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.

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Since Rosh Chodesh falls on motza’ei Shabbos, I thought it appropriate to discuss:

Do I say Yaaleh Veyavo, Retzei or both?

Question #1: Is it Shabbos versus Rosh Chodesh?

“When Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, do I say Yaaleh Veyavo in bensching at seudah shelishis?”

Question #2: Why is this night of Chanukah different from all other nights?

“Chanukah begins this motza’ei Shabbos. If I finish seudah shelishis after nightfall, do I include Al Hanissim in bensching?”

Introduction

When we recite birchas hamazon on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim, we include special prayers to commemorate the holiday: on Shabbos, a passage beginning with the word Retzei; on Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed and Rosh Chodesh, the opening words are Yaaleh Veyavo; and on Chanukah and Purim, Al Hanissim.

In a different article, I discussed whether one recites these additions when one’s meal was divided between a holiday and a weekday – i.e., one ate part of his meal on the holiday and part before or after; or when the change of date transpired between the eating of the meal and the bensching. Does one recite the special addition to commemorate the holiday when this happens, or does one omit it? We discovered that there are several opinions as to what to do. These are the earliest opinions that I found:

  1. When one bensches

The Rosh rules that one recites the version of birchas hamazon appropriate to when one bensches, regardless as to when one ate the meal. In his opinion, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall does not recite Retzei. Similarly, one whose Purim seudah ends after Purim does not recite Al Hanissim. The Rosh also holds that someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

  1. The beginning of the meal

The Maharam, as understood by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan, maintains that the text of the bensching is established according to what was correct when the meal began. Therefore, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, since his meal began on Shabbos. (There is an exception – if he did something to declare that Shabbos is over, such as reciting havdalah, davening maariv, or even simply answering borchu, he does not recite Retzei any more, as it is therefore inconsistent to mention Shabbos in bensching.)

  1. All of the above

The Maharam, as understood by the Taz, contends that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. Thus, one who finished seudah shelishis after nightfall recites Retzei, and someone who completed a meal before Rosh Chodesh and bensches after it is dark should recite Yaaleh Veyavo.

The halachic conclusion

The halachic consensus regarding someone who began his meal on Shabbos or Purim and continued it into the night is that one recites Retzei or Al Hanissim, following the position of the Maharam and not the Rosh.

Conflicting prayers

The topic of our current article adds a new aspect to this question – what to do when Rosh Chodesh or Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos, and seudah shelishis started on Shabbos and was completed on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. According to the Rosh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, whether or not one ate on Rosh Chodesh or on Chanukah. However, the consensus of halachic opinion is that the Maharam’s opinion is accepted, in this topic, over that of the Rosh. According to those who understand that the Maharam ruled that one should always recite the text of birchas hamazon appropriate to the beginning of the meal, one should recite Retzei. Yet, many authorities follow the second interpretation of the Maharam mentioned above, that one adds the special prayer if either the meal began on the holiday or one is bensching on the holiday. What complicates our question is that there may be a requirement to recite both Retzei and either Yaaleh Veyavo or Al Hanissim, yet mentioning both in the same bensching might be contradictory in this instance, since the holiday begins after Shabbos ends. As we will soon see, whether or not this is a problem is, itself, debated by the authorities.

The earliest authority that I found who discusses this predicament is the Bach (end of Orach Chayim, 188). Regarding what to recite when seudah shelishis continues into Rosh Chodesh, he concludes that one should say Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo, because the beginning of a meal determines the exact text of its birchas hamazon. As I mentioned above, this is precisely the way the Bach understands the Maharam’s position – that the proper bensching is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Since the halacha follows the Maharam’s position, the Bach comfortably rules according to his understanding of the Maharam, that one recites Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

The Magen Avraham (188:18; 419:1) analyzes the issue differently from the way the Bach does. First, he considers the possibility that one can recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is based on his understanding of the Maharam’s position that ending a meal on Rosh Chodesh or a different festival is reason to recite the holiday additions, even if the meal started on a weekday. However, the Magen Avraham concludes that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo in this instance, because this is an inherent contradiction: If it is already Rosh Chodesh, it is no longer Shabbos, and if it is still Shabbos, it is not yet Rosh Chodesh. Since this is now a conundrum, the Magen Avraham concludes that one should follow the Rosh’s opinion, that one recites whatever is appropriate to be said at this moment, which means to recite only Yaaleh Veyavo. Magen Avraham contends that this practice is followed only when one ate bread on Rosh Chodesh. If he did not eat bread on Rosh Chodesh, then he should say only Retzei, following the Maharam’s opinion that the special prayers are determined by the beginning of the meal.

Chanukah on motza’ei Shabbos

The Magen Avraham also rules that there is a difference in halachah between Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah. When Chanukah begins on motza’ei Shabbos and seudah shelishis extended into the beginning of Chanukah, he rules that one should recite only Retzei and not Al Hanissim, even if he ate bread on Chanukah.

Why is Chanukah different from all other nights?

The Magen Avraham explains that, whereas when reciting Yaaleh Veyavo on a weekday Rosh Chodesh bensching is required, reciting Al Hanissim in bensching of a weekday Chanukah is technically not required, but optional. Therefore, when his meal began on Shabbos (which was as yet not Chanukah) and he is, therefore, required to recite Retzei, even if he continued the meal into Chanukah and ate bread then, the optional addition of Al Hanissim does not cancel the requirement to recite Retzei.

More opinions

Thus far, we have seen two opinions concerning what to do for the bensching of a seudah shelishis that extended into Rosh Chodesh that begins on motza’ei Shabbos:

(1) The Bach, that one should recite Retzei and not Yaaleh Veyavo.

(2) The Magen Avraham, that if he ate bread on motza’ei Shabbos he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo, but otherwise he should recite Retzei.

A third position is that, once it is Rosh Chodesh, one should recite Yaaleh Veyavo and not Retzei (Maharash of Lublin, quoted by Shelah and Taz 188:7). The Maharash maintains that since at the time he bensches it is Rosh Chodesh, the requirement to recite Yaaleh Veyavo is primary and preempts the requirement to recite Retzei, which he considers to be secondary, since it is no longer Shabbos.

Why not both?

The Taz (188:7) disagrees with all the above-mentioned positions, challenging the assumption that one cannot recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. He concludes that since Yaaleh Veyavo is recited after Retzei there is no contradiction, since Rosh Chodesh begins after Shabbos ends. Therefore, one who ate on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh should recite both additions.

To sum up, someone whose meal began on Shabbos and is bensching on Rosh Chodesh, should:

  • recite Yaaleh Veyavo, according to both the opinion of the Rosh and that of the Maharash,.
  • recite Retzei, according to the opinion shared by the Bach and the Aruch Hashulchan.
  • recite both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo, according to the conclusion of the Taz,.

According to the ruling of the Magen Avraham, if he ate bread after Rosh Chodesh arrived, he should recite Yaaleh Veyavo. If he did not, he should recite Retzei.

Rabbi, what should I do?

The Mishnah Berurah (188:33), when recording what to do, implies that one should follow the position of the Magen Avraham. He then mentions the Taz as an alternative approach – that one should say both Retzei and Yaaleh Veyavo. This is consistent with the Mishnah Berurah’s general approach of following the Magen Avraham, except when the latter’s position is opposed by most later authorities.

The Aruch Hashulchan, on the other hand, concludes neither as the Magen Avraham nor the Taz, but that what one recites is always determined by the beginning of the meal. Therefore, in this situation, he rules to recite Retzei and omit Yaaleh Veyavo, regardless of whether one ate on Rosh Chodesh.

Since there are many conflicting positions as to which additions to recite when Rosh Chodesh begins on motza’ei Shabbos, many people avoid eating bread after nightfall. They eat all the bread that they intend to eat towards the beginning of the meal, and upon completing the seudah, recite bensching including Retzei and omitting Yaaleh Veyavo. This approach follows the majority of halachic authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Aruch Hashulchan, Mishnah Berurah [according to his primary approach]), although it runs counter to the opinions of the Maharash and the Taz. Those who want to avoid any question recite birchas hamazon before the arrival of Rosh Chodesh.

Conclusion

In our daily lives, our hearts should be full with thanks to Hashem for all He does for us. Birchas hamazon provides a regular opportunity to elicit deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done in the past and does in the present. All the more so should we should acknowledge Hashem’s help on special holidays.

 

 

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