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Thought for the Day: The Halachically Fertile Moment Between End of Eating and Beginning of Bentching

Siman 271, Hilchos Kiddush on Wine (erev Shabbos) is a really cool siman to learn.  First, it's certainly relevant; we all make kiddush and Friday is sure to occur.  Second, it discusses all sorts of cases that leave most of us asking, "Why would anyone get himself into that situation?!"  The benefit of going through all those cases is a beautiful clarification of all the different issues that are being seamlessly handled by our usual Friday evening ceremony.  As you delve into each question, you all gain an appreciation of how precise and robust our halachic process is -- you have to push really hard to find machlokes.

Let's get started; Syef 4: Yehuda and his guests were eating a nice meal on Friday afternoon (hey... you're not supposed to be doing that...) and are now finished eating.  They are about to bentch and they notice... whoops!  It's really dark out there... yikes!  It's Shabbos!!  To understand the "yikes", you need to know that they already washed mayim acharonim and that the Shulchan Aruch requires bentching always be done over a cup of wine.  So what's the yikes?  First, one is not allowed to eat (nor drink) before kiddush; no way, no how.  On the other hand, having already washed mayim acharonim is tantamount to having begun to bentch and one is not allowed to interrupt -- even with kiddush; no way, no how.

The M'chaber has two solutions.  His first and preferred solution is to "bite the bullet" and bentch (mentioning Shabbos; ie, including "r'tzei") over one cup of wine, make a borei pri ha'gafen, drink (I know it's before kiddush, we'll get to that), then pick up a second cup of wine, make kiddush (without borei pri hagefen, since you just said it), and drink from the second cup.  His second and less preferred option is to cover the bread, make kiddush (with or without the borei pri hagafen, depending on whether you were drinking during the meal or not), make motzi, eat a small amount of bread, and bentch.

The Rema interjects after the first solution with a remark that we Ashkanaszim would not add "r'tzei", because we go according to the beginning of the meal and it wasn't Shabbos then.  Then the Rema says that approach has other problems anyway.  First, "kiddush b'makom s'uda" usually means that the s'uda has to come before kiddush, not afterward.  Second, drinking that wine after bentching and before kiddush is really problematic.  The Rema, quite uncharacteristically, does not offer a solution, but just says notes the halachic hornet's nest into which the m'chaber's first approach throws you.  After the second solution (the M'chaber's "yeish omrim"/others say, which is a key that it is not preferred), the Rema says, "See!  This solution avoids all the issues mentioned above, so this is what we do."

At this point, you may be wondering why the M'chaber prefers the first solution.  Simple: to the M'chaber, washing mayim acharonim is the beginning of bentching; ie, it is past the point of no return.  The particularly cool thing to me about this whole discussion was how hard it was to create a disagreement.  If Yehuda had started saying "Baruch Atah HaShem...", even the Rema would agree with the first solution.  If Yehuda had only said, "Gentlefolk, let us say grace" ("rabosai mir villen bentchin" if that makes you feel more religious), then even the M'chaber would have preferred the second course of action.

By they way... there was no suggestion not to bentch with a cup of wine, which also would have gotten us out of this pickle.  Yet we all know that they generally accepted halacha is not to bentch with a cup except in more formal meals and with 10 or more.  Hmm...

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