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Thought for the Day: Brachos on Foods During a Meal

I find the rules of when and which brachos to make on foods during a s'uda (bread/washing meal) to be confusing.  I feel I have some clarity now, so I'll share my understanding and then y'all can tell me where I am wrong; please don't be shy.  Here's the rule of thumb: a bracha rishona is required when the food is not subordinate to the bread, while a bracha acharon is required when the food is not relevant to the meal.  Now to flesh that out a bit.

A food is going to require a bracha rishona when the food is not subordinate to the bread.  The problem with that rule is that most of us do not consider the bread the main part of the meal (thank you Drs. Atkins and South Beach), but we know that no one makes a bracha on chicken during a s'uda.  In fact, however, the word "lechem" actually means "food that is a normal part of a meal that is eaten with the intent to become satiated".  (Sigh... Webster's is never going to hire me...)  That means that foods such as meat, salads, kugels, drinks (except wine), and even bread will not require a bracha rishona.  Fruit and candy, which are eaten because the taste good and without regard to hunger (or lack thereof), do require a bracha rishona.  Feel free to rewrite that rule as you like.

A bracha acharona will be required when the food has no relevance to the s'uda, because then bentching doesn't cover it.  This obviously applies if the food, with the exception of wine and sometimes schnapps, is consumed before the meal.  Eat an apple or pickle before the meal, you need to say a borei nefashos afterward -- even if you have already washed and even if you have already bentched.  This leads to the following interesting situation.  If you eat an apple before the meal and eat more apples during the meal, then even the apple consumed before the meal is considered part of the meal.  Why?  Because the bracha rishona you made applied also to the apples eaten during the meal, and that links the pre-meal apple into the s'uda.  On the other hand, if you eat a k'zayis or more of potato chips before the meal and then continue to eat them during the meal, you will need to make a borei nefashos on the portion eaten before the meal.  Why?  Because the potato chips eaten during the meal were included in the motzi and did not need the borei p'ri ha'adama said on the chips before the meal.  Hence, the chips eaten before the meal have nothing to do with the chips eaten during the meal; there is nothing to link them into the s'uda.

This is more than just a cute theoretical concern; it is relevant to the seder night.  The instructions in your hagadah note that besides having the maror in mind, it is also important to eat less than a k'zayis of the karpas.  Now you know why.  If you were to eat more than a k'zayis of karpas before the s'uda, then you would be obligated to make a bracha acharona, thus ending the eating covered by the borei p'ri ha'adama and wiping out any connection to the maror.  (Now I supposed you are curious about you need to have said connection.  Good question.)

Wine is included in bentching for a few reasons; you can't eat till after kiddush, the wine (being intoxicating) increases your appetite (thereby causing more food to be eaten with greater gusto and so is relevant to the meal itself), and because wine itself is satiating.  The first reason applies only to kiddush, the second applies also to schnapps, and the third includes grape juice.

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