since this product contains no cocoa solids. Cocoa butter should have the halacha of a liquid that is pressed out of a fruit, whose beracha is always shehakol.)

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, 3:31) clearly disagrees, contending that the beracha on all chocolate products is definitely shehakol. In a teshuvah discussing which beracha to recite before eating chocolate-covered raisins, he assumes that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol and does not entertain the possibility that its beracha might be a safek.

In Rav Moshe’s responsum, he addresses the following issue: When eating a food composed of items with different berachos, we must determine which food is the more important, the ikar, and this determines the beracha of the entire food. (I have written an extensive article on the topic of ikar and tafeil in berachos.) Rav Moshe deliberates whether the chocolate or the raisin is more important, in order to determine if the beracha on chocolate-covered raisins is ha’eitz, like the raisin,or shehakol, like the chocolate. Rav Moshe concludes that neither the chocolate nor the raisins can be considered of secondary importance (tafeil) to the other, and therefore, chocolate-covered raisins require two berachos, ha’eitz on the raisins and shehakol on the chocolate.

Rav Moshe then discusses which of the two berachos to recite first. Usually, one should recite the beracha of ha’eitz before reciting shehakol. However, Rav Moshe points out that one must eat the chocolate before reaching the raisin; thus, the beracha on the chocolate will have to be first. Rav Moshe concludes that the best thing to do is to recite ha’eitz on a regular raisin and then shehakol on the chocolate. (When this option does not exist, he rules that one should recite shehakol on the chocolate and then ha’eitz on the raisin. This would require biting off a bit of the chocolate first until he can reach the raisin.)

Clearly, Rav Moshe held that chocolate is definitely shehakol and not even questionably ha’eitz. I conjecture that he held so because chocolate undergoes so many changes and processes in its preparation, one should not consider the finished product a fruit at all. Alternatively, he may have held that since chocolate is liquefied and remains a liquid for most of its processing, it retains its status of being a liquid for hilchos berachos, and thus the correct beracha is shehakol. In any instance, the almost-universal custom is to recite shehakol before eating chocolate. (For other reasons why chocolate should be shehakol, see Shaarei Haberacha pg. 693 and Makor Haberacha pgs. 52-61.)

Notwithstanding that many authorities agree with Rav Moshe that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol, they disagree with his ruling that chocolate-covered raisins and nuts require two different berachos, contending that one should recite only one beracha. Among these poskim, there are two major approaches, those that hold that the beracha is always shehakol, since they consider the chocolate to be the ikar, and those who feel the beracha should be determined by whichever is greater in quantity (Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 3, pg 431; Vezos Haberacha pg. 97). I refer you to your own posek to decide which beracha you should recite before eating this delicacy.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the Aztecs considered chocolate a royal food. By studying the halachos of the berachos on this food, we elevate it to being a true royal food – since we are determining which beracha the mamleches cohanim vegoy kodosh, the holy nation that is a kingdom of priests, recites on this food.

What Is the Brocha?

On Pesach, shaylos always come up regarding which brochos we should recite before eating matzoh brei, matzoh meal cakes and similar foods. The truth is that similar questions revolve around which brochos we should recite on foods such as French toast, English muffins, kishka and kneidlach.

Question: When I eat matzoh brei, I have been making the brachos of mezonos and al hamichyah on it. Now someone told me that I should wash and make hamotzi on some bread or matzoh instead. Is this true?

Question: The chef in our yeshiva stuffs the meatloaf with huge pieces of leftover challah. Do we need to wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi before eating it?

Question: I have been told that the brocha on licorice is shehakol, even though the first ingredient listed on its label is flour. Why is this?

In the article Pizza, Pretzels and Pastry, we discuss the unusual halachic category called pas haba’ah bekisnin, and found that crackers, pretzels, and certain pastry-type items require the brocha of mezonos before eating them and al hamichyah afterward, unless they are eaten as a meal, in which case they require netilas yadayim, hamotzi, and bensching. (Please refer to that article for details of this complicated halacha.) However, there are numerous other foods prepared with flour that are not typical bread. In order to explore which brocha one recites on these foods, we will start our discussion with items made from bread that is then cooked or fried.

FRENCH TOAST

Although the words “French toast” were unknown in the times of Chazal, the Gemara (Brachos 37b) discusses which brocha to recite on chavitza, a dish that contains cooked pieces of bread. The Gemara rules that if the pieces are the size of a kezayis (the volume of an olive – for our purposes, we will assume this to be about one fluid ounce), the brocha before is hamotzi and it requires bensching afterward. This is because a large piece of bread does not lose its significance even if it is cooked or fried. However, if all of the pieces are smaller than a kezayis, the brocha is mezonos before and al hamichyah afterward. If some of the pieces are larger than a kezayis and others smaller, then one recites hamotzi as long as one piece is at least the size of a kezayis (Mishnah Berurah 168:53).

Based on this Gemara, we conclude that one must wash netilas yadayim and recite hamotzi before eating French toast, and bensch afterward, since the pieces are at least a kezayis (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 168:10).

WHICH BROCHA DOES ONE MAKE ON KNEIDLACH?

Kneidlach are made from ground matzoh that is mixed to form a new dough and then cooked. Most poskim rule that since the matzoh is ground into small pieces before it is cooked, the brochabrachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one eats a very large amount. Another opinion contends that if the pieces of matzoh meal are shaped into balls larger than a kezayis before they are cooked, their brocha is hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:28). The accepted psak is to make a mezonos and al hamichyah on kneidlach (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

This leads us to an unusual shaylah I was once asked:

YESHIVA MEATLOAF DELUXE

A yeshiva bachur once asked me whether one should make hamotzi on the meatloaf served at his yeshiva. I thought he was attempting to draw attention to the quality of the cuisine, but indeed, he was asking a serious shaylah. It turned out that the cook in his yeshiva would stuff large pieces of leftover challah into the meatloaf.

This is an unusual situation. Many people include matzoh meal or bread crumbs in their meatloaf, but these lose their importance in the finished product. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe included pieces of challahfar larger than a kezayis. As we mentioned above, pieces of bread this size do not lose their status as bread. Thus, as strange as it might seem, one is required to wash al netilas yadayim before eating this meatloaf, and its correct brachos are hamotzi before and bensching afterward.

This situation was unusual for an additional reason – people usually soak challah or bread until it falls apart before adding it to a kugel or meatloaf. However, Yeshiva Meatloaf Deluxe calls for bread that is only moistened before being adding to the meatloaf, but does not fall apart.

BAKING AND SAUTÉING (frying in a small amount of oil)

On Pesach, my wife makes an item she refers to as “matzoh rolls,” which involves mixing matzoh meal together with oil and eggs, forming “rolls” and baking them. Although they are prepared from matzoh meal, the brocha on these items is hamotzi since the dough is subsequently baked rather than cooked and the finished product is very much similar to a type of bread, albeit Pesach-dik.

Similarly, if someone made matzoh rolls by sautéing the dough in a little oil (just enough so that the dough does not burn) the completed product should be treated as bread for all halachos (Mishnah Berurah 168:69). Thus, a matzoh kugel made on the top of the stove would be hamotzi, even if the pieces are smaller than a kezayis.

FRYING VS. COOKING – THE MATZOH BREI SAGA

Thus far, we have learned that one recites hamotzi on large pieces of bread even if they were subsequently cooked or fried, and that small pieces lose their status as bread when they are cooked. However, some poskim contend that frying small pieces of bread does not change their status and they still require netilas yadayim and hamotzi (Magen Avraham 168:39). According to this opinion, matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching. Other poskim disagree, contending that fried small pieces of bread lose their status as bread just like cooked pieces (see Mishnah Berurah 168:56). These poskim contend that one recites mezonos and al hamichyah on matzoh brei unless at least one of the pieces is the size of a kezayis. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that the halacha is uncertain, and one should avoid this problem by eating these items within a meal. Thus, an Ashkenazi should not eat matzoh brei without washing and making hamotzi on a piece of matzoh first. However, if at least one of the pieces if is the size of a kezayis, the matzoh brei requires netilas yadayim, hamotzi and bensching.

Sefardim recite mezonos before matzoh, except on Pesach, unless they eat more than four kebeitzim of matzoh. During Pesach they follow the same rules that I mentioned above for Ashkenazim. During the rest of the year, Sefardim recite mezonos before eating matzoh brei and al hamichyah afterward, and they need not eat it within a meal. However, a Sefardi who ate four kebeitzim of matzoh brei would be faced with the same concern mentioned above and should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on some bread.

According to all opinions, deep frying small pieces of bread or matzoh is the same as cooking, since the oil completely covers the food. Thus, the correct brocha on deep-fried matzoh-meal latkes is mezonos and al hamichyah (Mishnah Berurah 168:59).

CROUTONS

Commercial croutons are produced by either frying or toasting small pieces of seasoned bread. If they are deep fried, then the brocha is mezonos and al hamichyah. If they are fried or toasted, then they are pas haba’ah bekisnin (requiring mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Homemade croutons toasted from leftover bread are hamotzi. Deep-fried, they are mezonos, and fried they are subject to the same shaylah mentioned above as to whether they are hamotzi or mezonos, and should therefore be eaten after making hamotzi on bread.

CHALLAH KUGEL

Most people make challah kugel (or matzoh kugel) by soaking the challah or matzoh, then mixing it with other ingredients and baking it. When the challah or matzoh disintegrates into mush before it is mixed with the other ingredients, the resulting kugel has the halachic status of pas haba’ah bekisninbrocha (mezonos when eaten as a snack and hamotzi when eaten as a meal).

Sometimes the challah remains in small pieces; this is often the case when making a matzoh kugel. When this is the case, the resulting kugel must be treated as bread, requiring netilas yadayim and hamotzi, as we pointed out earlier concerning baked goods. Since the halacha here depends on some complicated halachic details, it is better in this case to make hamotzi on a piece of matzoh or bread first.

MATZOH LASAGNA

A guest arrived at someone’s house and was served a portion of matzoh lasagna. In this particular recipe, the matzoh was soaked, mixed with meat and other ingredients, and then baked.

I now ask you, dear reader: Must they wash netilas yadayim and which brocha should they recite?

We can answer this question only after ascertaining whether there are noticeable pieces of matzoh in the lasagna. If there are noticeable pieces, even if they are small, the guest should wash netilas yadayim and make hamotzi on matzoh or bread before eating the lasagna kugel. If the matzoh all turned to mush, the lasagna should probably be treated as pas haba’ah bekisnin, and would require borei minei mezonos on a snack size, but would be hamotzi and require bensching if eaten as a meal. The exact definition of a meal for these purposes is discussed in our article on pas haba’ah bekisnin.

PANCAKES, BLINTZES AND CREPES

These items are all made from a batter rather than dough and then baked in a pan, form or griddle. Since they never have a bread-like appearance, they are always mezonos and al hamichyah. This is true even if one eats a large amount, since they are considered neither bread nor pas haba’ah bekisnin. Thus, one can have an entire, very satiating meal of pancakes or blintzes without washing netilas yadayim, and one recites the brocha of al hamichyah afterward.

WAFFLES, WAFERS, ICE CREAM CONES

These items are also made from a batter, but in this case the batter is poured into a mold or waffle iron that bakes it into its final shape. Although these items have a slightly more bread-like appearance than pancakes and blintzes, without the mold, these items would never have a bread-like shape, and they do not have a tzuras hapas (bread-like appearance) even after being baked. Therefore, they are not considered pas haba’ah bekisnin but rather regular mezonos. As a result, they do not require netilas yadayim, and the brachos are mezonos and al hamichyah even if one made a full meal out of them. Thus, one can enjoy as many wafers as one wants and recite al hamichyah when finished eating.

ENGLISH MUFFINS

Most English muffins have a consistency noticeably different from regular bread, and therefore are pas haba’ah bekisnin. However, an English muffin whose inside tastes like bread should be treated as bread.

KISHKA AND LICORICE

Although these are two very different foods, the halachic discussion that involves them is similar.

The Gemara (Berachos 37b and 36b) discusses a food called rihata, which was made of flour, oil and honey cooked or stirred together in a pot until they hardened. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the brocha is mezonos, because of the general halachic importance of flour; or shehakol, because the main taste comes from the honey. We rule that the brocha is mezonos because flour is usually considered the main ingredient of a food, unless the flour is there only to hold it together. Whenever the flour is added to provide taste, the brocha is mezonos, even if the main taste comes from the honey.

Kishka has the same halacha as rihata. Although the main taste comes from the other ingredients, the flour certainly adds taste as well.

Although licorice contains a significant amount of flour, the flour is included only to give licorice its shape, and not to add anything to the taste or to make it more filling. Therefore, the brocha on licorice is shehakol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 208:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brochos. 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 brocha, one is acquiring the item from Hashem in the proper way. Pas haba’ah bekisnin functions in two different ways, sometimes as our main sustenance and most of the time as a pleasant snack. Reciting the correct brocha focuses our understanding on the appropriate praise for Hashem at the correct moment.

Is Papaya a Tree?

Although the month of Shvat just began, since I have planned a different, very exciting article for next week, we are going to discuss an aspect of Tu Bishvat this week. For those who want to read more about the holiday themes of Tu Bishvat, you can check on RabbiKaganoff.com under the search words orlah or fourth year.

Question #1: What bracha?

What bracha do I recite before I eat papaya?

Question #2: Orlah

Does the prohibition of orlah apply to papaya?

Question #3:

Are there any kashrus concerns germane to papain?

Introduction:

Whether 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 (bal tashchis).

5. What are its laws concerning kelayim, shemittah, and ma’aser, all of which are relevant only in Eretz Yisrael.

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? In other words, a typical tree species produces quality fruit for a few years. If the species produces quality fruit for only one year, and then the quality or quantity begins to deteriorate, does it halachically have the category of a tree?

(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) Does it produce fruit for three years or less?

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

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 where 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 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 Sheivet 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 passion fruit, called pasiflora in Modern 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 Yisrael and that growing in chutz la’aretz. Whereas the prohibition of orlah exists both in Eretz Yisrael and in chutz la’aretz, questionable orlah fruit is prohibited if it grew in Eretz Yisrael 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 miSinai that prohibits orlah fruit outside of Eretz Yisrael, but only when we are certain that the fruit is orlah. When we are uncertain whether the fruit is orlah, the halacha leMoshe miSinai permits this fruit.

Based on the above, one should be able to permit papaya growing outside Eretz Yisrael 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 was 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 factory 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 miSinai that safek orlah is permitted. Therefore, even if we consider papaya a tree, the fruit grown outside Eretz Yisrael 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 one can be mevateil the orlah that is in the mixture. In the case of the mitzvah of orlah, that would require 200 parts of kosher fruit to every one unit of orlah. Therefore, papain would be prohibited 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.

While nibbling on the fruit this Tu B’Shvat, we should think through the different halachic and hashkafic ramifications that affect us. Man himself is compared to a tree (see Rashi, Bamidbar 13:20); and his responsibility to observe orlah, terumos, and maasros are intimately bound with the count that depends on Tu B’shvat. As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains, by observing Hashem’s command to refrain from the fruits of his own property, one learns to practice the self-restraint necessary to keep all pleasure within the limits of morality.

Over the Rainbow

Question #1: Showing a Rainbow

Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow?

Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

Question #2: Niagara Falls

Does one recite a brocha when seeing a rainbow that is not after a storm, such as what one sees at Niagara Falls?

Question #3: How much?

How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?

Introduction

An entire chapter of Shulchan Aruch is devoted to two short brochos, one recited when one sees a rainbow, and one called birkas hachamah, which we recite only once every 28 years. Both of these brochos are included under the general category called birchos ha’re’iyah, brochos recited upon seeing specific things, whose halachos are spread across nine chapters of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, from chapter 221-229).

Since the next recital of birkas hachamah will not be for a number of years, and the brocha on the rainbow is based in this week’s parsha, this article will discuss the latter brocha. The common text that we recite for this brocha is, “Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.” It should be noted that the version quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 229:1) has a slight difference – it is missing a vov before the word “ne’eman,” thus reading: “Boruch… Zocheir habris, Ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro,” and is translated as two sentences, “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who remembers the covenant. He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.”

Unusual brocha

Isn’t this a strange text for a brocha referring to Hashem? In what other brocha do we discuss Hashem’s trustworthiness and memory?

The answer is that the world is full of evil people who could be the cause for its destruction. The reason that the world is not destroyed is because Hashem promised Noach that He would not put an end to it. The additional words, that “He… fulfills His word,” are because, as we will soon see, the Torah does not mention that there was any promise or oath — simply Hashem’s declaration to Noach (Avudraham, page 187).

Before analyzing further the brocha and the Gemara that teaches us this mitzvah, let us read the pesukim in this week’s parsha, upon which this brocha is based.

Rainbow way up high

After Noach and his family exited the teivah, Hashem tells them, “I am establishing My covenant with you and the descendants that will follow you… and I will confirm My covenant with you that I will never again destroy all flesh with the waters of the flood, and there never again will be a flood to destroy the earth. And G-d said: This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing between Me and between you and all living creatures that are among you, for all future generations. I have placed My rainbow in the clouds, and it will provide a sign of a covenant between Me and between the earth. And it should be, when I place a cloud over the earth and the rainbow becomes visible in the cloud. I will then remember My covenant that is between Me and you and all living creatures, and the water will never become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the rainbow is in the cloud, I will see it and remember the eternal covenant between G-d and between all living creatures on the earth” (Bereishis, 9:11-16).

The dreams you dare to dream

Seeing a rainbow should evoke mixed feelings in us. On the one hand, it is a beautiful phenomenon of nature that truly demonstrates the nifla’os haBorei, Hashem’s wondrous Creation. The Gemara shares with us an event that bears this out. Once, it was in the middle of the dry season in Eretz Yisroel, when it never rains. Several of the tanna’im were studying intently some deep kabbalistic ideas. Suddenly, the Heavens became covered with clouds and a rainbow appeared in them, and the ministering angels gathered together, the way people gather to see the celebrations of a bride and groom, in order to hear the kabbalistic words emanating from the scholars (Chagigah 14b).

Similarly, we have the following passage of Gemara (Brochos 59a): “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘one who sees a rainbow in a cloud should fall on his face, as the verse states, Kemar’eih hakeshes asher yihyeh be’anan beyom hageshem kein mar’eih hanogah saviv shehu mar’eih demus kevod Hashem, As the rainbow appears in the cloud on a rainy day, so appeared the brilliant surrounding light; this is the image of the Honor of Hashem (Yechezkel 1:28).”

The Gemara there concludes not in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, and therefore one should not prostrate himself upon seeing a rainbow, for the following reason: In Eretz Yisroel, they criticized the practice of bowing when seeing a rainbow, because it gives the appearance that one is worshiping the rainbow.

On the other hand, the rainbow also demonstrates Hashem’s covenant that He will never again bring a flood to destroy life on earth. Yet, seeing the rainbow implies that the covenant is necessary to avoid that destruction. This is not very reassuring about the state of mankind’s behavior and Hashem’s justified wrath. For this reason, in the era of the Gemara, it was a source of pride for one to have lived in a generation when a rainbow never appeared (Kesubos 77b)!

Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch concludes the laws of reciting the brocha on the rainbow with the following: “And it is prohibited to gaze at it (the rainbow) more than necessary.” The Gemara (Chagigah 16a) reports that gazing at the rainbow is bad for one’s eyes.

As a matter of fact, the rishonim ask this question: How can one look at the rainbow to recite the brocha, if gazing at it is harmful? They answer that it is only harmful to gaze at a rainbow, but not to notice it or glance at it. Thus, when noticing it, one should recite the brocha, but not look at it again afterwards (Rosh, cited by Avudraham).

Really do come true

Let us now examine our opening question: Should you call someone’s attention to the fact that there is a rainbow? Are you supposed to look for a rainbow?

The Chayei Odom (Klal 63:4) mentions, “I saw in a work, whose name I no longer remember, that one should not tell someone else that he saw a rainbow, since this is disparaging information.” The Mishnah Berurah and the Kaf Hachayim both quote this Chayei Odom. The question is that we usually assume that we are allowed to share bad news, for example, so that people know to attend a funeral or to make a shiva visit. Why not tell people about a rainbow, so that they can recite the brocha?

The answer appears to be that although the news of someone’s passing is something not good, it is not disparaging regarding anyone. However, the appearance of the rainbow is understood to demonstrate that Hashem is telling us that He is keeping His deal not to destroy the world with a flood. This statement has highly negative connotations for the entire world’s level of ethics and morality, and we want to avoid implying anything disparaging.

An alternative, similar explanation that I once heard is that one should not call attention to the rainbow, since it might make them dejected to see how wretched and undeserving the world is.

Skies are blue

A question relative to these verses is raised by the rishonim. The pesukim imply that the rainbow was created after the mabul, as a covenant. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains the verse this way, disputing an earlier interpretation of the posuk from Rav Saadiya Gaon. However, scientifically, if the correct factors of moisture in the air and sunlight exist, the resultant refraction of light causes a rainbow, which means that the factors causing the rainbow existed from Creation and not only after the mabul. This question was already asked by the Ramban in his commentary, which I will now quote: “‘This is the sign of My covenant that I am providing.’ One is given the impression that the rainbow in the clouds was not existent as part of Creation, but that now Hashem created a rainbow in the Heavens… . However, we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the light of the sun through moist air creates a rainbow, since taking a vessel of water before the sun will cause something similar in appearance to a rainbow.”

The Ramban continues: “When we examine further the phraseology of the verse, we will also understand (as did the Greeks), for it says ‘I have placed my rainbow in the cloud,’ rather than ‘I am now placing my rainbow in the cloud.’” The Ramban proceeds to explain that the rainbow, indeed, existed since Creation, but now, after the mabul, it became the testimony to the covenant. In other words, an already existing item now assumed a role as a testament and reminder to an agreement or covenant. The Ramban demonstrates that there are many other examples of this in Chumash.

Text of brocha

Germane to the text of the brocha we recite, the Gemara records the following: “One should certainly recite a brocha (upon seeing a rainbow). What brocha does he recite? ‘Blessed is He who remembers the covenant.’ A beraisa teaches a different text: Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rav Yochanan ben Beroka says, ‘He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word.’ Rav Papa ruled, ‘Therefore we should recite both texts: Blessed is He Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word” (Brochos 59a). This is the source for the text of the brocha as we recite it, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam zocheir habris vene’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro.

Nevertheless, we find that there were other ways of understanding the conclusion of the Gemara and different versions of its concluding text. There was an old custom to recite the following text to this brocha: Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris,” “He is trustworthy in His covenant and fulfills His word, Blessed are You, Hashem, Who remembers the covenant.” This version does not begin with our standard introduction for all brochos, nor does it mention at all that Hashem is King of the world. (The Shelah Hakodesh mentions a slight variation of this text which includes also Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam in its closing.) With the exception of a brocha that is a later one in a sequel, called a brocha hasemucha lachavertah, all brochos begin with our well-known formula Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam. (Examples of brocha hasemucha lachaverta are the brochos of shemoneh esrei, bensching, birchos kerias shma and sheva brochos. In these instances, the brochos that do not begin with the word boruch follow other brochos.) This is not the case with the brocha on a rainbow, which is not a sequel to another brocha, and therefore should begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam.

In addition, brochos that are short and not multi-themed do not have a closing of Boruch Attah Hashem. These endings are restricted to brochos that are lengthier.

Precisely for these reasons, the authorities universally reject the text Ne’eman bevriso vekayom bema’amaro, Boruch Attah Hashem Zocheir habris, since it violates the structural rules for brochos established by Chazal (Bach; Pri Megadim). The poskim contend that this errant version was based on a misunderstanding of the text of the Gemara (Drisha, Orach Chayim 229, quoting his rebbe, the Maharshal).

Different text

Tosafos quotes a slightly different version of the brocha, which might have been based on a variant text of the Gemara passage: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam ne’eman bivriso vekayom beshevuaso vezocheir habris,” “Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the Universe, Who is trustworthy in His covenant, fulfills His oath and remembers the covenant” (Tosafos, Brochos 59a s.v. Hilchach I).

One of the interesting points about this text is that it mentions that Hashem swore an oath regarding the rainbow. Although this idea is not mentioned in the Torah, it is mentioned by the prophet Yeshayohu (54:9), Ki mei Noach zos li asher nishbati mei’avor mei Noach od al ha’aretz, kein nishbati mi’ketzof alayich umi’ge’or boch, “These shall be for Me like the waters of Noach, which I swore never to bring again onto the earth. So, too, have I sworn not to become angry with you or to rebuke you.” These words are part of the reading for this week’s haftarah, as well as for that of parshas Ki Seitzei.

Somewhere over the rainbow

At this point, let us discuss our third opening question: “How much of a rainbow must one see to recite a brocha?”

Strangely enough, this question is not discussed by any of the standard, early authorities. The Mishnah Berurah, in his Biur Halacha commentary, does raise this question, stating that there are no halachic sources that clarify whether one recites the brocha only when he sees the entire arch of a rainbow, which is a 180 degree arc, or even if one sees only a small section.

Dreams really do come true

Among the things one sees that require a birchas ha’re’iyah, some require a brocha only when one has not seen them in the last thirty days, such as the brochos on magnificent mountains and seas, or the brochos upon seeing destroyed cities of Israel. There are also brochos that are recited more frequently, should the occasion present itself, such as the brocha recited when seeing lightning. The halacha is that, once the storm clears, should one see lightning accompanying a new thunderstorm, one recites the brocha again. What is the halacha regarding a rainbow? In the event that a new rainbow is the result of a different rainstorm, should one recite a new brocha? The halachic conclusion of the authorities is that one does (Shaarei Teshuvah 229:1 and other acharonim.).

A land that I heard of once

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: Does one recite the brocha only if one sees a rainbow after a storm? What is the halacha if one saw a rainbow elsewhere, such as at Niagara Falls or at Paterson Falls, right near New York City; does one recite a brocha?

The wording of the posuk, the Gemara and the poskim implies that the brocha is recited only when the rainbow appears in the clouds, related to a storm. Thus, there should be no brocha recited on a rainbow from any other source.

Way up high

A natural phenomenon that occasionally occurs is a double rainbow, in which a reversed-direction rainbow appears in the sky, high above a lower rainbow. There is an opinion among the late poskim that one recites the brocha only when seeing this particular type of rainbow, which means that one would rarely recite the brocha of Zocheir habris ve’ne’eman bivriso vekayom bema’amaro. One can rally an earlier comment as a source for this position, since one finds that the Seforno, in his commentary to the posuk in parshas Noach, understands that this was the type of rainbow that Hashem described to Noach as His covenant.

However, the well-known later authorities who quote this opinion conclude that one may ignore it, since none of the established early halachic authorities mentions this requirement for reciting the brocha (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev #17; Kaf Hachayim, 229:4). The Ben Ish Chai mentions that if an individual, when seeing a regular rainbow, chooses to omit the mention of Hashem’s name when reciting the brocha out of concern for this opinion, one should not rebuke him for this, notwithstanding that this approach is not the accepted halacha.

Conclusion

One of the understood messages of the rainbow is that it points upward, whereas the archer’s bow, which is a weapon, is always bent in the direction of its target. Thus, one of the symbolisms of the rainbow is that Hashem is pointing the potential weapon in the wrong direction, rendering it useless.

Rav Hirsch, in his beautiful explanation of Tehillim 75, notes that Asaf prophesies the end of warfare, when man’s weapons will become useless. Thus, our major hope is that man lose interest in his ability and his incentive for all warfare, and allow for the teaching of Hashem to permeate the earth. This fulfills the famous words of the prophet Yeshayohu (2:4) and echoed by Michah (4:3), Vechitesu charvosam le’itim vachanisoseihem lemazmeiros. Lo yisa goy el goy cherev velo yilmedu od milchamah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. No nation will raise a sword against another, and they will no longer learn warfare.”

 

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