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Berachos – The Obligation to Recite a B’racha

1. Is reciting a b’racha for food a Torah mitzvah?

  • All brachos recited before partaking of food or drink (b’racha rishona) was instituted by the Sages.
  • All brachos recited after partaking of food or drink (b’racha acharona) was instituted by the Sages, except for bensching after a filling bread meal, which is a Torah mitzvah.

2. Why did the Sages institute these brachos?

Among the many reasons given are the following:

  • All food belongs to Hashem, since He created it (Tehillim 24:1). When a person recites a b’racha it is considered as asking permission from the Host to partake of His food. Whoever partakes of food without reciting a b’racha commits sacrilege.
  • A b’racha is an expression of gratitude for the wonderful kindnesses of Hashem, Who supplies the world with such a wide variety of nutritious and delicious foods.
  • In the busy routine of one’s daily life, it is easy to forget about the constant presence of Hashem. The need to recite numerous brachos throughout the day, and in particular for food, arouses a person to remember his Creator and to fear Him. It is for this reason that men are required to recite one hundred brachos every day.
  • When man acknowledges that Hashem is the source of everything, he activates the Heavenly blessings to be released, thereby creating an abundance of crops and bringing plentiful sustenance to the world.
  • The verse states, “In all your ways, know Him” (Mishlei 3:6). This means that all man’s activities, even the most mundane, should be directed towards Hashem and performed with the intention of serving Him. In order that eating should not deteriorate into mere physical indulgence, the b’racha sanctifies the activity and elevates it to one of holiness and meaningful purpose.

3. What should one think about when reciting a b’racha?

  • He should consider whether a b’racha is indeed required, and if so which is the correct one. This seemingly small precaution that takes only a moment often prevents the serious mistake of reciting a b’racha in vain.
  • Before reciting the b’racha, one should at least realize that he is thanking Hashem for the food. To say the words by rote with absolutely no thought is a serious sin, which could arouse Hashem’s anger, ח”ו. The prophet Yeshayahu criticized the people of his days for honoring Hashem with mere lip service, and for performing mitzvos in a meaningless, routine way (29:13).
  • One should try to think about the meaning of the words as he says them.

4. What if one said the words with no thought at all?

As long as the correct words were said, the b’racha is valid.

5. May brachos be recited in English?

  • If one can read Hebrew, he should recite brachos in Hebrew, even if he does not understand the words. With a little effort, he should be able to learn the translation of the brachos, which will certainly make his recitation more meaningful.
  • If he cannot read Hebrew, he may temporarily recite brachos using a reliable English translation, until he is able to read Hebrew.

6. May one say a b’racha when assisting another adult to recite it?

It is usually forbidden to say a b’racha if one is not partaking of any food and such a b’racha would be recited in vain (see next chapter). However, it is permitted to do so when helping another person recite a b’racha before or after eating. The entire b’racha may be said with him, including the names of Hashem.

7. Are children obligated to recite brachos?

Boys and girls aged six should be trained to recite brachos for food and drinks. However, the widespread custom is to start training them earlier, usually when they reach the age of three. This is to accustom them to matters of holiness.

8. May one say a b’racha to help a child to recite it?

Yes, the entire b’racha may be said with him, including the names of Hashem. This may even be done by a teacher in the classroom, when neither the teacher nor the child is about to eat anything. This is in contrast to an adult, who may not say the names of Hashem when learning the text of a b’racha.

9. Is a b’racha required when tasting food?

  • If one wishes to taste a food or drink and spit it out, he should not recite a b’racha.
  • If one wishes to taste and swallow more than a kezayis of food or a reviyis of drink, he should recite a b’racha.
  • If one wishes to taste and swallow a smaller quantity, opinions differ whether a b’racha is required. Ideally, this case should be avoided, unless he decides that he wishes to eat and enjoy the food or drink, in which case a b’racha is required.

10. Do medicines and vitamins require a b’racha?

  • Pills and capsules that are swallowed whole do not require a b’racha.
  • Lozenges that are sucked or chewed and syrups require a b’racha if they have a pleasant taste, but not if they are bitter or tasteless.
  • If the lozenge or syrup has only a slight flavor, opinions differ whether a b’racha is required. It is therefore advisable to recite shehakol on a food or drink and intend to include the medicine.

11. What if one drinks water to help swallow a pill?

  • If he is thirsty, he should recite a b’racha.
  • If he is not thirsty, he should not recite a b’racha. However, a b’racha is required if any other drink is used in this situation.

12. What is the reason for this distinction?

A b’racha is required only when consuming a food or drink that provides some degree of pleasure to one’s taste. Since water is tasteless, a b’racha is only required when it is used to quench one’s thirst or as an enjoyable drink, but not for other purposes such as swallowing a pill. Other drinks always require a b’racha, since they have a pleasurable taste.

13. When else is a b’racha not required for water?

  • When food is stuck in one’s throat and water is drunk to prevent choking, ח”ו.
  • When drunk to relieve coughing.
  • After eating an extremely hot food, to relieve the burning sensation.
  • When following a diet that requires drinking water even when not thirsty.

In all these situations, one should not recite a b’racha for the water, unless he is also thirsty at the time.

14. What if one drinks water to avoid becoming thirsty later?

Opinions differ whether a b’racha is required, and one should therefore recite shehakol first on a food or another drink.

15. Is a b’racha required for repulsive food?

  • If the food is so repugnant that most people would not eat it even in times of need, a b’racha is not required. For example, moldy food, raw potatoes, very sour or bitter foods such as cocoa powder.
  • If people would eat it in times of need but not ordinarily, a b’racha is required. However, the b’racha shehakol should be recited even if it is a type of food that ordinarily requires a different b’racha. For example, a green banana or tomato or a highly salted food.

16. Is a b’racha required for non-kosher food?

  • In normal circumstances, eating non-kosher food is forbidden, and therefore to recite a b’racha for it would be an abomination to Hashem.
  • In a life-threatening situation, when a person must eat non-kosher food, he should recite a b’racha, since he is performing a mitzvah to preserve his life. Nevertheless, if he is so repulsed by the food that he has no pleasure from it, he should not recite a b’racha.

17. What if one accidentally ate a non-kosher food?

He must recite a b’racha acharona, since he ate it inadvertently.

18. What if one must eat on Yom Kippur?

A dangerously ill person performs a mitzvah by eating on Yom Kippur, and must therefore recite a b’racha for the food. Since the food is kosher, the regular b’racha is required even if he is extremely distressed that he must eat.

19. Should one recite a b’racha for food that is bad for his health?

Although he transgresses the mitzvah to look after one’s health, he must recite a b’racha since he derives pleasure from the food. If the food is dangerous to his health, he must not recite a b’racha.

20. What if one ingests food in an unnatural manner?

A sick person who is unable to eat is sometimes fed through a tube that passes directly to the stomach (intragastric feeding). Since this is not considered an act of eating, a b’racha should not be recited. Nevertheless, it is praiseworthy to hear the appropriate b’racha from someone else who is eating normally, or to say a few words of thanks to Hashem for the food.

21. What if one ate and subsequently vomited the food?

Although he recited a b’racha rishona, he should not recite a b’racha acharona, since the body no longer benefits from the food. If he is unsure whether he vomited all the food, he should try to hear a b’racha acharona recited by someone else.

22. What if one forgot to recite a b’racha rishona?

If a person started to eat a food and realized that he forgot to recite a b’racha, his course of action depends on the following:

  • If the food can be removed from the mouth without becoming repulsive, he should do this and recite the b’racha. For example, a sucking candy.
  • If the food would become repulsive if removed from the mouth, he should move the food to one side of the mouth and recite the b’racha. Although it is usually forbidden to recite a b’racha with something in one’s mouth, in this situation it is permitted since there is no better alternative. (To swallow the food without a b’racha is forbidden, and to spit out the food would be wasteful.)

23. What if one forgot to recite a b’racha for a liquid?

Since it is impossible to recite a b’racha with liquid in one’s mouth, he must spit out the liquid. Although the liquid will thereby become spoiled and wasted, this alternative is better than swallowing it without a b’racha.

24. What if he is extremely thirsty?

  • If he has access to more liquid, he must spit out what is in his mouth.
  • If he has no access to more liquid, he may swallow what is in his mouth.

25. What if he is with other people?

If possible, he should unobtrusively spit out the liquid into a paper napkin, or go immediately to a sink to spit it out there. If this is not possible, or he is embarrassed to do so, he may swallow the liquid.

26. What if one swallowed a food or liquid without a b’racha?

If a person forgot to recite a b’racha and only realized after he swallowed the food or liquid, it is too late to recite the b’racha for that item. However, if possible, he should immediately recite the b’racha for more of that food or liquid, or anything else that requires the same b’racha.

27. What if there is nothing suitable available?

He must recite the b’racha acharona for the food or liquid if he consumed a sufficient quantity.

28. May one offer food to a non-observant person?

If possible, one should not offer food or drink to a person who will not recite a b’racha, since this causes him to sin.

29. What if the person will be offended?

If a non-observant guest will be offended by the failure to offer him food or drink, it is permitted to serve him. To refuse him in such circumstances may, ח”ו, arouse feelings of antagonism or even hatred towards observant Jews, which is a greater transgression than eating without a b’racha. Nevertheless, one should attempt to do either of the following:

  • Politely suggest to the visitor to recite a b’racha. If necessary, one may recite the entire b’racha with him, including the names of Hashem. Of course, a man must cover his head when reciting a b’racha.
  • The host should also partake of the food and recite the b’racha loudly and clearly. The visitor should be asked to listen to the b’racha and answer amen.

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