Shiur #10: Perusa shel Beracha

  • Rav Yair Kahn

(The piece of bread over which the Berakha was recited)


1. Berakhot 39b: "Heivi'u lifneihem … boshesh."

2. Tosafot, s.v. hakol modim; Tosafot, Pesachim 115a, s.v. hadar.

3. Yerushalmi Berakhot 6:1: "R. Zrikan amar R"Z ba-i…  levatala"; Tosafot 39b, s.v. vihilkheta.

4. Tosefta Berakhot 4:1.

5. Berakhot 48b, "Ein li ela le-acharav … hakru'im"; Rashi, s.v. ki.



1. Why is it difficult to apply the principle of "Ein osin mitzvot chavilot chavilot" to making a birkat ha-motzi and akhilat matza on the same matza?

2. What is the explanation of the law found in the Yerushalmi?

3. What is difficult with Rashi’s commentary on the Gemara in Berakhot 48a?



The Gemara in Berakhot 39b states: "It has been stated: If pieces and whole loaves are set before one, Rav Huna says: The blessing can be said over the pieces, and this serves also for the whole loaves. Rabbi Yochanan says: The religious duty is better performed if the blessing is said over the whole one. If, however, a broken piece of wheat bread and a whole loaf of barley bread are set before one, all agree that the blessing is said over the piece of wheat bread, and this serves also for the whole loaf of barley bread."


Let us try to understand this dispute. Surely the berakha relates both to the broken piece of bread and to the whole loaf, and for that reason one is permitted to partake of both. Why then is it preferable to recite the berakha on the more important of the two?


            We find a similar case below (40b): "If one has several varieties before him, Rabbi Yehuda says: If there is among them something of the seven species, he recites the blessing over that. But the Sages say: He may recite the blessing over any species that he pleases." Regarding this the Gemara states: "Ulla said: Opinions differ only in the case where the blessings [over the several varieties] are the same; in such a case Rabbi Yehuda maintains that belonging to the seven kinds is of more importance, while the Rabbis maintain that being better liked is of more importance. But where they have not all the same blessing, all agree that a blessing is to be said first on one variety and then on another" (Berakhot 41a). We see then that one is required to recite the berakha over the more important species. But this passage also requires explanation.


            In the course of its discussion regarding the Amoraic controversy, whether it is preferable to recite the berakha over the whole loaf or the broken piece of bread, the Gemara relates to the matza eaten at the seder on the night of Pesach: "Rav Pappa said: All admit that on Pesach one puts the broken piece under the whole one and breaks [them together]. What is the reason? Scripture speaks of 'Bread of affliction'"  (Berakhot 39b). Tosafot comment (s.v., ha-kol modim): "Since the verse mentions 'bread of affliction,' he must place the broken piece under the whole one, so that it should appear as if he is reciting the berakha over the broken matza. In fact, however, he recites the blessing over the whole one, and over the broken piece he recites the "al akhilat matza" blessing, and he wraps the two together and eats from the twotogether, so that it should appear as if he had recited the blessing over the broken matza. This is the customary practice. But one should not recite both "ha-motzi" and "al akhilat matza" on the broken matza, for he would then be performing mitzvot in bundles." In other words, if one would recite "ha-motzi" and "al akhilat matza" over the same matza, he would be performing mitzvot in bundles. One should, therefore, recite "ha-motzi" on the whole matza and "al akhilat matza" on the broken one.


            This is the position of Rav Yosef Tov Elem. It is found in Tosafot in Pesachim (115a, s.v. hadar) with respect to the eating of maror: "Rav Yosef Tov Elem writes in his siddur: Why do the other vegetables come first? In order to exempt the maror from the blessing appropriate to it." Tosafot's source is the piyyut "Elohei ha-Ruchot," found in our siddurim in the yotzer for Shabbat ha-Gadol. In this piyyut, Rav Yosef Tov Elem records the laws of Pesach in a rhymed poem. Regarding karpas, he explains: "Why do the other vegetables come first? In order to exempt the maror eaten for the mitzva from the blessing appropriate to it, and so as not to recite two blessings as one over drinking or eating, and it is impossible to eat or drink as one when his stomach is already full." He continues with respect to matza: "And similarly regarding the two matzot, we exempt from one loaf to the other, because one should not recite two blessings. He recites a blessing over this one and [a blessing] over the other one, and does not eat until he has completed the two blessings."


            In our Tosafot, however, this position is rejected. "But it seems to me that this is a birkat nehenin, and so they should not be called 'bundles'. For in the case of kiddush, we recite [the blessing of] kiddush and the blessing over wine." In other words, according to Tosafot, the problem of performing mitzvot in bundles should not apply in this situation. What they are saying seems to make sense. The problem with performing mitzvot in bundles is that the person appears to be killing two birds with one stone. He demonstrates that he regards the mitzvot as a burden that he is in a hurry to relieve himself of (see Rashi, Sota 8a). But when a person recites the "ha-motzi"blessing over the matza which he will use to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza, he fulfills only one mitzva. It is only that prior to fulfilling the mitzva, he must first recite a birkat nehenin, i.e., the "ha-motzi" blessing. To prove this point, Tosafot cite the example of kiddush, where two blessings are recited over the one cup of wine, a birkat nehenin and also the blessing of kiddush, and this does not fall into the category of performing mitzvot in bundles. Thus, the position of Rav Yosef Tov Elem requires further study.


            In order to understand his position, let us first consider the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 6:1) cited in Tosafot on the beginning of the page (s.v. ve-hilkhata): "Some adduce proof that one must conclude the berakha before breaking the bread from what Rabbi Chiyya teaches in the Yerushalmi that one should only recite the berakha over bread when he breaks the bread. This is because were he to break the bread before the berakha, perhaps the broken piece would fall from his hand and he would be unable to eat another piece that he would break off without [another] berakha. But rather he would have to recite another berakha, and there would be a blessing recited in vain. But if he has to recite the berakha on the whole loaf and he cannot break the bread before [reciting] the berakha, then if the broken piece falls, he does not have to recite a blessing on another piece, because it is exempted by the first berakha." According to the plain meaning of the Yerushalmi, if a person recites a berakha on a piece of bread, and he eats from it, he can eat other pieces without reciting another berakha. But if the piece of bread over which he had recited the berakha fell before he ate from it, he has to recite a second berakha before eating another piece. However way you look at it, this position is difficult. If he had already intended to eat the second piece when he recited the first berakha, why must he recite a second berakha if the first piece fell to the ground? And if he had no intention to eat the second piece, why is he not required to recite a second berakha even if the first piece did not fall to the ground?


            We see from the Yerushalmi that there is a difference between the piece of bread over which the person actually recited the berakha and the other pieces of bread that are exempted with that berakha. This also follows from what Rav says (40a): "[If the host says to his guests:] 'Take, the blessing has been said, take, the blessing has been said,' he [the host] need not say the blessing [again]." Rashi explains: "If someone breaks the bread before eating of it and holds it out before the person next to him, saying: 'Take of the perusat ha-berakha [thepiece over which the berakha was recited],' then even if he speaks in the meantime, he need not say the blessing again … This talk is a requirement of the berakha, and is not a hefsek [a disqualifying interruption]." We see then that the piece of bread over which a berakha has been recited bears the special designation of "perusat ha-berakha."


            And furthermore, we see from Rashi that eating from this piece of bread involves an additional fulfillment of the berakha, such that speech in this regard is a requirement of the berakha and does not constitute an interruption. This also follows from the words of Rabbi Yochanan: "Even if he said: 'Bring salt, bring relish,' the blessing need not be repeated. If he said: 'Mix fodder for the oxen, mix fodder for the oxen,' he must repeat the blessing." Rashi explains: "Even if he says, 'Bring salt,' he need not recite another blessing, because that too is necessary for the berakha, that the perusat ha-berakha be eaten with savor." In other words, eating the perusat ha-berakha with savor is also an additional fulfillment of the berakha, and therefore asking for salt does not constitute a hefsek. But if the person says, "Mix the fodder," he must recite another berakha. For even though a person is forbidden to eat before feeding his animals, such a statement is not an additional fulfillment of the berakha. Moreover, it stands to reason that even Rav Sheshet who maintains that one who says, "Mix the fodder," is not required to recite a second berakha, agrees that this statement is not a fulfillment of the berakha. Nevertheless, he maintains that it is not considered a hefsek, because of the prohibition to eat before feeding one's animals.


            We have already seen that a birkat nehenin is what permits one to derive pleasure from this world (see shi'ur no. 1). Yet we must still explain how this allowance works. It may be suggested that the very recital of the berakha, which attributes the food to the Creator of the universe, suffices to allow the enjoyment. It may, however, be argued that the recital of the berakha in and of itself can not allow an activity that is entirely material. By reciting a berakha over a particular item, that item is designated a "perusat berakha. Eating that item is then no longer regarded as a physiological activity of deriving pleasure from this world, but rather an act of Divine service. Similarly, we find in the Tosefta (Berakhot 4:1): "A person must not eat anything before reciting a blessing, as the verse states: 'The earth and its entire contents belong to the Lord.' One who derives enjoyment from this world without [reciting] a blessing is guilty of a trespass, until it becomes allowed to him through performance of all the mitzvot. A person should only use his face, hands, or feet to honor his Maker, as the verse states: 'The Lord has made everything for His own purpose' (Mishlei 16:4)." It seems from here that when a person recites a berakha, his act of eating is transformed into an act performed in honor of his Maker, and so trespass is no longer pertinent.


            According to this we can understand why Rav Ami and Rav Asi were careful to recite "ha-motzi" over the bread that they had used for an eiruv, saying that "because one mitzva had been performed with it, let him do with it another mitzva." We see then that the mitzva is not fulfilled only when one recites a blessing, but also when eating the bread itself. Thus, we understand the position of Rav and Rabbi Yochanan, who claimed that eating perusat ha-berakha is an additional fulfillment in the berakha. This is also the way to understand why one should recite a berakha over the food that is more important.


            According to this explanation, the Yerushalmi's position is clear. One is allowed to derive enjoyment from this world after reciting a berakha, because the berakha sanctifies the act of enjoyment and turns it into an act of Divine service. This is because the berakha attaches itself to the object over which it had been recited. Only after he eats the piece over which he had said the blessing is a person permitted to continue and derive personal enjoyment from this world. If, however, the perusat ha-berakha fell from his hand, he may not eat from a different piece, even if at the time of the berakha he had in mind to eat more than one piece.


            According to the explanation we have offered, we can understand the position of Rav Yosef Tov Elem as well. If a person recites the birkat nehenin on the matza to be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzva to eat matza, the eating itself constitutes a dual fulfillment – the mitzva of eating matza and eating the perusat ha-berakha. Thus, there arouses the problem of performing mitzvot in bundles. In contrast, when a person drinks the kiddush wine, he fulfills only one thing with his drinking, namely, drinking the cup over which a berakha had been recited. But the mitzva of kiddush is fulfilled not when he drinks the wine, but when he recites the kiddush.


            The Gemara below (48b) brings a source for birkot nehenin from a verse in I Shmuel: "This accounts for the grace after [meals]; from where do I learn that a blessing must be said before [food]?… R. Natan says: This is not necessary. For see, it says: 'As soon as you be come into the city you shall straightway find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat; for the people will not eat until he comes, because he blesses the sacrifice, and afterwards they eat that be bidden.'" See Rashi who explains: "It teaches you that a berakha must be recited before eating. Over the sacrifice, he recites: 'Blessed… who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to eat the sacrifice.' And where did He command us? 'You shall eat the meat' (Devarim 12:27)." Rashi's comment is astonishing. Surely we are dealing here with birkot nehenin! Why then does Rashi explain that the verse relates to a birkat ha-mitzva (a blessing recited prior to the performance of a mitzva)? (See Maharsha.)


            So too we must understand what Rashi writes that the mitzva to eat peace-offerings is derived from the verse, "You shall eat the meat." See his commentary to Pesachim (59a, s.v. bi-she'ar yemot ha-shana), that the mitzvah to eat the meat of peace-offerings is derived from the verse, "And they shall eat those things with which atonement was made" (Shemot 29:33): "As it is written: 'And they eat those things with which atonement was made.' This implies that eating [the meat of] sacrifices is a positive commandment, both those [parts] eaten by priests and those eaten by ordinary Jews." This is also implied in Rashi's commentary to Pesachim 92a (s.v. lo).


            It would seem then that according to Rashi the positive commandment to eat the meat of sacrifices is indeed learned from the verse, "And they eat those things with which atonement was made." But this mitzva relates only to those sacrifices that achieve atonement; the person is commanded to eat from the meat of the sacrifice that leads to his atonement. But there are peace-offerings that are not intended to achieve atonement. Surely in the wilderness, one was forbidden to eat non-consecrated meat. One who wished to eat meat had to come to the Mishkan and offer a peace-offering. The verse, "You shall eat the meat," relates to the eating of non-consecrated meat in Eretz Israel: "When the Lord your God shall enlarge your border, as he has promised you, and you shall say, I will eat meat, because you long to eat meat; you may eat to your heart's desire. If the place which the Lord your God has chosen to put His name there be too far from you, then you shall kill of your herd and of your flock, which the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates to your heart's desire… Only the holy things which you have, and your vows, you shall take and go to the place which the Lord shall choose… and the blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord your God, and you shall eat the meat" (Devarim 12:20-27). It stands to reason, therefore, that the verse, "You shall eat the meat," is not dealing with one who offers a sacrifice to achieve atonement, but rather, one who, despite the distance from the Sanctuary, offers a sacrifice in order to eat the meat in holiness. For this reason, the mitzva derived from the verse, "And they shall eat those things with which atonement was made," does not apply.


In general, eating meat, more-so than other foods, is reflective of eating in order to fulfill one's carnal desires. It was meat that was demanded by the children of Israel in the wilderness, who were unsatisfied by the more spiritual sustenance derived from the manna (see Bemidbar ch. 11). Therefore, it is crucial that man redeem the act of eating meat. It is for this reason, that basar taava (meat of passion) was prohibited in the wilderness. Through sacrifice, the act of eating meat was elevated to a worship performance and thereby redeemed.   


            According to this, it may be argued that the commandment to eat the meat of a peace-offering derived from "You shall eat the meat," does not constitute a separate mitzva. Rather, through the offering of the peace-offering, the eating of non-consecrated meat is transformed into Divine service. The berakha that is recited joins with the sacrificial act to sanctify the eating of the meat. Thus, Rashi derives birkot nehenin from the birkat ha-mitzva on the eating of peace-offerings, because that berakha does not relate to the positive commandment derived from the verse, "those things with which atonement was made," but rather it is a berakha the purpose of which is to transform the eating of meat into Divine service. Thus it is an extreme example of birkhot hanehenin in general, which come to elevate the physiological act of eating to an act of worship.


(Translated by David Strauss)