Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 13 February 2016 / 4 Adar I 5776

Birkat Hamazon - The Blessing(s) After a Meal

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

We are taught, “He (G-d) gives bread (sustenance) to all mankind, for His kindness is forever.” (Tehillim 136:25)

My five-year-old son and I were travelling on the train on a particularly hot summer day. We both noticed a family making a dash to make it onto the train. Once seated, the children were given some soda to drink to help them cool off. Each one guzzled down his drink, returning his empty cup for a refill. My son and I couldn’t help notice that they weren’t making berachot. I explained to my son that not everyone makes blessings when they eat and drink.

All of G-d’s creations require some kind of nourishment. For people it comes in the form of tasty food and drink. This is a great kindness on G-d’s part, making the eating process a pleasurable one. After all, it could have been like filling the tank at the gas station. For this we owe G-d a big “Thank you”. Although this idea includes all people, only the Jewish People were commanded to recite blessings before and after we eat and drink.

While other blessings for food are Rabbinical in nature, it is a positive mitzvah from the Torah to recite “birkat hamazon”. This is comprised of three berachot that are “Torah berachot”, and a fourth, “Rabbinical beracha”. They are said after one eats a sustaining meal that includes bread, as it is written, “You shall eat and be satiated, and you shall bless the L-rd your G-d… (Devarim 8:10).” The requirement is of a Biblical nature only when one is satiated, as is evident from the verse. There is, however, still a Rabbinical requirement to recite birkat hamazon when one eats even only a kezait (about one ounce in volume, usually one slice) of bread, even though this amount will not fully satisfy the average person’s appetite. (Rambam, Laws of Blessings 1:1, 3:12; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 168:9; Mishnah Berurah 184:22)

There is a general rule regarding after-blessings: Since blessings said after food in general are only a Rabbinical requirement, when there is a doubt regarding a blessing, one is lenient and does not recite it (Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 7:5). Accordingly, if one is not sure if he recited birkat hamazon on a kezait of bread, he does not recite it (again). When one has eaten bread and is satiated, then his requirement to recite birkat hamazon is mandated by the Torah. In this case, if he is in doubt he must be strict and recite birkat hamazon. This is in accordance with the rule that when there is a doubt regarding a Biblical obligation one must be strict. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 184:4; Mishnah Berurah 184:15)

Therefore, in a situation of doubt, one says only the first three blessings of birkat hamazon. This is because only the first three blessings are a Biblical requirement. The fourth blessing was instituted by the Rabbis in the Talmudic era (Rambam) and is a Rabbinical requirement (Ben Ish Chai, Laws of Birkat Hamazon 9).

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