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Thought for the Day: The Main Part of a Bracha Is the Beginning

When I was first contemplating becoming Orthodox, way back in Dallas, started attending some adult education classes.  These classes were held in peoples' homes and always had food (cookies and what not); here's a good tip: if you want someone  to attend a meeting, offer them food.  I was a little shocked when I saw someone already frum pick up a cookie, mumble something under his breath, then eat the cookie.  What shocked me was that he was fully engaged in a conversation at the time; he was simply saying the words of the bracha as a sort of incantation before putting food in his mouth.  It just didn't seem like correct protocol for addressing the King.

After more than 20 years of contemplation, it still doesn't seem right.  Chazal (TB Brachos 12a) discuss the minimum requirement for saying a bracha "well enough"; ie, not correctly, but also not so bad as to require starting from scratch.  The gemara first notes that it is obvious that one who picks a cup of wine that he thinks is beer, and therefore begins his bracha planning to make a "she'ha'kol", but then finishes "borei pri ha'gafen", has obviously fulfilled his obligation.  After all, b'di'avad, a "she'ha'kol" works for anything.  However, what about the other way around?  He picks up a beer thinking it is wine, and therefore begins his bracha planning to make a "borei pri ha'gafen", but then finishes with a "she'ha'kol".  The gemara is so not sure what the halacha is in that case, that even after giving its best shot, the matter is left forever unresolved.

The gemara poses the question thus (as elucidated by Rashi and Tosofos):  When one's intention during the main part of the bracha -- that is: Baruch Atah, HaShem, Melech HaOlam -- contradicts what he actually says at the end, do we say the bracha is what he intended or what he actually said?  Let's say that a different way: the gemara seriously contemplates that your thoughts and intention during the main part of the bracha can override the words you actually say.

Since the gemara leaves the matter unresolved, the rishonim debate how we should pasken.  Tosofos brings two opinions: (1) the R'if who throws in the towel and defaults to "safeik brachos l'hakeil", so don't make another bracha. (2) the R"i disagrees and if your intention is wrong during the main part of the bracha, then you're done; you need to make a new bracha.  The Shulchan Aruch (OC 209:1) goes even further.  The m'chaber says that if you have a cup of beer or even water in your hand and intend to make a sh'ha'kol during the main part of the bracha (Baruch Atah HaShem, Elokeinu Melech HaOlam), then even if you end up saying the words "borei pri ha'gafen", you don't need to make a new bracha.  The Mishna Brura says that everyone argues and l'ma'aseh you would need to make another bracha.  Even so, the fact that there is a really position out there that your thoughts could override your words to the point that it would be considered a good bracha is just astounding.

You may want to think about that before you make your next bracha.  You might then want to think during your next bracha.


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