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Thought for the Day: Hefsek Between the Bracha and the Eating

I have a physician friend who told me that his first big shock in med school came as he was walking out of his first exam.  Suddenly he realized that his here-to-fore successful modis operandi -- cramming knowledge into his brain before a test, locking it in there just long enough to finish the exam, then letting is ooze out as he left the classroom -- was not going to work any more.  People's lives were going to depend on his remembering what he learned!  Yikes!  YIKES!

Learning halacha is like that on steroids.  Whereas a physician can at worst only cause 70 or 80 years of pain and suffering.  Get a halacha wrong and you could get suffering with out limit and without end.  There's no words for that.  So before what I learned this morning completely leaks out, I'll write some down.  You are welcome to read what follows, but I urge you to check it up in the Mishna Brura (or Ben Ish Chai, if you prefer): Shulchan Aruch, OC, Siman 167, Syefim 6, 7.

When it comes to eating, what we call "making a bracha" is actually formally addressing the Creator of the world to thank and praise Him for the food we are about to enjoy.  Obviously, when you are talking to anyone it is just derech eretz to give them your full attention.  An interruption -- even a silent lapse -- between finishing the bracha and partaking of the nourishment is an extraordinary breach of derech eretz.  In fact, it is so bad that an interruption by even one word nullifies the original bracha and one needs to start over.  (That is, you just asked the Creator of the world -- your beloved King -- for a moment of His precious time; then said, "never mind."  Brrr... sends shiver down my spine.)

Making the bracha should, therefore, always be followed immediately by the eating/drinking.  However, if something is preventing you from eating, then talking to correct that situation is not considered an interruption.  The Shulchan Aruch gives several examples:

  • Asking for salt (or other accompaniment), which is a kavod for the bracha on bread.
  • Feeding your animals; that might even be d'oraisa (but you get to drink first, as we learn from Rivka Imeinu)
  • Instructing your butler/waiter/kids to get food for a guest who just arrived (so he can join in the s'uda)
How far does that go?  If someone is running really late and is heading for the kitchen to wash while the m'varech says the motzi; as long as the m'varech had in mind to be motzi whoever heard and the runner has in mind to be yotzi, he can now wash his hand, make a bracha of "al n'tilas yadayim", and then sit down to eat -- he is already ge'brachafied from before.

What if someone makes a bracha on an apple, then thinks to himself, "Hmm... I really should have made a nicer bracha...  I know I am yotzi b'di'avad, but I want to make a l'chatchila bracha", then makes another "borei pri ha'eitz"?  Since he didn't need that second bracha -- was not, in fact, permitted to have made that bracha -- it's not a bracha.  So he just talked between the bracha and the eating.  So now what should he do?  Make another "borei pri ha'eitz"?!?

I have broad enough shoulders to pasken this one: don't do that.


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