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Thought for the Day: Why It Is Forbidden to Eat Before Making a Bracha

I take full responsibility for the rough night you had last night worrying about the Maharsha's concern that sefeik brachos l'hakeil shouldn't apply to birkos ha'ne'henin because eating without making a bracha is considered stealing.  That would mean that a safeik bracha is also safeik stealing, and stealing is d'oraiso, so that rule of safeik d'oraisa would mean that you should make a (possibly second) bracha.  I forgot to add that we don't pasken like this Maharsha, so you can stand down.  Or maybe you should be nervous... let's see.

Why is eating without first making a bracha considered stealing?  It's a drash from Chazal contrasting two p'sukim from T'hilim.  First, "LaShem ha'aretz u'm'lo'ah"/The world and everything in it belongs to HaShem (T'hilim 24:1).  Second, "ha'shamyim shamyim LaShem, v'ha'aretz nosson livnei adam"/The heavens belong to HaShem, and the earth He has given to people (T'hilim 115:16).  R' Leivi (TB Brachos 35a) noted the contradiction and concluded that the first is before making the bracha, the second is after making the bracha.

Stealing is serious business.  Stealing from HaShem is very serious business.  A close chaver of mine wanted to suggest "ha'motzi mei'chaveiro, alav ha'rai'ya", putting the burden of proof on HaShem that I didn't make the bracha.  Somehow, though, I don't think I want that to be my defense in the beis din shel ma'alah.  I can just hear the prosecuting angel saying, "Sure; no problem. Run the tape, please, bailiff."

Minchas Shlomo (Vol 1, 18:9) notes that this Maharsha has a hard row to hoe.  An onein, who is not allowed to make brachos, certainly is allowed to eat.  If he eats bread, though, he'll need to wash first (without a bracha, of course) because it is built on an issur of t'ruma.  So if there were any issur at all, the onein would not be able to eat.

The Minchas Shlomo answers that the issur to eat before the bracha is because of the strength of the obligation to make the bracha and not that there is a separate issur that the bracha is removing.  This is similar to the situation before kiddush or havdalah when was is also not allowed to eat.  The kiddush and havdalah ceremonies do not remove an issur, rather the issur exists because of the obligation to perform the ceremony.  What about the stealing?  That is part of the decree to enforce how and why it is so important to make a bracha before eating.  Benefiting from the incomparable generosity of HaShem without even saying thank you is tantamount to being a brazen thief and snatching what you want from the King as if He didn't know and couldn't stop you.

Somehow I don't think I want that as my defense in the beis din shel ma'alah either: Hey!  It wasn't really stealing all those time I ate without making a proper bracha, just tantamount to stealing!

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