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Thought for the Day: Bracha Rishona/Bracha Acharona

Halichos Shlomo on Shavuos paskens that one should say a borei nefashos after eating cheese cake.  I figured this was as good a time as any to discuss the criteria for bracha rishona and bracha acharona.  Cheesecake is also as good a place to start as any, and better than most.

Generally speaking, bracha rishona and bracha acharona go together.  If you start with ha'motzi, you'll end with birkas ha'mazon.  If you start with ha'gefen, you'll end with al ha'gefen v'al pri ha'gefen; start with m'zonos, end with "al ha'michya".  If you start with sh'ha'kol, you'll end with borei nefashos.  Of course, this assumes you have eaten an appropriate shiur in a short enough period of time.  Seems obvious, I know, but that detail will come back to haunt us; or enrich us with learning, if you prefer.

First exception is regarding pri ha'eitz and ha'adama.  There are five fruits for which Eretz Yisrael is particularly famous: grapes, olives, dates, figs, and pomegranates.  The bracha rishona for grapes, olives, figs, and pomegranates is borei pri ha'eitz, but the bracha acharona is the al ha'eitz v'al pri ha'eitz version of the mei'ein shalosh bracha rather than the usual borei nefashos.  By the way, as long as we've come this far, it is worth noting that if you eat apples and grapes, then you will only make the one mei'ein shalosh bracha acharona of al ha'eitz v'al pri ha'eitz (no separate borei nefashos required to cover the apple).

Second exception, if you start by eating a little bit of cake and end up eating a full course meal of just cake, then you'll start with m'zonos and end with birkas ha'mazon.  Yes I am over-simplifying; this is not the time.

Exception d'jour: cheesecake.  Cheesecake is a thin layer of crust covered with a thick layer of fat and sugar.  Normally the rules of ikar v'tafel would mandate a sh'ha'kol, but grains are different.  If flour is added for flavor (as opposed to addition as a binder), then the flour is always considered the ikar regardless of percent content.  Hence, the bracha rishona for cheesecake will be m'zonos.

Afterward, however, we need to look at what was actually consumed.  After your healthy (ahem, you know what I mean) and generous helping of cheesecake, you will have consumed mass quantities of fat and sugar, but only a small amount of grain.  That's why Halichos Shlomo mandates a borei nefashos after cheesecake.

Those of you who have made it this far are about to call, "Hey!  Wait!  My wife's cake also contains mass quantities of fat and sugar (so good!)... why isn't the bracha acharon for that borei nefashos?"  Good question; and it's actually the subject of no small amount of discussion among the poskim.  Halichos Shlomo distinguishes between fat and sugar that is cooked/baked into the flour from fat and sugar that is slathered over a crust of flour (also baked with fat and sugar of course).  If the fat, sugar, and flour have become an intermingled unit, the bracha acharona is al ha'michya.  If the fat and sugar is separate from the flour (crust), then the bracha acharona is borei nefashos.

Same thing applies to strudels made with lots of fruit with a thin flour crust.  I just had more fun writing about "fat and sugar slathered over a crust" (exciting!) than "lots of fruit with a thin crust" (boring).

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