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Thought for the Day: Drinking Water Before Havdala Motza'ei Yom Kippur Requires a Bracha

There are two good reasons I went into theoretical physics instead of experimental physics.  The first reason is that experimental physics is really, really hard!  You have to deal with all sorts of real problems, such as electrical connectors, big metal frames of equipment that has to be bolted together, and worst of all: real data.  Recently, for example, researchers needed to make an iron wire that was one atom thick and three atoms wide (You read that right... atoms) to study a theoretically predicted particle know as a  "Majorana fermion"; basically particle that is its own antiparticle.  (Not as much fun as as being your own grandfather; unless, of course, you are a physicist.)  That took approximately two years of "painstaking work" (that's a quote).  I'll say.

The second problem is that I am just not very good with all those little details of the real world.  I have enough trouble thinking things through without having to worry about if I got a solder connection right.  Unfortunately for me, though, you can't really learn gemara without learning halacha.  When the gemara comes two perfectly reasonable explanations, it will often ask "mai nafkah minah?"/what's the practical difference?  In other words, in what situations would the halacha change depending on which explanation is used.  Besides that, though, when a physicist is finished with his work -- theoretical or experimental -- he (or she; sheesh) goes home.  When a Jew closes the gemara, halacha is just kicking in.

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to throw myself into reality.  Gemara and halacha have to be lived to the fullest; the living augments the learning and the learning augments the torah.  (That may actually be a new and quite reasonable p'shat in "im ein torah, ein kemach; im ein kemach, ein torah.")  In any case, there is an interesting halacha (Shulchan Aruch OC 299:1) that one may not eat or drink anything, except water, after dark and before havdala.  What makes that interesting is that unique status of water in hilchos brachos.

The bracha of "sh'ha'kol" will work, after the fact for any food.  The bracha of "m'zonos" will work, after the fact, for any food -- except water and salt.  Moreover, if one needs to drink water for some other purpose than because he is thirsty, then he need not (in fact, may not) make a bracha on the water.  The most common example is using water to wash down a pill; no bracha is made.  If you use orange juice, beer, coffee, or even flavored water, then a sh'ha'kol is required.  For that reason, I put flavoring in my water bottle on my bike; I am really only drinking it to prevent dehydration, but maybe that is called being thirsty in halacha.  Putting some flavoring in the water gets me out of the doubt and with certainty obligates me in the bracha.

So what if one were drinking after dark and before havdala, but not because he was thirsty?  What would a case of that?  Hmm... let's see... suppose someone, hypothetically speaking, collapsed during mincha of Yom Kippur.  Not passed out, just collapsed and got up immediately (rather more embarrassed than shaken, actually).  And suppose, hypothetically speaking, this person's friends were quite insistent that (a) he not stand again (they used threats of physical restraint; hypothetically speaking, of course), and (b) that he drink water before ma'ariv.

Now ma'ariv of Yom Kippur is certainly after dark, and it is certainly before havdala (because he has to hypothetically go home to make havdala for his wife).  So maybe he shouldn't make a sh'ha'kol, because he is not drinking due to thirst; he is only drinking because the same friends are standing over him (and, of course, the would be 100% right in doing so, hypothetically speaking).  On the other hand, he certainly is thirsty after 25 hours of fasting, so maybe he should make a bracha.

I wasn't sure, so I decided "safeik brachos l'ha'keil", and didn't make a bracha at first.  Till one of my friends said, "Now make a bracha and drink the rest.".  I later called R' Fuerst and he confirmed that a bracha is required.  Why?  Because a person in that situation is thirsty, so it doesn't matter why you are drinking the water.  The situations where a person does not make a bracha on water is where he is drinking the water with no intention to slake his thirst and he is not thirsty.

See what I mean?  Experiments are hard and I am not very good at them.  Fortunately, I have amazing friends who are good at halacha and who are also willing to put up with me.


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