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.

Photo by Jean Scheijen from FreeImages

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 Berachos Will We Recite When Mashiach Comes?

Since Parshas Shoftim discusses the laws of the Jewish king, I thought it appropriate to discuss this topic, since we hope that the next Jewish king will come soon and be the Mashiach. This article was previously published in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries. Should you be interested in purchasing the book, you may do so via the website, RabbiKaganoff.com or by sending me an e-mail.

What Berachos Will We Recite When Mashiach Comes?

Shimon asked me recently what berachos we will recite when mashiach comes, and when we will recite those berachos. I must admit that, surprisingly, no one had ever asked me this shaylah before. I did discover two short responsa on the topic, both dealing only with certain aspects of the subject.

Subsequently, my son showed me a pamphlet that included a list of berachos that we will recite upon that auspicious occasion. However, the list included errors and was incomplete. Hopefully this article will prepare us better for the occasion we daven for three times a day, and will itself hasten the redemption.

Before discussing the shaylah, we must first clarify an important fact, one that a surprising number of Jewish people do not know:

Who is mashiach, and what will he accomplish?

Mashiach is a Torah scholar descended from David HaMelech, who will reestablish the halachic Jewish monarchy in Eretz Yisrael and influence the entire Jewish people to observe halacha meticulously, to the finest detail.[i] He will be wiser than his ancestor, Shelomoh HaMelech, will be a prophet almost as great as Moshe Rabbeinu; he will teach the entire people how to serve Hashem, and his advice will be sought by all the nations of the world. He will gather the Jews who are presently scattered to the ends of the world, expand Jewish territory more than ever before, and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. (This follows the approach of the Rambam, Hilchos Melachim Chapter 11. There is a dispute as to whether the third Beis HaMikdash will be built under mashiach’s supervision, or whether it will descend from heaven.[ii] There is also a dispute whether the ingathering of the exile is performed by mashiach or occurs immediately prior to his arrival. We will find out for certain when the events unfold.) After mashiach establishes his dominion, there will be no more wars, famine, jealousy, or competition, since the entire world will be filled with only one desire: to know Hashem and draw close to Him.[iii]

The fact that mashiach is both the political leader of klal Yisrael and also a leading talmid chacham caused Rav Shmuel Hominer, a great tzadik and talmid chacham of the previous generation, to ask Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach the following interesting shaylah, which I paraphrase:

“When we merit meeting mashiach, we will be required to recite four berachos to praise Hashem upon the occasion: (1) chacham harazim, The wise One who knows all secrets [which I will explain shortly]; (2) shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, Who bestowed of His wisdom to those who fear Him; (3) shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, Who bestowed of His honor to those who fear Him; and (4) shehecheyanu.” Rav Hominer then proceeded to ask whether the second and third berachos, both of which begin with the word shechalak should be recited as two separate berachos, or if they are combined into one beracha, shechalak meichachmaso u’mikevodo lirei’av, Who bestowed of His wisdom and honor to those who fear Him. Let me explain his question:

Chazal instituted the following blessing, to be made when one sees a Jewish king:  Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, that Hashem bestowed of His honor to those who fear Him. A different, but similar, beracha was instituted to be recited upon seeing a tremendous talmid chacham: Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, that He bestowed of His wisdom to those who fear Him.[iv]

Chazal also instituted the recital of similar berachos when one sees a non-Jewish king, shenasan mikevodo lebasar vadam, that Hashem gave of His honor to human beings; and shenasan meichachmaso lebasar vadam, that Hashem gave of His wisdom to human beings, when one sees a gentile scholar.[v]

(Note that the berachos recited over a Jewish king or scholar use the word shechalak whereas the berachos recited over gentiles use the word shenasan. The word shechalak implies that the recipient of this power or wisdom recognizes that these are gifts received from Hashem, and that Hashem retains total control over them.[vi] However, the gentile king or scholar views these Divine gifts as his own accomplishments and does not recognize Hashem’s ongoing involvement in his success.)

Since mashiach will be both a king and a Torah scholar, Rav Hominer assumed that someone meeting him should recite both berachos. However, Rav Hominer queried whether these two similar berachos are combined into one beracha, shechalak meichachmaso umikevodo lirei’av  – that Hashem bestowed of His wisdom and honor to those who fear Him.

Rav Shelomoh Zalman replied that we do not combine these two berachos, even when seeing a Jewish king who is also a talmid chacham.[vii] He pointed out that berachos are generally kept separate, even when their themes are similar. As Rav Shelomoh Zalman noted, an earlier author, the Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah,[viii] discussed this same shaylah in the eighteenth century and reached the same conclusion.

It is noteworthy that several poskim contend that we no longer recite the beracha shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av upon seeing a noteworthy talmid chacham, maintaining that our generations no longer possess Torah scholars of the stature required to recite this beracha. (This approach is quoted by Shu’t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah, 2:237; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Eikev 1:13; and Aruch HaShulchan 224:6. On the other hand, Chayei Adam 63:8; Kaf HaChayim 224:18; and Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 10:13 rule that we do recite this beracha today. Several anecdotes are recorded about great talmidei chachamim who recited the beracha upon seeing gedolim, such as the Ragitzchaver Gaon, the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, and Rav Gustman. See, for example, Piskei Teshuvos, Chapter 224 footnote #17.) Nevertheless, both Rav Hominer and Rav Shelomo Zalman assumed that we will recite this beracha upon witnessing mashiach, either because they held that we do recite this beracha today, or that mashiach will clearly be a scholar of this league.

Baruch Chacham Harazim — Knower of Secrets

In the above-quoted correspondence with Rav Shelomoh Zalman, Rav Hominer, mentioned that we will recite two other berachos when greeting mashiach: Baruch chacham harazim and she’hechiyanu. What is the beracha of Baruch chacham harazim?

The Gemara[ix] records that someone who witnesses 600,000 Jews gathered together recites Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam chacham harazim, the wise One who knows all secrets.[x] This beracha praises Hashem for creating such a huge multitude of people, each with his own unique personality and physical appearance. (The Gemara records a different beracha to recite when observing a similarly large-sized throng of gentiles.) The wording of the beracha notes that only Hashem knows the secrets that are in the heart of each of these people.[xi]

Rav Hominer pointed out that since the entire Jewish people will surround mashiach, there will be no doubt at least 600,000 Jews together, enabling us to say this beracha. Note, however, that we will recite this beracha upon seeing the huge crowd, and will not recite the other berachos until we actually see mashiach.

Shehecheyanu

The fourth beracha mentioned by Rav Hominer is shehecheyanu, based on the halacha that if one sees a close friend whom one has not seen for thirty days, one recites shehecheyanu because of one’s excitement.[xii] Certainly, seeing mashiach for the first time will generate more excitement than seeing a close friend that one has not seen for thirty days! (Compare this to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 225:2.)

Shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv

However, I would raise the following query: Should we recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv (He who is good and brings benefit) upon seeing mashiach?

The Mishnah teaches: “Upon hearing good tidings, one recites Baruch hatov vihameitiv.

One who builds a new house or purchases new items recites Baruch shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigiyanu lazman hazeh.[xiii] When one hears good tidings that are beneficial only for him, he recites shehecheyanu; if others benefit also, he recites hatov vehameitiv.[xiv] Similarly, when acquiring new appliances, one recites hatov vihameitiv if other people benefit; if only one person benefits, as is usually the case when purchasing new clothes, then he or she recites shehecheyanu.[xv]

So, which beracha will we recite upon the coming of mashiach, shehecheyanu or hatov vihameitiv? After all, it is not just the excitement of seeing the mashiach, but the realization that he will change the entire world for the better that generates the excitement and the beracha.

In my opinion, we will recite both shehecheyanu and hatov vehameitiv, but not at the same time. We will certainly recite hatov vehameitiv when we hear the wonderful tidings of mashiach’s arrival. After all, if one recites the beracha when hearing that one receives any kind of bounty, how much more so for the gift of mashiach’s long-awaited arrival!

In addition, according to Rav Shmuel Hominer and Rav Shelomoh Zalman, one will recite shehecheyanu upon seeing mashiach the first time, due to the personal pleasure of witnessing him.

Although this now completes the list of berachos mentioned by Rav Hominer, I believe at least one more beracha should be added to the list:

Returning the widow to her property

The Gemara[xvi] teaches us that someone who sees Jewish houses in Eretz Yisrael that have been restored after the churban recites the beracha of matziv gvul almanah, He who reestablishes a widow in her borders, referring to the restoration of the Jewish people to the Holy Land. Rashi explains that this Gemara applies to a period such as that of Bayis Sheini, when the Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael after the exile, and the Rif states that it refers specifically to the restoration of shuls and Batei Medrash. Obviously, we will recite this beracha the first time we see either the restored Beis HaMikdash or the batei medrash and shuls of a rebuilt Yerushalayim.

Why don’t we recite this beracha now?

We do not recite this beracha until mashiach arrives and we no longer need to worry about our enemies.[xvii] However, as soon as mashiach has accomplished his purpose, we will recite this beracha on every rebuilt shul and beis medrash we see in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, we might recite this beracha even before actually seeing mashiach himself!

An earlier teshuvah

There actually was an earlier responsum, discussing what berachos we will recite when mashiach arrives. Someone asked Rav Chayim Felaggi, zt”l, a great nineteenth-century posek who was the rav of Izmir, Turkey, the following shaylah, “When mashiach redeems us, what beracha will we recite upon the redemption and in appreciation of Hashem’s benefiting us?”

Since the teshuvah is fairly short, I am translating it:

“It appears that we should recite a beracha of ‘ga’al Yisrael,’ ‘That you redeemed us from this bitter exile,’ similar to when we complete retelling the story of our Exodus on Pesach and recite ‘And we thank You and recite a new song on our redemption. We conclude with the beracha, “He who redeemed Israel.”’ After the future redemption, we will recite a similar beracha. We will also recite shehecheyanu for experiencing this wondrous time, since, without question, this day will be established as a Yom Tov.”[xviii]

Recently, I saw someone rule that we will recite a beracha “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Go’el Yisrael” as soon as mashiach arrives. However, I believe this to be an incorrect understanding of Rav Felaggi’s teshuvah. Nowhere do Chazal record a beracha with the text “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam go’el Yisrael, nor do they specifiy a beracha to be made when one is redeemed. Rather, what Rav Chayim Felaggi contended is that the Sanhedrin of the mashiach era will institute a celebration to commemorate the wondrous events that transpire, and will presumably institute the recitation of a beracha similar in structure to the beracha that we make immediately prior to drinking the second cup of wine at the Seder, which closes with the words ga’al Yisrael. In addition, the Sanhedrin will, presumably, make the day of mashiach’s arrival into a Yom Tov that will be celebrated with the beracha of shehecheyanu, just as we recite this beracha to commemorate every Yom Tov.

Six berachos

Thus, we now have a total of six berachos to recite when mashiach arrives:

(1) hatov vehameitiv when we hear of his arrival;

(2) matziv gvul almanah, each time we see a newly reconstructed shul or Beis Medrash, and when we see the Beis HaMikdash;

(3) chacham harazim, upon seeing 600,000 or more Jews assembled;

(4, 5, 6) when we actually see mashiach, we will recite three berachos: shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av, shechalak mikevodo lirei’av and shehecheyanu. In what order should we recite these last three berachos?

I believe that the following Gemara[xix] demonstrates that shehecheyanu should be the last of this triad:

“Rav Pappa and Rav Huna, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, were traveling when they met Rav Chanina, the son of Rabbi Ikka. They told him, ‘when we see you, we recite two berachos: asher chalak mei’chachmaso lirei’av and shehecheyanu.’” Thus we see that shehecheyanu is recited after the other berachos.

Which beracha is recited first?

Having resolved earlier that we will recite two different berachos, shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av and shechalak mikevodo lirei’av, which of these berachos is recited first?

I found no reference made by any posek concerning this question. On the one hand, perhaps one can demonstrate that the beracha on a talmid chacham is first, since we have a general rule that mamzer talmid chacham kodem lekohen gadol am ha’aretz, a mamzer who is a Torah scholar is given more honor than a kohen gadol who is boorish.[xx] On the other hand, the Gemara[xxi] cites a dispute between the prophet Yeshaya and King Chizkiyahu as to whether a king commands more respect than a prophet or vice versa. The Gemara implies that the king commands more respect. Thus, one could infer that the beracha relating to mashiach being king should be recited before the beracha on his being a talmid chacham.

What if I can’t see the mashiach?

Now a practical question:

What if you cannot actually see mashiach because of the large throngs that are there, but you know that he is in front of you. Do you recite these berachos anyway?

Two texts, two opinions

It would seem that whether one recites these berachos under such circumstances depends on a dispute among authorities, which is, in turn, dependent on two versions of a passage of Gemara:[xxii]

Version #1: Rav Sheisheis, who was blind, joined others who went to see the king. When the king arrived, Rav Sheisheis began reciting the blessing.

According to this version, Rav Sheisheis recited the beracha for seeing the king, although he could not and did not see him. Thus, someone may recite this beracha to Hashem for “seeing” (i. e., feeling) the honor that the king receives, even though he does not actually see the king himself.[xxiii]

However, there is another version of this text, which reads as follows:

Rav Sheisheis, who was blind, joined others who went to see the king. When the king arrived, Rav Sheisheis began blessing the king.

What is the difference between the two versions? According to the second version, Rav Sheisheis blessed the king, meaning he gave him an appropriate greeting, but there is no evidence that he recited the beracha on seeing a king, since he could not see him. It is very likely that one may not recite these two berachos unless one actually sees a king or a talmid chacham; it is insufficient just to be aware of his presence.[xxiv]

Conclusion

In conclusion, there may a total of as many as eight special berachos to recite when mashiach arrives, in the following order.

  1. When we first hear from a reliable source the good news of mashiach’s arrival, we will recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam hatov vehameitiv.
  2. When we see the huge throngs of Jews assembled to greet him, which will no doubt number at least 600,000 people, we will recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam chacham harazim.”
  3. When we see the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash or rebuilt shullen or Batei Medrash, one should recite, “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam matziv gvul almanah.” Theoretically, one might recite this beracha before the beracha chacham harazim, if one sees the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash before one sees the huge throngs.
  4. When we actually see the mashiach, we will recite “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av.”
  5. Immediately after reciting this beracha, we will recite the beracha “Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam shechalak meichachmaso lirei’av.” According to some poskim, one may recite these last two berachos when aware that mashiach is nearby, even if one cannot see him.
  6. When one actually sees mashiach, one should recite shehecheyanu.
  7. -8. According to Rav Chayim Felaggi, a Yom Tov will be established to commemorate mashiach’s arrival, and on that holiday we will again recite shehecheyanu, and a longer beracha mentioning some of the details of the miraculous events of his arrival. This beracha will close with the words Baruch Attah Hashem ga’al Yisrael.

Now that we have completed our discussion and review of these halachos, let us daven hard that we soon have the opportunity to recite these berachos!

 

[i]  Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 11

[ii] Rashi, Sukkah 41a; Yerushalmi, Maaser Sheini 5:2 and Meleches Shelomoh ad loc.

[iii]  Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 12

[iv]  Berachos 58a

[v] Berachos 58a; Tur and Shulchan Aruch 224; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 10:11, who records a different text for these brachos

[vi] Avudraham, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 224

[vii] Minchas Shelomoh 1:91:27

[viii] Shu’t Teshuvah Mei’Ahavah (2:237)

[ix] Berachos 58a

[x] Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 224:5

[xi] Rashi Berachos 58a

[xii] Berachos 58b and Tosafos ad loc.

[xiii] Berachos 54a

[xiv] Berachos 59b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 222:1

[xv] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:3, 5

[xvi] Berachos 58b

[xvii] Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 224; Maharsha, Berachos 58b; Shu’t Har Tzvi #84; cf. Magen Avraham 224:8

[xviii]  Shu’t Lev Chayim 2:42

[xix] Berachos 58b

[xx] Mishnah, Horiyos 13a

[xxi] Berachos 10a

[xxii] Berachos 58a

[xxiii] Magen Avraham 224:6

[xxiv] Elyah Rabbah 224:6




Saying Amen to My Own Beracha

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

Question #1:

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

Question #2:

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

Question #3:

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

Answer:

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

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

Why Bonei Yerushalayim?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we rule?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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