of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali


167:6, 10

[The celebrant] should eat [the bread] immediately and not speak between the benediction and the eating. If he does speak he must repeat the benediction, unless what he said was connected with matters arising from the benediction. For instance, he may have recited the benediction over bread and before he ate it he said "bring salt or savoury", "give so-and-so food", "feed the animal" - and such things. [In such circumstances] he does not have to repeat the benediction. Note: Nevertheless, one should not interrupt at all. The rule that one must repeat the benediction if one says something unconnected applies if one speaks before the celebrant has eaten, but afterwards speaking does not constitute an interruption even if the other diners have not yet eaten: they have all fulfilled their duty through what the celebrant ate, since they don't all have to eat from the celebrant's slice; we do this in order to make people regard the mitzvah with affection.

One has fulfilled one's duty if, instead of ha-motzi one recites the benediction she-ha-kol or says "blessed be the Merciful One, the owner of this bread".


Our shiur today deals with two paragraphs from Section 167. The first is paragraph 6 and the second is paragraph 10. (The intervening paragraphs are not immediately relevant to our theme of Shabbat Eve in the Home.)

Paragraph 6 is concerned with what happens after the celebrant has recited the benediction ha-motzi. We have already mentioned several times that when a berakhah is preparatory to an ritual action the action must immediately follow the berakhah (see, for example, Shabbat 032). Strictly speaking, the action must follow on immediately after the berakhah so that the two are intimately associated. Thus, strange as it may seem, the celebrant should not even pause in silence after reciting the benediction and before eating the slice of ĥallah. (I have heard of celebrants who refrain from eating their slice of ĥallah until ĥallah has been served to all the other diners: this is wrong, even if the celebrant says nothing at all.)

So, if even silence constitutes an interruption between the benediction and the eating of the bread if is all the more obvious that speaking would constitute an interruption. The juxtaposition of the words of Rabbi Karo in the text of paragraph 6 and the words of Rabbi Isserles in his note, which follows, create a situation of what we call le-khateĥikah and be-di-avad. The former term describes what should be done under optimal conditions; the latter term describes the halakhic situation of the action were not performed in the best manner possible. Rabbi Isserles states quite succinctly that le-khateĥikah the celebrant should not separate his benediction from his eating at all: if there are things that he or she feels must be said they should be said before washing the hands. However, from the words of Rabbi Karo we understand that if, for some unforeseen reason, the celebrant finds a pressing need to say something before eating the bread, this does not invalidate the benediction provided that what was said is intimately connected with the repast.

The examples of what kind of 'interruption' would not invalidate the benediction are instructive. We have already seen in the previous shiur that ideally bread should be eaten together with salt. Consideration for the feelings of a guest who is a late arrival is also imperative: if the guest is a poor person who has suddenly arrived to share the meal it is permitted to instruct that a place be set for him or her and that they take their place to avoid embarrassing them. The reasoning is the same if the sudden guest is well off. People who own animals (including household pets) should not sit down to eat if they have not fed the animals. To do so would constitute tza'ar ba'alé ĥayyim - cruelty to animals - in that they see the humans eating but cannot do so themselves.

Paragraph 10 of Section 167 is concerned with the actual text of the berakhah. We saw in Shabbat 044 that the benediction before eating bread is barukh attah Adonai, Eloheynu melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi leĥem min ha-aretz [Praised be God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who brings bread forth from the earth]. However, if for any reason the celebrant cannot recite that blessing the general "stop-gap" blessing over foodstuffs may be substituted: barukh attah Adonai, Eloheynu melekh ha-olam, she-ha-kol niheyah bi-devaro [Praised be God, Sovereign of the Universe, at whose word everything came into being]. Furthermore, we find in the Gemara [Berakhot 40b] that if an untutored person recites a benediction which does not use the text established by the sages they are deemed to have fulfilled their duty provided that the text that they use answers the minimal requirements of the sages: that it contain a reference to God's majesty and that it indicate in some manner the topic of the benediction. The Gemara gives the example of an ignorant shepherd who said quite simply (in Aramaic and not in Hebrew) Berikh Raĥamana malka maré de-hai pita [Praised be the All-Merciful King, Owner of this bread].

I had originally intended concluding this shiur at this point, even though I was reasonably certain that someone would probably write to me concerning the text of the she-ha-kol benediction just mentioned above. I would then have to explain the difference between Ashkenazi tradition and Sefaradi tradition. The former praises God as being He she-ha-kol niheyah bi-devaro [at whose word everything comes into being] - present tense; while the latter have the version given above: she-ha-kol niheyah bi-devaro [at whose word everything came into being] - past tense. Since I believe that this difference of one Hebrew vowel has important theological implications I have revised my former intention, and have decided not leave the matter to the chance that someone will point out my 'error', even though this prolongs our present shiur. My main consideration in doing so is because of the fact that our celebration of Shabbat is so closely and intimately connected with the teaching of Creation.

We are all familiar with the creation story as told in the first chapter of Genesis. Regardless of the manner in which each person approaches the exposition of this text, one cannot help but be struck by a seeming internal contradiction. The first verse proclaims that "In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth", which would suggest a single act of creation. However, the subsequent unfolding of the story - with its recurring refrains of "And God said..." and "Let there be..." and "There was evening and there was morning..." and so forth - suggest that there were a series of creative acts (ten in all according to rabbinic counting, as we shall see when we reach Avot 5:1). The collection of midrashim known as Bereshit Rabba contains the resumés of 'sermons' on the text of the book of Genesis as delivered in the synagogues of Eretz-Israel during the first few centuries of the current era. In one of these [12:4] there is recorded a very interesting 'maĥloket' [difference of opinion] between two sages (both former prize students of Rabbi Akiva) on the internal contradiction that we have mentioned. Rabbi Yehudah [ben-Ilai] espouses the interpretation of the text that sees many individual acts of creation, each individual act being the result of a new divine 'fiat'. Rabbi Neĥemyah espouses a view of the text that there was but one single and never-repeated creative act. In this 'maĥloket' Rabbi Yehudah, of course, points out to Rabbi Neĥemyah that he seems to be ignoring the plain meaning of the text: how would his view cope with "first day", "second day" and so on? - which seem to be indicating so clearly many successive acts of creation. Rabbi Neĥemyah responds that in his view there was but one 'fiat', one single and never-to-be-repeated act of creation, within which everything was potentially created. From then on things just developed, evolved, "like figs coming to ripening, each one at the right time". Rabbi Berekhyah approvingly draws the obvious conclusion from Rabbi Neĥemyah's exposition: "Thus when the Torah says [Genesis 1:12], 'And the earth brought forth...' it was but bringing forth something that was already in it."

There is no need to labour this point, whose possible consonance with modern scientific views on the origin of the universe, evolution and so forth is obvious. Which brings me back to my original question that prompted this discussion: should we recite this berakhah in Hebrew as ...she-ha-kol niheyEH bi-devaro - present tense - as is the Ashkenazi practice? Or should we recite this berakhah in Hebrew as ...she-ha-kol niheyAH bi-devaro - past tense - as is the Sefaradi practice? There is a theological choice here. If we elect to espouse the Ashkenazi pronunciation ["at whose word everything comes into being"] we are proclaiming an on-going creation - every new development is the result of a new divine intervention. If we elect to espouse the Sefaradi pronunciation ["at whose word everything came into being"] we are proclaiming a one-time-only creation - and everything that developed thereafter is only the coming-to-fruition of another part of the original divine programme.


In the discussion segment of the previous shiur I responded to an objection raised by Ze'ev Orzech. Ze'ev found the custom of "breaking bread" instead of slicing it to be impolite. Now Derek Fields writes in support of my more lenient position:

I have heard one explanation that the tearing of the challah on Friday night rather than slicing it is based on the verse "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares." The intent is not to use a "sword" on Shabbat in celebration of Shabbat as a taste of Olam Habah [the world to come - SR].

I respond:

I like it!