Siman 167:6-14 Breaking Bread continued

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #101: Siman 167:6-14


By Rabbi Asher Meir







In general, any speech between making a berakha and the act on which the berakha falls is an interruption and invalidates the berakha, as we learned in siman 25:9 regarding tefillin. However, we learned in 25:10 that if the speech is for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzva, then it is not considered an interruption. A similar principle applies to blessing on food, and the following passage from the gemara discusses what is considered "for the purpose" of the eating:


Rav said: [If the one who made the blessing for bread offers bread to the guests, saying] "Take some of the motzi," he doesn't have to make a new blessing [in order to eat from the bread himself. But if he says] "bring salt," he needs to make a new blessing. And Rebbe Yochanan says, even "bring salt" or "bring spread" doesn't need a new blessing, but "prepare feed for the oxen" does need a blessing. And Rav Sheshet said, even "prepare feed for the oxen" doesn't need a new blessing, for Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, one may not eat before he feeds his animal. (Berakhot 40a)


The SA rules leniently according to Rav Sheshet.




In all the cases mentioned above, the interruption contributes to eating the actual slice on which the blessing was said - to offer it to a guest, to flavor it, or to make it permissible to eat it by taking care of the animals. What if the interruption relates to some other aspect of the meal? Most Rishonim rule stringently that such an interruption obligates a new berakha. However, the Beit Yosef interprets the Rambam as ruling that as long as the interruption is "needed for the meal" as a whole, no new blessing is needed. According to the principle of "safek berakhot lekula" [when there is a doubt as to whether or not to say a blessing, we are lenient and do not say the blessing], we should conduct ourselves according to the Rambam and NOT say a new berakha after such an interruption. This is what the MB writes (s.k. 37).




There is a very fundamental dispute between the SA and Rema in our se'if. The dispute surrounds a ruling of the Rokeach, an important Ashkenazi Rishon.


The Rokeach writes that once the host has eaten some bread, interruption is no longer a problem. There has been no interruption between the blessing of the host and his eating, and if the guests start talking before they are able to eat, they do NOT need to make a new berakha. His proof is that a person may make a berakha in order to give wine to a child, as we do during havdala before Tisha BeAv.


The Beit Yosef wonders at this "proof." In the case discussed by the Rokeach, the blessing of the adult is what permits the wine to the child, and there is no interruption between the blessing FOR the child and the drinking OF the child. But in our case, if a guest speaks after the berakha then there IS an interruption.


It seems from the Rema that he understood the proof of the Rokeach differently. The Rokeach is not drawing attention to the fact that the child has fulfilled his obligation of making a berakha, but rather that the ADULT has fulfilled HIS obligation to hear havdala. Havdala without wine (or the like) is not valid. Even so, if someone else drinks the wine, that is enough to validate my own havdala. Likewise, implies the Rema, making the berakha of "ha-motzi" without eating is invalid, but someone else's eating can "fulfill" my own blessing, making further interruption unproblematic.


The MB points out that almost all of the Acharonim disagree with the Rema. Furthermore, the BH suggests that even the Rokeach never meant to say that the guests may talk before they eat. Rather, perhaps the Rokeach meant that it is permissible for the guests to talk - period. Of course, if they want to eat after they talk, then they will have to make a berakha. There is no question of a wasted berakha, because the host's berakha fell on the host's own eating, and the guest's berakha was obligatory, once he decided to speak.




The SA rules that if a person is in doubt whether or not he made a berakha, he may continue eating. It is clear that he may not make a new berakha, because it could be a berakha levatala [a blessing in vain]. We might think that he is forbidden to eat, since there is a doubt if this food was ever rendered permissible by a berakha, but in fact we do not forbid someone to eat for this reason.


This ruling, that when in doubt of the need for a berakha one may enjoy without a blessing, seems to contradict several rulings in siman 216 (SA se'if 6, SA se'if 14, Rema se'if 14) which say that when we are in doubt if a particular fragrance requires a berakha, it is better not to smell it at all. In fact, we would think that the case of smell should be even MORE lenient than the case of food, for two reasons:


1. In the case of fragrance, there is doubt whether any berakha is required at all - as opposed to the case of the food where we could say that there is a chazaka [assumption of status quo] that no berakha was said and the food never left its initial prohibited state.


2. In the case of fragrance, there is no delinquency involved. But in the case of food, a person is responsible to recall whether he made a blessing or not! (In many cases, a doubt resulting from a culpable lack of knowledge is not subject to the leniencies of an ordinary doubt - see Shakh YD 98:9.)


Here are a few possible resolutions to this conundrum:


i. A person doesn't have to smell, but he has to eat. So we are lenient regarding food.

ii. A person who wants to smell a nice fragrance can smell something whose status is not in doubt, but someone who doesn't remember if he said the blessing of "ha-motzi" can't eat ANYTHING without being in doubt. (According to this solution, someone who has been eating vegetables and can't remember if he made a berakha could be required to continue with some other kind of food. Conversely, we could be lenient with smell if a person has only one fragrance available to smell.)

iii. In many cases, we are lenient to allow a meal to continue even when it is impermissible to begin one. See e.g. 89:5 (second view), 232:2, MB 249:16. Perhaps the SA only allows one to CONTINUE a meal - but at the beginning of a meal one would have to do without.


I am inclined to think that the true solution is that there is a difference between a person's private doubt about the facts of the case and a doubt about the law due to a  machloket [dispute among] Rishonim. In our siman, there is doubt about the facts. But in siman 216 (the case of fragrance), there are conflicting opinions, and certain Rishonim DEFINITELY forbid us to smell without a berakha. The SA is afraid to risk a certain transgression according to these opinions. (In the introduction to the Beit Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo - the author of the SA - emphasizes that he does not feel that he has the stature to resolve disputes among the Rishonim. Therefore he adopts a particular "majority rule" approach so that he is not in a position of judging his forbears.)


This approach is supported by the rulings of the MB. If there were some technical legal distinction between eating and smelling, along the lines we suggested, then if we WERE to resolve the doubt, we would conclude that smell is or is not different than eating - we would be uniformly stringent (may and must bless) or lenient (needn't and may not bless).  In fact, the MB is STRINGENT in the first case in 216, ruling that one may and therefore must bless. In the other cases, he is LENIENT - ruling that one need not and may not bless. (Though it is still preferable to avoid smelling.)




The gemara (Berakhot 40b) relates that Binyamin the Shepherd made a sandwich and said (in Aramaic), "Blessed be the Master of this bread." Rav confirmed that he fulfilled the obligation of blessing "ha-motzi."  Although most blessings may be said in the vernacular, here the blessing was not a literal Aramaic translation of the proper Hebrew blessing; even so, it is acceptable.


Both the gemara and Rishonim point out that this is only according to the opinion that a berakha does not require "shem u-malkhut" - mention of God's name and His sovereignty. According to the normative practice, Binyamin would have had to say, "Blessed is the Merciful One, the King, Master of this bread." This is exactly what the SA writes.


The Arukh HaShulchan (202:3) points out that this precedent can serve as a solution for every kind of safek berakha [doubt concerning a blessing]. The gemara states that making an unnecessary blessing is taking God's name in vain (Berakhot 33a). But "the Merciful One" (in Aramaic, "Rachmana") is NOT a name of God - it is merely a description. It follows that using this form of blessing has the power of a blessing without the danger of a blessing.


Even so, some authorities have objected to this solution.


Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe IV 40:27) brings proof that descriptive names of God are not sufficient for a berakha. It must be that "Rachmana" in Aramaic is an actual NAME of God in that language.


I heard in the name of (but not from) Rav Lichtenstein that saying a berakha in vain could be an independent prohibition, not merely an instance of saying God's name in vain.


The second objection could be rectified by making a condition: if I am obligated in a berakha, the following statement is a berakha, otherwise it is just a praise of God. Even the first objection could be understood as meaning that IN THE CONTEXT OF A BERAKHA "Rachmana" is a name of God. (This is one explanation of Rav Forst in Artscroll's "Laws of Brachos" 1:(111).) Again, a stipulation would rectify the problem. The Arukh HaShulchan indeed explicitly says that a condition is necessary: "He should think, if a berakha is necessary, this is a berakha, and otherwise it is a mere statement."