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Bet Midrash Virtuali


SHULĤAN ARUKH, ORAĤ ĤAYYIM: The Rules of Shabbat

167:2-4

The benediction is: ha-Motzi leĥem min ha-aretz [Who brings bread forth from the earth]. If there are many dining they should concentrate on listening to the benediction and they should respond 'Amen'; [also] the celebrant should concentrate on hearing their 'Amen' and should separate [when enunciating] the word leĥem from the word min.

[The celebrant] should not recite the benediction before taking hold of the bread.

[The celebrant] should place both hands, which have ten fingers, on the loaf while reciting the benediction; this represents the ten mitzvot associated with [the making of] bread. Therefore there are ten words in the ha-motzi blessing, there are ten words in the verse "You make the grass grow for the cattle...", there are ten words in the verse "The eyes of all look to You expectantly...", there are ten words in the verse "A land of wheat and barley...", and there are ten words in the verse "May God give you...".



EXPLANATIONS:

1:
When quoting the text of benedictions it is customary to omit the first six Hebrew words of the benediction because they are standard to most benedictions. (There are benedictions which contain only the first three Hebrew words of the formula and not the first six and, as we have seen, there are benedictions recited before performing a mitzvah which have four more Hebrew words after the first six.) Thus, in the case of the benediction before eating bread the complete benediction consists of the following ten Hebrew words:

Barukh attah Adonai, Eloheynu melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi leĥem min ha-aretz.

In a free translation their meaning is: "Praised be God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who brings bread forth from the earth".

2:
The text of the benediction is borrowed from Psalm 104. In verse 14 the psalmist describes God's munificence in that food is provided in abundance for all creatures. Among the creatures man has the ability to bring forth from the earth the bread which God's providence has sown within it. (We shall quote the whole verse later on in this shiur.) Thus, in the original text of the psalm it is man who 'brings bread forth from the earth', whereas in the text of the benediction the provision of bread is attributed directly to God.

3:
It is a commonplace of halakhah that a mitzvah which does not have to be performed physically by the one commanded may be performed by proxy. Tefillin, for example, must be laid on the body by the individual and another cannot be appointed to fulfil the obligation on his body on behalf of the principal. However, if someone is required to recite a statutory benediction (that is a benediction whose wording has been sanctified by centuries of tradition) the duty may certainly be performed by listening to someone else recite the blessing and responding to that blessing 'Amen'. (We have already seen this principle in connection with the recitation of Kiddush. Therefore, when several people are dining together, it is perfectly permissible for one of them to recite the blessing ha-motzi out loud and for the others to respond 'Amen'. The only condition that is attached is that the listeners must have the full intention of reciting the blessing by this proxy and the person reciting the blessing must have the full intention of acting as the agent of the others.

4:
In paragraph 2 of Section 167 (above) Rabbi Karo also points out that the benediction should be recited slowly and clearly, giving equal value to all the words. This is particularly the case where one Hebrew word ends with the same letter as the next word begins: if the benediction is recited hastily or in a slovenly manner the two words will become elided into one. Therefore there would be a distinct pause between the word leĥem and the word min.

5:
Before reciting the benediction the celebrant must take the two Ĥallot into his or her hands, raise them, and only then recite the blessing.

6:
In the Talmud of Eretz-Israel [Ĥallah 9b] we read that

When Rabbi Yitzĥak was about to eat he would spread all his ten fingers [upon the bread] and say, "Thus have I fulfilled ten mitzvot."

This anecdote was prompted by the mention in the Gemara there that "a person does not eat one slice until he has fulfilled ten mitzvot. I shall present all ten mitzvot here for the sake of completeness; sadly, with today's automation (and for other reasons) we do not observe most of these commandments before we eat our bread.

  1. Not to plough with an ox yoked together with a donkey [Deuteronomy 22:10];
  2. Not to sow in the same patch two different kinds of seed [Leviticus 19:19];
  3. Not to muzzle an ox while it is ploughing [Deuteronomy 25:4];
  4. The command concerning ĥallah [Numbers 15:20]]
  5. The command concerning pe'ah [Leviticus 19:9]
  6. The command concerning leket [Leviticus 19:9]
  7. The command concerning shikheĥah [Deuteronomy 24:19]
  8. The command concerning Terumah [Numbers 15:19]
  9. The command concerning Ma'aser Rishon [Deuteronomy 14:22]]
  10. The command concerning Ma'aser Sheni [Deuteronomy 14:25]]
(We learned about the last six items in this list is some detail when we studied Tractate Pe'ah.)

7:
This idea prompted various sages throughout the ages to find other biblical allusions to a connection between the number 10 and God's providential provision of food for all creatures. All the following verses consist of ten Hebrew words:

  • You make the grass grow for the cattle and herbage for manís labour that he may get food out of the earth [Psalm 104:14]]
  • The eyes of all look to You expectantly and You give them their food when it is due. [Psalm 145:15]]
  • A land of wheat and barley, of vines,figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey. [Deuteronomy 8:8]]
  • May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine. [Genesis 27:28]]
  • And, of course, the benediction ha-motzi itself consists of ten Hebrew words.