The Beracha Challenge
We learn in a beraita: “What beracha is said on bread? The Rabbanan say: ‘Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz’; Rabbi Nechemia says: ‘Motzi lechem min ha’aretz.’”
Rava explains in the gemara that since the beracha needs to be in the past tense — Hashem already took bread out from the land — the dispute in the beraita involves understanding the tense of the verb. Everyone agrees that “Motzi” is past tense and therefore appropriate for the beracha. Regarding “Hamotzi,” however, there is a dispute. The Rabbanan say that it is also past tense and appropriate, but Rabbi Nechemia holds that it is future tense and not a suitable verb form for the beracha.
The gemara concludes that the halacha is to say “Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz,” and that this verb is indeed in the past tense, like the opinion of the Rabbanan. Tosefot points out that this ruling is made despite the objection of Rabbi Nechemia’s view. Tosefot cites the Talmud Yerushalmi’s teaching that the choice of “Hamotzi” is to help prevent a person who does not carefully enunciate the words from inadvertently “combining” two back-to-back letter mem- words in the beracha — “Melech ha’ola m, followed by “Motzi lechem.” However, although there is yet another place in the beracha where there are two juxtaposed mem-words — lechem and min — these words remain as they are since they are written in this manner in the Torah, in Tehillim 104:14. (The Aruch Hashulchan 167:8 discusses the text of the beracha in detail, offering new numerous insights.)
- Berachot 38 a-b
Sense for the Soul
Rav Zutra bar Tuvia said in the name of Rav, “From where do we learn that one should say a beracha when smelling a fragrance?”
He goes on to answer, “Because the verse states, ‘Every neshama praise
Although the word neshama in the verse is translated as “soul” in its fundamental meaning, the Maharsha explains why our gemara understands the word neshama to be a reference to the pleasure derived through one’s sense of smell. A person’s sense of smell, he explains, is closer to being soul-like than the other four human senses with which we perceive the world. Sight, taste, touch and sound are all “physical senses,” whereas smell is a more “spiritual” and non-physical sense. The sense of smell occurs when a person takes a breath — neshima — of the good fragrance that is outside of his body and brings it inside his body. In doing so, only the person’s soul derives pleasure from the pleasant smell of the ingested air.
The Maharsha suggests another possible connection between the neshama and the pleasure derived when smelling a good fragrance. He conjectures that only a living being with a neshama receives pleasure from good smells. Accordingly, this would exclude animals, which, despite their acute sense of smell, would possess no capability of getting pleasure from pleasant fragrances. (Readers who are “animal-mavens” are invited to share with us their knowledge on the current understanding of this matter.)
As part of the Havdala service following Shabbat we are instructed to smell cloves or other fragrant plants or spices and say the blessing of “borei minei besamim.” A reason given for this practice is to cause pleasure to our souls as a type of comfort and consolation for the loss of the neshama yeteira — “extra soul” — that we possess each Shabbat and lose when Shabbat ends. This practice is a practical application of understanding the sense of smell as related to the soul.
- Berachot 43b