Siman 167:1-5 Breaking Bread

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #100: Simanim 167:1-5


By Rabbi Asher Meir








The source for the halakha concerning where to break a loaf of bread is an aggada in Perek Chelek (the eleventh chapter of the gemara Sandhedrin):


Rav Ashi reached the [story of the] three [wicked] kings [Yerovam, Achav and Menashe, of whom the mishna says they have no place in the World to Come]. He said, tomorrow we will begin with our colleagues. Menashe came and appeared to him in a dream. He said, you [dare to] call us your and your father's colleagues? Say where you need to begin [eating from] ha-motzi! He replied, I don't know. He [Menashe] said, you haven't even learned where to take the motzi from, and you call us your colleagues? He replied, teach me, and I will repeat it in your name in the yeshiva. He said, from the place where the cooking creates a crust. He said, since you were so wise, why did you worship avoda zara? He said, if you had been there you would have lifted up your hem and run after me.


The next day he [Rav Ashi] said to the students, Let us begin with our masters. (Sanhedrin 102b)


This passage teaches us to have proper respect for our ancestors and for the leaders of the Jewish people, even if they are wicked.  It also teaches us not to judge people until we reach their place. (But Maharsha says that this respect applies only to Menashe, since there is an opinion in the mishna that he repented and therefore does have a place in the World to Come.) 


Indirectly, the passage quoted above teaches us where to take the first piece of bread after the berakha (blessing).  The commentators ask why Menashe chose specifically this halakha to challenge Rav Ashi. One answer would be that this law is dependent on custom. One who is close to the source of the mesora (tradition) knows how to break bread without any learning at all, because it is universal practice. But once this custom was lost, no amount of learning could restore it. The message is that any scholar from earlier generations is our master and not our colleague, because he preserves part of the mesora, which is slowly being eroded.


The answer that Menashe gives, that the blessing principally applies to the part of the bread where it first begins to bake, also hints at the primacy of seniority.




Rav Chiya bar Ashi said, we say "ha-motzi" [even] on a crumbled bread in a bowl [which could not possibly be considered whole bread - unlike a slice which has at least some integrity]. And he disputes Rebbe Chiya, for Rebbe Chiya said that the berakha has to conclude together with the bread. [The slicing of the bread should be completed only as the blessing is completed.] Rava attacked this: Why should crumbs be different [from regular bread]? Crumbs [don't qualify for "ha-motzi"] because when the blessing is completed the bread is already cut up. On regular bread also when the [blessing] is finished, it is finished over cut bread! Rather, said Rava, first make the blessing and only then break bread. (Berakhot 39a-b)


In short, Rav Chiya bar Ashi permits the slicing to be completed BEFORE BEGINNING the blessing, Rebbe Chiya wants it to be completed WHILE CONCLUDING the blessing, and Rava requires the slicing to begin AFTER CONCLUDING the blessing.


It is not entirely clear from the gemara (and the major Rishonim) if Rebbe Chiya PERMITS slicing during the berakha, because when we bless on a whole loaf the beginning of the berakha is decisive; or whether he REQUIRES slicing during the berakha - perhaps to minimize the delay between blessing and eating. (This delay has two aspects: one is the TIME it takes to slice the bread - which is actually very minimal. The other is the DISTRACTION - the need to turn one's attention from eating to cutting.)


The gemara concludes that halakha is according to Rava, so the bread should remain whole until the end of the berakha. But according to most Rishonim, "whole" does not mean "intact" - except for lechem mishneh (the two loaves of bread) on Shabbat. This means that it is permissible to cut the bread partially, stopping short of separating a slice; and since this is permissible, it is required, in order to minimize the delay.




So what after all is the definition of whole? The SA gives one, based on the Rosh. In the Beit Yosef he suggests that the source of this definition is a mishna in Tevul Yom (3:1). The mishna explains that if part of the food is touched in a way that renders it tamei (defiled), the entire food is defiled. It then goes on to explain:


Food which fell apart but which is still partially connected: Rebbe Meir says, if he grasps the larger part and the rest comes with it, then it [the smaller part] is like it [the larger part]. Rebbe Yehuda says: if he grasps the smaller part and the rest comes with it, then it [the larger part] is like it [the smaller part - but the opposite is not true]. Rebbe Nechemia says, by the tahor part [if one grasps the tahor part and the rest comes with it]. The Sages say, by the tamei part [if one grasps the tamei part and the rest comes with it]. [(Tevul Yom 3:1)


We have seen other examples of "one-way" attachments. For instance, in siman 59:16 we learned that if a small room is completely open into a large room, then a man in the small room can join nine in the large room to create a minyan. On the other hand, if there are nine in the small room then one man in the large room doesn't join them. Here, the larger part of the food that "drags" the other part with it is like the large room, and the smaller part of food which is dragged along but which can't drag the large part (since it would break off) is like the small room.


What is the basis for the dispute between Rebbe Nechemia and the Chakhamim (Sages)? Here is one approach. When there is attachment (chibur) for the purposes of tuma, then if something tamei touches one part, the other part which is attached to it will be defiled. This can be for one of two reasons:

1. The untouched part is distinct, but the tuma "flows" into it via the chibur. (This would be parallel to the single person praying in the small room "flowing" into the big room.)

2. The chibur makes the two parts into one - when I touched one part, I touched the other too. (This would be parallel to the small room being considered part of the big one.)


According to the first approach, I need the untouched part to appropriate the tuma of the touched part, to draw it out. This makes the untouched part primary, giving us Rebbe Nechemia's rule that if the tahor - the untouched - part can lift up the tamei part, then there is chibur and the entire piece is tamei. According to the second approach, I need the touched part to subsume the untouched one. This fits in better with the Chakhamim, who say that if the tamei - the touched - part can lift up the tahor part, then the entire piece is tamei. (In the case of the minyan, both approaches give the rule of the Shulchan Arukh.)


The Rosh concluded that the loaf is whole if the sliced part is capable of supporting the other part. We may ask, why not vice versa?  


The simplest answer is that since we are concerned with whether the loaf is whole or not, it is necessary for us to be stringent. We can be sure that the loaf is whole only if the little part supports the big part. If this is the case, then if by chance I wanted to take a gigantic slice which is most of the loaf, then I would require the part I DON'T eat to support the "slice."  (Rebbe Nechemia and the Sages argue about which part of the food is the dominant part. This criterion is not applicable in our case, because we are concerned simply with whether the loaf is two parts or one, and not with which part is dominant.) 


Alternatively, the Rosh may have thought that the relevant part of the loaf is that slice that I intend to eat. The loaf is considered to be whole if this slice subsumes and draws with it the part of the loaf that I am NOT eating right away. According to this approach, the rule of the SA is always appropriate. (There is another place in which the Rosh adopts a relatively lenient approach regarding the wholeness of a loaf - see Sha'arei Teshuva OC 274:1.)





The portion should be generous but not gluttonous. There are two main sources:


Rebbe Yochanan said in the name of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai: The host breaks bread and the guest says grace. The host breaks bread so that he should break bread generously, the guest says grace to give him an opportunity to bless the host. (Berakhot 46a)


[On Shabbat] Rebbe Zeira used to break off a slice big enough for the whole meal. Ravina said to Rav Ashi, doesn't that look like gluttony? He replied, since all week long he doesn't do this, but only now [on Shabbat], it doesn't look gluttonous. (Berakhot 39b)





A beraita records that Rabanan (the Rabbis) adopted the wording "HA-motzi lechem min ha-aretz" for the blessing on bread and Rebbe Nechemia adopted the wording "motzi lechem min ha-aretz."


"Motzi" alone refers to the past, as in the verse "El motziam mi-mitzrayim" ("God who brought them out of Egypt") (Bamidbar 23:22). "HA-motzi" can also be past as in "HA-motzi lekha mayim mitzur ha-chalamish" ("Who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock") (Devarim 8:15). Rebbe Nechemia thinks that ha-motzi can also mean present/continuous as in "HA-motzi etkhem mitachat sivlot mitzrayim" ("Who is bringing you out from under the Egyptian subjugation") (Shemot 6:7 - uttered before the Exodus took place), but Rabanan view this as a "future perfect." (What we call "past" and "future" tenses in Biblical Hebrew are actually "perfect" and "imperfect" tenses. The "past" tense can actually be "future perfect" - "will have been," as we just explained. And the "future" can be "past imperfect" - "was then yet to be," as in Bereishit 2:5.)


The gemara concludes that even though "motzi" alone is acceptable according to both opinions, we rule decisively like Rabanan and we should say "ha-motzi" (Berakhot 38a-b). (The gemara implies that when halakha is decisively concluded in favor of one approach, it is actually better NOT to conform to the rejected approach as well, even when this is possible. By conforming ONLY to the accepted ruling, our actions demonstrate how the halakha was decided.)


The Yerushalmi (Berakhot 6:1) gives a complementary reason: if we say "motzi," then the final "m" of "ha-olam" can run into the "m" at the beginning of "motzi."




There are two reasons for having salt on the table.


1. If there is no salt on the table, then the bread is not completely fit to eat. Clearly it is best to make the blessing when the bread is completely ready for consumption. According to this criterion, if the bread is already flavored, then no salt is necessary. This is learned from the following passage:


Rava bar Shmuel said in the name of Rebbe Chiya: it is forbidden to break bread until everyone has salt or relish in front of him. Once Rava bar Shmuel visited the house of the Exilarch, they brought him bread and he immediately broke bread [blessed and ate]. They asked him, have you retracted your ruling? He said Such [bread] doesn't need flavoring. (Berakhot 40a)


2. The table is likened to an altar. The source is mentioned in the MB (s.k. 30). This criterion requires salt even if the bread is tasty, but it doesn't demand that each diner should have his own.


There is a bit of a paradox in this second reason, because one of the main reasons mentioned in the Rishonim for having salt on the altar is - because the altar is like a table! (See Tosafot Menachot 20a, s.v. "sheken.")  But ultimately, the message is the same. Human eating can be an elevating experience that can serve as a model for God's service. This is true if it is done in an elevated and dignified way. The salt makes the table more dignified and also reminds us of the resemblance to the Temple altar.