Simanim 179-180 Conclusion of a Meal

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #112: Simanim 179-180


By Rabbi Asher Meir





Our siman is based on the following account in Berakhot 42a:


Rav Pappa happened by the house of Rav Huna son of Rav Natan.  After he finished his meal, they brought him something to eat, and Rav Pappa took and ate.  They said to him, don't you agree that once a meal is over it is forbidden to eat?  He said to them, that is said only if [the table is] removed. 


Rava and Rebbe Zeira happened by the house of the Resh Galuta (Exilarch).  After the tables were removed from before them, a portion was sent to them from the house of the Resh Galuta.  Rava ate; Rebbe Zeira didn't eat.  He said [to Rava], don't you agree that once [the table is] removed it is forbidden to eat?  He said to him, we are dependent on the table of the Resh Galuta.


The gemara continues:


Rav said, one who is used to [fragrant] oil [after a meal], the oil holds him up [from finishing his meal; i.e., the meal is not over until the hands are anointed with the oil].  Rav Ashi said, when we were at the house of Rav Kahana he said to us: those like us who are accustomed to oil, the oil holds us up.


But the halakha is not like any of these rulings, but rather according to what Rebbe Chiya bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: There are three immediacies: shechita immediately after semicha [leaning on the sacrifice]; tefilla immediately after geula [the "ga'al Yisrael" blessing after Shema]; blessing immediately after washing hands. 


The conclusion seems to imply that neither finishing eating, nor removing the table, nor anointing the hands is considered the end of the meal, but only washing the hands for mayim acharonim.


What does it mean that the meal is over? We explained last week that there is a difference between a mere distraction and the end of the meal.  After a distraction, a new first blessing is required on continued eating; afterwards a single after-blessing will cover the food eaten with both first blessings.  But once the meal is over, the final blessing must be said; if new eating is begun, then the final blessing will not cover both meals.  So the question is: Is washing for mayim acharonim a distraction or is it the end of the meal?


Rashi writes: "He diverted his attention from the first berakha AND from the meal."  The clear implication is that the meal is over, and grace must be recited.


However, Tosafot suggest that Rebbe Zeira refrained from eating more bread only because it was too much trouble to get up and wash and then say a new blessing of "ha-motzi."  The clear implication is that the "conclusion" being discussed in this passage is only a distraction.


A similar disagreement surrounds the following passage:


Rav Bruna and Rav Chananel, students of Rav, were sitting at a meal, and Rebbe Yeiva Sava was waiting on them.  They said to him, let us bless.  Afterwards they said to him, let us drink.  He said to them, thus said Rav: Since you said "let us bless," it is forbidden for you to drink.  Why - because you diverted your attention [from further eating and drinking]. 


Ameimar and Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi were sitting at a meal, and Rav Acha the son of Rava was waiting on them.  Ameimar said a blessing on each and every cup, and Mar Zutra said a blessing on the first cup and the last cup; Rav Ashi blessed on the first cup and then blessed no more.  Rav Acha son of Rava said to them, how should we conduct ourselves? Ameimar said, I reconsidered [each time].  Mar Zutra said, I conducted myself like Rav's students.  And Rav Ashi said, halakha is not in accordance with Rav's students, for Yom Tov which follows Shabbat, Rav said that [the order of havdala is] wine [borei pri ha-gafen], kiddush [of Yom Tov], candle [for havdala], havdala [blessing.  So the single blessing borei pri ha-gafen suffices for both kiddush and havdala].


But this is not actually a proof, because there [at a meal] his attention left drinking, here [regarding kiddush and havdala] his attention never left drinking.

(Pesachim 103a-b)


Since Rav Yeiva Sava uses the term "you diverted your attention," suggesting a mere distraction, it would seem that the case of saying "let us bless" is likewise a case where only a new FIRST blessing is required.  This understanding is bolstered by the fact that the continuation of the passage clearly refers to distractions that obligate a new berakha rishona only.  This is indeed the opinion of Tosafot on the parallel passage in Chullin (86b). 


On the other hand, since the expression was "it is forbidden for you to drink" and not "you are required to make a blessing," it would seem that there is more than a mere distraction - saying "let us bless" indicates the end of the meal.  This seems to be how the Rashbam understood this passage, and the Rashi on Pesachim seems also to imply this understanding.  So the same dispute between Rashi and Tosafot exists regarding the distraction/conclusion of saying "let us bless."  (The picture is complicated somewhat by the fact that Rashi's commentary on the parallel passage in Chullin agrees with Tosafot.)


The Beit Yosef concludes that the vast majority of Rishonim, including the Rosh, Rif, Ran, Rabbeinu Yona and Mordekhai, concur that "let us bless" is considered a mere distraction for drinking.  However, he infers that most of these, unlike Tosafot, consider washing mayim acharonim to be the conclusion of the meal, and no more eating is permitted until after grace.  In other words, while Rashi and Tosafot are consistent, most Rishonim distinguish between mayim acharonim and "let us bless."


The Beit Yosef gives the following reason for the distinction: Washing mayim acharonim is actual PREPARATION for benching.  Whereas saying "let us bless" is merely CONTEMPLATING benching.  


Rabbenu Yona and the Ran make an additional distinction:  saying "let us bless" is a distraction from drinking, but not from eating.  Eating has more importance and fixity, and it is more difficult to distract people from it by mere words.




1.  Rashi on Pesachim and Berakhot: Both washing mayim acharonim and saying "let us bless" conclude the meal.


2.  Rosh: Washing concludes the meal, but "let us bless" is only a distraction.


3.  Rabbenu Yona, Ran: Washing concludes the meal, but "let us bless" is only a distraction, and this distraction is only from drinking.


4.  Tosafot, Tur: Both washing and "let us bless" are only a distraction.


The list is basically from stringent to lenient; Rashi always requires benching and Tosafot and the Tur never.  However, the ordering is not quite monotonic.  After saying "let us bless," Rabbenu Yona and the Ran require NO blessing in order to eat bread, but Tosafot and the Tur do require washing and "ha-motzi" - but not benching.




From the first source above we learned that the custom in Bavel was to remove each person's dining table before benching.  Some Sages considered this removal to be the end of the meal (or at least a distraction), but the gemara in Berakhot concluded that this is only when the hands are washed.


This custom seems to contradict the following passage (Sanhedrin 92a):


Rebbe Elazar said: Anyone who fails to leave some bread on his table, will never see a sign of blessing.  As it is said, "There is no remnant to his food, therefore his possessions will not succeed" (Iyyov 20:21).  But did not Rebbe Elazar say, anyone who leaves crumbs on the table, it is as if he worships avoda zara, as it is said, "Who set a table for [the pagan god] Gad, and who fill a cup for [the pagan god] Meni" (Yishayahu 65:11)! There is no contradiction; the latter is when there is also a whole bread together [with the crumbs - seemingly in honor of the idol], the former when there is no whole [bread] together with it [hence suitable for the poor - Rashi].


The Rosh explains that the tables of the guests were removed, but the table of the host, with bread still on it, was left until the end of the benching.




The MB (s.k. 4) says that based on the Zohar if the table is empty it is proper to bring even a whole loaf of bread to stay on the table for the benching.


The Magen Avraham gives the source as Zohar Trumot (II:157b, see also 153b).  The Zohar explains that the shulchan of the lechem ha-panim ("show bread") was a source of material blessing for the whole world, and for this reason was never left empty.  (The shulchan as a source of wealth is also hinted at in the gemara, which says that one who wants to be enriched should tend in his prayers to the north - the direction of the shulchan in the Mikdash.  Bava Batra 25b, see Rema OC 94b.) It then goes on to say that each person's table is comparable to the shulchan in the Mikdash, and it also should not be empty during benching, in order to provide an anchor for the blessing sought in our benching.  This is basically the same reason mentioned in the MB at the end of s.k. 1.




The Mishna at the beginning of chapter eight of Berakhot records: "Beit Shammai say, first we sweep the house and then we wash the hands [for mayim acharonim]; Beit Hillel say we wash our hands and then we sweep the house" (Berakhot 52b).


The gemara explains that Beit Shammai are worried that any crumbs and leftovers left on the floor will be made inedible by the mayim acharonim.  But Beit Hillel is not worried about this, because a shamash who is a talmid chacham will know to leave only tiny crumbs less than a kezayit on the floor (or table), and such a small amount is permissible to ruin; and Beit Hillel don't permit to use an ignoramus as a shamash.  However, Beit Shammai rule that it IS permissible to use even a shamash who is an ignoramus, so that we are concerned that if he doesn't sweep up everything he may leave even large crumbs which are forbidden to ruin.


The gemara rules that we need to sweep first - either because this is one of those rare cases where we rule like Beit Shammai, or because the approaches are reversed and this approach is really that of Beit Hillel.