Tomorrow is Tu B’Shvat and there ought to be many foods to make blessings on at your table. I thought some brief insights into blessings on food would be a good idea now.
Birchas Hamazon, the blessing said after we eat food, we know is D’Oraysa, scriptural, for there is a verse that states [Dvorim 8:10] “and you shall eat, and you shall be sated, and you shall bless Hashem…”
Where then do we derive our obligation to say other Brachos? Brachos 35a:b states ‘it is forbidden to get enjoyment from this world without saying a Bracha first.’ (only caveat is that you are NOT allowed to make a bracha on forbidden enjoyments.) We will examine two Torah verses. La’Hashem Ha’aretz U’meloah – to G-d belongs everything, is one verse. Then another verse says, “Ha’Shamayim Shamayim LaHashem, Va’Ha’aretz Nasan Livnay Adam” – The heavens is for G-d and the earth was given to the sons of man. The question is which of these verses reflect reality – is the earth G-d’s or did He give it to us as a gift? And here is where Brachos come in – up until we ask for permission for something through a blessing, we cannot enjoy it. Once we’ve done the rites of taking ownership by saying the blessings, that physicality becomes ours to use and enjoy. In fact, we are told that enjoying without making a blessing is considered a form of robbery.
Blessings are divided into three categories: Birchas Hanehenim – blessings on pleasure. Birchas HaMitzvos – blessings on commandments. Birchas Shevach V’Hoda’ah, blessings of praise and thanks.
Every Bracha starts the same way:
BARUCH – blessed. Braycha – a wellspring/pool. Or to draw down. (jumping to Lech Lecha, where Hashem says Avraham will be a “bracha”, Seforno there says that Birchas Hashem is when G-d is happy with His creations.) Vilna Gaons says the word Bracha always refers to expansion/multiplication.
ATTA– we talk about a personal relationship with our Creator – we should talk to Hashem
ADOH-NUY spelled out yud-hay…Hashem is the Mehaveh – He wills the world to exist
ELO-HAY-NOO (usually midas hadin – what is this about) source of strength
MELECH HA’OHLUM – King of the world, He owns it all – that is why we make a bracha, to get permission to partake
After those first words, each blessing then veers off into unique variations. When it comes to food, there is a pecking order. Certain blessings have precedence over others.
This bracha is said on bread from five grains that are baked as bread (with water as one of the main ingredients). Challa, Matazah, bagels, rolls, etc. Made out of Wheat, Rye, Oats, Barley, Spelt. (fried dough is not Hamotzee, bread sticks are also not, etc.)
Hold the bread with all ten fingers to signify ten commandments that pertain to this bread. [quick rundown: No ox and donkey ploughed, No Ki’layim – forbidden mixture, Leket, Shikcha, Pay’ah, Lo tachsom – no muzzling ox by threshing, Terumah, Ma’aser rishon, ma’aser sheni, & challah]. That is also why there are ten words in this Bracha.
Use salt- to signify the mizbayach – we don’t have the altars, but our food can be our sacrifices and our tables our altars.
Now the words:
Ha’Motzee Who brings out
Ha’Aretz the land
Eat a Kzayis (olive-measure) of bread before talking or doing anything.
Stuff made from the grains listed above, but made not in bread form or the flour is mixed with other ingredients that aren’t water (for example juice). Cakes, cookies, crackers, pretzels, doughnuts, to name just a few, are all examples of Mezonos foods.
The words are
Borei Who created
Minei different kinds of
This blessing is third in the order of Brachot, with the exception on Shabbat and Yom Tov which is why we cover the bread/cake when making Kiddush.
Borei Who creates
Pree the fruit
Ha’Gafen. Of the grape/vine.
Fruit is defined as something that grows on a “tree”. Now let’s define a tree. A tree has to be a plant that stays from year to year and doesn’t die and the fruit are yielded therefrom. That is why banana is Ha’adama and not considered a fruit, because there is no banana “tree”, it dies away the banana plant.
The blessing is
Pree the fruit
Ha’aytz” of the tree
From this we see that we make a blessing of Ha’aytz only on the fruit, not the bark/leaves/roots of the tree, which would become ha’adama, if we eat it.
If there are many fruit in front of you: preference to make the blessing on something listed in the seven species of Israel (olive, pomegranate, date, fig). Next preference is something you like. And lastly, something whole vs. something sliced.
Kashrut and fruit: some fruits have worms and bugs and those are no-nos. Checking required for: blueberries, blackberries, figs, etc. If a fruit is of the wormy variety and might be infested, then you cut open the fruit BEFORE the bracha, even though usually it is better to make the blessing on something whole.
Sharp fruits, i.e., lemon: have status of “davar charif” which means that slicing it with a meat or dairy knife makes it actually meat or dairy and can’t be used interchangeably. Scenario: I sliced up a cantaloupe with a meat knife, but now have a dairy meal – can I use the cantaloupe – yup. But, if I sliced a lemon with a dairy knife and now want to use it in my chicken soup, nope, not allowed because the lemon has become “chalavee” and putting that lemon into my “basaree” cup would create an instance of “basar v’chalav” a mixture of milk and meat.
This is the blessing made on things growing from the ground. The veggie has to be recognizable (if it’s a mush, not discernible, then it is no longer Ha’adama).
The words are
Pree the fruit
Ha’adama of the ground
Papaya is a ha’adama because its “tree” is the same as the banana “tree”, it dies away. If you eat the veggie in a non-normal manner (raw garlic, a raw potato) you then would switch the bracha to she’hakol. The main part of the fruit or veggie gets the proper Bracha. Peels/pits/etc, if you decide to eat that alone, it goes down one category of Bracha.
Concept of Ikar (main) and Tafel (subordinate). (examples: stuffed cabbage – Ikar is the meat, so the cabbage is considered tafel, and the only Bracha you would make would be She’hakol. Grape leaves. Etc.)
Mushrooms live on decay, not on ground, so they are NOT ha’adama. They are She’hakol.
The last possible blessing on things we eat, lowest on the totem pole of blessings on food is the broad-based Shehakol. The words are
Shehakol that everything
Ni’hee’ye came about
Bid’varoh by His word.
This last blessing exempts all categories. The way it works is that if you say the wrong blessing on a food, if it is “lower” on the totem pole than the category of food it should have been in, you have taken care of the blessing with the lesser Bracha and don’t have to make a new one.
If ever in danger, make this blessing with concentration, for it tells us to focus that everything happens just by the word of G-d. When we focus on that, chances are that His word will save us.
A great resource to learn more: website address http://www.berachot.org/foods/letter_a.htm