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Thought for the Day: Why To Learn Hilchos Brachos

My four year old grandson has worked out a system for saying brachos: He always says the bracha of "בורא מיני מזונות".  Now, it is true that the bracha of בורא מיני מזונות works (ex post facto) for any food except water and salt (which are not nourishing), so you might think that it is ok (and even cute) for a four year old to do that.  Actually, it is really cute and adorable; however, when I said he always uses that bracha, I mean always: for all food, upon washing his hands, putting on tzitzis, etc.  He's learning, but it's a process that requires patience, diligence, and persistence. (Actually, the largest obstacle to him learning his brachos is probably us; we think he is so adorable that we give him lots of positive feedback for making that bracha.  We're working on ourselves.)

Learning brachos is a lifetime endeavor.  There are many small details that can make big difference in the correct bracha.  Details, in fact, that can change over time.  For example, the Mishna Brura says that the bracha on raw carrots is שהכול, since carrots were then almost always eaten cooked, and therefore were planted, harvested, and sold with the intention they be eaten cooked.  Now a days, of course, the bracha is בורא פרי האדמה.  Another problem I find is that one can fall into the habit of just saying a bracha by rote; saying the words absentmindedly like some sort of incantation before putting the food in your mouth.  Learning also helps to keep them fresher and improves concentration.

The sefer וזות הברכה was written with that bigger picture in mind.  Rather than table of foods and the appropriate bracha, the author had four main goals in mind:
  • To present the fundamental principles that guide choosing the appropriate bracha and arranged in a logical structure.
  • To give guidance with practical examples of applying those ideas and principles.
  • To clarify areas that are not explicitly mentioned by the poskim.
  • To enlighten and explain principles in comparing one food/recipe to another and how to weigh the factors to come to a final conclusion
As an example, I looked up the bracha on peanut butter this morning after learning a gemara that discussed the bracha on crushed up stuff (brachos 38a).  The bracha is שהכול; but that is backed up by a long end note.  One of the factors is whether pulverizing the peanuts improves them or simply makes them easier to eat (with bread and crackers, for example).  Also, what is the end use for which most peanuts are planted?  Apparently in Eretz Yisrael most are planted for eating straight, whereas in the US most (55% according to the end note) are planted to make peanut butter.  Another consideration is whether "simple majority" is the same as "primary use".  And what about crunchy peanut butter?

One last thought... making brachos far and a way accounts for most of a person's conversation with HaShem over the day.  It's probably a good idea to make that time meaningful.

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