Shiur #33: Birkat She-Hakol

  • Rav David Brofsky



In previous shiurim, we studied the laws of Birkat Ha-Motzi and Birkot Ha-Peirot. We discovered two different models of blessings: The Birkot Ha-Peirot, including the more general Borei Peri Ha-Adama and the more specific Borei Peri Ha-Etz, relate to foods that grow from the ground. Birkat Ha-Motzi, which is said before eating bread and before consuming grain products upon which one established a meal (kevi’at se’uda), seems to relate to the “meal,” and not necessarily to the specific food that was eaten. Indeed, Birkat Ha-Mazon, the blessing recited after a meal, is said after eating a “se’uda” before which one says Ha-Motzi.


In addition, we discussed two other unique blessings. The blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot is said before eating foods made from the five grains, which provide sustenance. The berakha of Borei Peri Ha-Gafen was established to be recited before drinking a special and important beverage – wine.


The Talmud teaches that there is another blessing, She-Hakol, which is recited over almost all other foods. This week we will discuss this berakha and when it is said and attempt to understand the nature of this specific blessing.  


When is She-Hakol Recited?


            We can identify two scenarios in which the blessing of She-Hakol is said. On the one hand, the mishna says:


Over anything which does not grow from the earth, one says: “She-Hakol Niheyah Bi-Devaro” (“by whose word all things exist”).


Therefore, one says the Birkat She-Hakol before eating meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese.


            Why isn’t there a specific blessing for these foods, such as “the Creator of the animals” or “the creator of their products”?  Some suggest that the specific berakhot relate to food that was given to man at the time of the creation of the world. Meat, however, wasn’t intended to be eaten until after the flood, and this “afterthought” is reflected in the blessings, which represent an almost ideal existence.


On the other hand, the Talmud and the Rishonim mention other cases in which one recites the blessing of She-Hakol, even when eating fruits and vegetables.


For example, when a food loses its “importance” or is not eaten in its optimal state, the blessing of She-Hakol is said. Therefore, as we saw last week, Shmuel (Berakhot 36a) rules that one should say She-Hakol before eating palm-hearts, even though they are part of a palm tree, as “palms are not planted for the sake of the heart.” Similarly, the Talmud (Berakhot 36a) discusses the proper blessing to be recited over flour. The Rif (Berakhot 25a) rules in accordance with R. Nachman, who rules that one says She-Hakol, and explains that “people are not accustomed to eating flour.”


For the same reason, one recites She-Hakol before eating a raw fruit that is normally eaten cooked (Berakhot 38b). The Shulchan Arukh (205:1; 202:12) rules that when a fruit or vegetable that is not eaten raw, but rather only when cooked, is in fact eaten raw, one says She-Hakol; when eaten cooked, one says Borei Peri Ha-Adama or Ha-Etz. If a fruit or vegetable is eaten raw, but is generally not eaten cooked, one recites Borei Peri Ha-Adama when it is eaten raw and She-Hakol when eaten cooked. (Before a fruit or vegetable that is eaten both when raw and cooked, one always says Borei Peri Ha-Adama or Ha-Etz.) Similarly, the Talmud (Berakhot 38a) teaches that one says She-Hakol before eating date honey and the Shulchan Arukh (202:8) rules that one says She-Hakol before drinking fruit or vegetable juice (except for the liquid extracts from olives and grapes).


In all of these cases, the fruit or vegetable is eaten in an inferior, non-optimal state, and its original blessing is therefore not recited.


Similarly, the Rishonim discuss the proper blessing to be recited before eating a fruit whose original form is no longer distinguishable. Rashi (Berakhot 38a, s.v. trimma) explains that Borei Peri Ha-Etz is still recited on “anything which is crushed a bit and not completely ground.” Rashi implies that if the fruit was completely ground, the proper blessing would not be Borei Peri Ha-Etz, but rather She-Hakol. Based upon the view of Rashi, R. Yisrael Isserlein (1390–1460) rules in his Terumat Ha-Deshen (1:29) that before eating jam made from cherries, one should say the blessing She-Hakol. The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 8:4) disagrees, writing: “Nevertheless, when one crushes dates by hand, removes their pits, and makes them into a substance resembling a dough, one should recite the blessing Borei Peri Ha-Etz.” The Rambam implies that even if the date has completely lost its form, one still says Borei Peri Ha-Etz. The Shulchan Arukh (202:7) rules in accordance with the Rambam. The Rema, however, writes that one should say She-Hakol before eating prune jam. The Bayit Chadash (Bach 202) disagrees with both the Shulchan Arukh and the Rema, and rules that before eating crushed fruit, one says Borei Peri Ha-Etz, but before eating a vegetable that is crushed in a similar matter, one says She-Hakol. In this case, since the food has lost its identity, the original berakha is no longer recited.


            How are we to understand this phenomenon, in which one recites She-Hakol, and not the original or proper blessings, over foods that are eaten in a different state?


The Nature of Birkat She-Hakol


This question may relate to the nature of Birkot Ha-Nehenin, which we discussed last year. What is the nature of these blessings, which are recited before eating food?


 One could suggest that there are two aspects of every birkat ha-nehenin. On the one hand, the gemara (Berakhot 35a) implies that birkot ha-nehenin serve as a “matir,” a formula that permits the eating of food:


Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden to a man to enjoy anything of this world without a blessing, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a benediction, he commits me’ila (misuse of sacred property for secular purpose)… R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: To enjoy anything of this world without a blessing is like violating me’ila, as it says, “The earth and its fullness is the Lord's” (Tehillim 24:1). R. Levi contrasted two texts. It is written, “The earth and its fullness is the Lord's,” and it is also written, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth has He given to the children of men” (Tehillim 115:16). There is no contradiction: In the one case, it is before a blessing has been said; in the other case, after. R. Chanina bar Papa said: To enjoy this world without a blessing is like robbing the Holy One, blessed be He, and the community of Israel. 


This passage, which equates one who eats food without a blessing and one who misuses sacred property or one who steals from God, implies that a berakha permits one to eat food, which otherwise belongs to God.  


            On the other hand, other sources indicate that a birkat ha-nehenin is a birkat ha-shevach, a blessing of praise recited before eating food, and possibly even for each specific food. For example, the verse that the gemara suggested was the Biblical source for reciting birkot ha-nehenin, “the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto the Lord” (Vayikra 19:24), implies that birkot ha-nehenin are a “praise unto the Lord.”


            We might suggest that when foods are eaten in an inferior state or when they are radically changed from their original form, it no longer makes sense to recite a blessing praising their original, natural state. However, it is still prohibited to eat and to derive benefit from the world without reciting a blessing, and therefore one says the blessing of She-Hakol.


            This explanation may help us to understand other interesting positions that appear in the Rishonim. For example, the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 27b, s.v. ani) suggest that before eating less than a ke-zayit, the size of an olive – the minimum amount of food upon which one says a berakha acharona – one says She-Hakol. Although one may view an amount of food smaller than the size of an olive as insignificant and not worthy of a separate blessing praising the specific food, one still may not benefit from this world without first reciting a blessing, and therefore at least the blessing of She-Hakol should be recited. (The halakha is not in accordance with this view.)


Similarly, the Terumat Ha-Deshen (31) suggests that when eating a food that is “tafel,” secondary to another food, and could be exempted by simply recited a blessing over the primary food, one says She-Hakol. There too, while a separate blessing praising this specific food may be unnecessary, one must still say a blessing in order not to benefit from this world without a blessing, and therefore one says the berakha of She-Hakol. (Again, the halakha is not in accordance with this view.)


            This question may also be relevant to case of doubt. What should one do when in doubt regarding a blessing? Some Rishonim (Rif, Berakhot 6a; Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 8:12) rule that the principle of “safek berakhot le-hakel” applies to birkot ha-nehenin. Accordingly, if one is not sure whether or not he needs to recite a blessing at all, he should not recite one. Other Rishonim (Ri, Berakhot 12a, s.v. lo; Me’iri, Berakhot 35a, s.v. vekhol ha-neheneh) disagree and insist that the rule should be “safek berakhot le-chumra.” Accordingly, when in doubt, one must recite the blessing if one wishes to continue to eat. R. Akiva Eiger (Gilyon Ha-Shas, Berakhot 12a) cites the Maharsha (Pesachim 102), who explains that while one can still fulfill a mitzva even without reciting its blessing, one in is not permitted to eat without first say a birkat ha-nehenin; the principle of safek berakhot le-hakel should therefore not apply to birkot ha-nehenin. In other words, these berakhot are not considered to be merely birkot ha-shevach, but rather they “matir” (permit) one to eat. Thus, in case of doubt, one cannot eat without first saying a blessing. The halakha is in accordance with the first view.


At times, one is not sure WHICH blessing to recite. If one accidentally said She-Hakol over, bread, grain products, wine, fruits or vegetables, one has fulfilled his obligation. However, ideally, if one is in doubt whether to say Ha-Etz or Ha-Adama, one should say the more general Ha-Adama (Shulchan Arukh 206:1). When is doubt regarding whether one should say She-Hakol or Ha-Adama, one should say She-Hakol.


The Talmud (Berakhot 35a) teaches that when one does not know which blessing to recite, “He should consult a wise man beforehand, so that he should teach him blessings and he should not violate me’ila.” Therefore, if one is able to discern which blessing to recite, one should not simply say She-Hakol, but rather ask a Torah scholar (Shulchan Arukh 202:24).


According to what we suggested above, this may not only be in order to encourage the proper and precise observance of mitzvot, but also because the blessing of She-Hakol may only serve as a matir, permitting one to benefit from the world, but may not fulfill the second obligation to praise God for the specific wondrous creation which we receive.


Finally, one might suggest that that which grows from the ground is more readily apparent as a creation of God. There are therefore specific blessings for bread, grain products, and fruits, and vegetables. Animals and their by-products are not necessarily viewed as reflective as a creation of God, and therefore the proper blessing is She-Hakol.