How Much Must I Bensch?
I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.