Before and after enjoying any food we are expected to bless God in gratitude for it. The Torah commands to recite a GRACE after meals (Deut 8:10). The command is obligatory (Despite the fact that this is the most commonly forgotten blessing, especially by those who don’t live in an Orthodox community).
How about the GRACE BEFORE MEALS? It is a Rabbinic ordinance. Our sages taught:
“It is forbidden to taste anything without saying a blessing over it” (Berakhot 35a).
By doing so, we acknowledge God as the source of all sustenance, and recognize that the earth and its bounties belong to him. Otherwise it would be similar to stealing food from the table of a king.
In addition, Kabbalah and Hassidut teach that all food – as everything else in the world – contains a ‘spark’ of holiness exiled in the material/secular realm, waiting to be redeemed. When we say a blessing before eating, and turn our meal into a Divine service, we elevate the physical substance of the food into holiness and reunite it with its Divine source.
When the human body hungers for a piece of physical bread, this is but a reflection of its soul’s craving for the “soul” of the bread (i.e. the spark of holiness), which the human being redeems by utilizing the energy he or she derives from the food towards a Godly purpose. This is a mystical secret concealed in the verse (Deut 8:3): “A man does not only live by bread, but also by the utterance of God’s mouth he lives” (cf. Tanya chapter 7).
Hassidic or not, the grace before meals is part of our Hallakha, and we are bound to do it. So the question is: how?
I. THE FORMULA
First things first. Virtually every blessing (Brakhah) begins with the same formula. You just need to learn the formula and you’ll know the first part of nearly every single blessing:
- Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloqeinu Melekh haOlam…
– Blessed art thou Adonai, our God, King of the World…
What follows after depends on what are you going to eat.
Note: Remember to answer Amen immediately after hearing a blessing being concluded by another person (Not after your own blessing; cf. Berakhot 45b).
If you want to play it safe, eat always with bread (wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oat bread). The after-meal grace will be longer, but It will simplify everything else.
Every meal that is accompanied with bread requires a blessing over bread, and it will cover everything you eat (except for dessert and wine), This is based on the fact that the word “bread” is often another way of saying “meal”.
II. MEALS WITH BREAD
Before meals accompanied with bread we are expected to perform a ritual hand-washing (Netilat Yadaim). Since it is a Mitzvah d’Rabanan it is recited as a ‘commandment’ blessing.
When performing a commandment the formula starts with:
- Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloqeinu Melekh haOlam Asher Qidishanu beMitzvotaiv Vetzivanu al…… –
Blessed art thou Adonai, our God, King of the World Who has consecrated us with his commandments and has commanded us concerning….
In the case of hand-washing we simply say “hand-washing” in Hebrew – Netilat Yadaim.
So the blessing is:
- Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloqeinu Melekh haOlam Asher Qidishanu beMitzvotaiv Vetzivanu al Netilat-Yadaim
Blessed art thou Adonai, our God, King of the World Who has consecrated us with his commandments and has commanded us concerning the ritual hand-washing.
When eating with bread, you break the bread, make a blessing over it, then eat a portion, and then share with the other members (cf. Berakhot 47a). For the blessing over bread – which is called haMotzi (who brings forth) you say:
- Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloqeinu Melekh haOlam haMotzi Lekhem min haAretz.
Blessed art thou Adonai, our God, King of the World who brings forth Bread [Lekhem] from the earth [haAretz].
III. MEALS WITHOUT BREAD
As stated above, desserts and wine have their own blessing. When eating food outside of a bread-based meal, individual food types receive their own blessing before and after eating. We say that God is the one who creates them (i.e. the Boreh). They can be catalogued as follows:
1 – grain based food that is not bread (such as cakes, pasta, crackers, pastries, cereals, and other grain products). It is called Mezonot.
2 – the fruit of the vine (Wine or grape juice). The word “fruit” in Hebrew is Pri. The fruit of the vine is Pri haGafen.
3 – the fruit from the ground (this refers to vegetables, legumes, peanuts, and fruits that grow close to the ground such as bananas, melons, pineapples… etc). In Hebrew, fruit from the ground is Pri haAdamah. Adamah (ground) is where Adam got his name from.
4 – the fruit from the tree (such as apples, most nuts, peaches, oranges, figs… etc). The fruit of the tree is called: Pri ha’Etz.
5 – the food that does not fall into the previous categories (this includes animal derived products [such as meat or eggs], liquids that are not wine [including water], mushrooms, candy.. etc). For this kind of food we say that all of them came to be by God’s word [bi’Dvaro].
So this is the formula you have to remember (cf. Mishna Berakhot 6:1):
- Introduction: Barukh Atah Adonai Eloqeinu Melekh haOlam
- Bread: haMotzi Lekhem min haAretz (who brings forth bread from the earth).
- Grain based: Boreh Minei Mezonot (who creates various kinds of sustenance).
- Wine: Boreh Pri haGafen (who creates the fruit of the vine).
- Fruit from the ground: Boreh Pri haAdamah (who creates the fruit of the ground).
- Fruit from the tree: Boreh Pri ha’Etz (who creates the fruit of the tree).
- Beverage: sheHaKol Nihyah bi’Dvaro (by whose word everything came to be).
◌ What is the blessing for unclean food (i.e. food that is not permitted in the Torah)?
- You cannot recite a blessing If you eat Treif (non-kosher food, such as: cat, dog, pork, shrimp, shark, crab, octopus, rodents, reptiles, insects (except the grasshopper and the locust) or blood). If a Jew eats these things he actually sins, so the blessing would be a curse.
- Note: For the rules concerning unclean animals check Leviticus 11:1-47, 17:13; Deuteronomy 14:1-20; Mishna Hullin 3:8, Gemara Hullin 59a-b, 62a-63b, 67a-b; Avoda Zara 39b-40a.
- If one doesn’t live in a Jewish community or can’t access/afford Kosher-certified food, one has to be careful even with food that is theoretically permitted, because it might have been manipulated or cooked using non-kosher ingredients. This is especially true in pastries, Chinese cuisine, and American’s chips whose oil is at times mixed with pork lard. [interestingly this is also the case with most of the traditional Christmas food]. Read the ingredients of everything you buy, because you cannot recite a blessing over this food either.
◌ Is a blessing on water always needed?
- If you are not thirsty or don’t need it to cool off, making a blessing is not required, since there is no physical need or pleasure derived from the drinking. Otherwise, it is a SheHaKol.
◌ What if I have on my dish two items of two different kinds? [eating without bread]
- This follows the rule of Ikar ve’Tofel. If one of the items is primary in your mind, meaning that the other item is only there to serve or to perfect the primary food, you then recite the blessing on the primary item. For example if you have a steak with carrots, and you consider the carrots are only there to help the steak to taste better, then you recite SheHaKol on the steak, but having the carrot in your mind as part of the same food.
- If the different foods are completely independent in your mind and one does not raise the other in any form or shape, then you recite a separated blessing for each one of them.
◌ What’s the blessing for a salad with a mixture of ingredients?
- You bless according to the primary ingredients or the majority of the salad. If most of the ingredients are “fruit of the ground” then you recite a haAdamah.
◌ What’s the blessing for orange juice?
- Since it changed, and it turned from a fruit into a liquid, you recite a corresponding blessing for liquids that are not wine; i.e. shehaKol.
◌ What’s the blessing for quinoa?
- If kept whole, haAdamah. In a cake or something like that, SheHaKol.
◌ What’s the blessing for lemons?
- If you plan to eat it raw and enjoy it, it’s the blessing for the Tree fruits (ha’Etz). If you are using it only as accompanying something else, you recite the blessing that corresponds to that other thing.
◌ What’s the blessing for medicine?
- swallowed pills don’t have a blessing. Chewable and liquid medications that you would enjoy even they are not medicine, yes, a SheHaKol.
◌ What is the blessing for Rice? [Pay attention Asian communities]
- Rice presents some difficulties. If it becomes one mass when cooked or transformed into bread, it requires a mezonot blessing. But if it maintains its form, hallakhists are not sure whether rice is what the Talmudists call: Dokhen, or what they call Orez (cf. Berakhot 27a, Tosefta Berakhot 37a). When we are not sure which category an item belongs to, we recite the generic blessing (i.e. SheHaKol). There are so many communities that use SheHaKol for rice.
- It is more than likely that Rice is ‘Orez’ which sounds like the Spanish for rice (arroz) [cf. Mishna Berurah 208:25], but the opinions vary, some saying that the proper blessing for rice is Mezonot, and others saying it should be ha’Adamah (cf. the Rosh on Berakhot 6:8 vs Mishna Berura). Since the doubt exists, it is more convenient to recite SheHaKol.
- In order to avoid the dilemma, one can choose to eat it in a bread-based meal, thus using the haMotzi (cf. Alter Rebbe, seder birkat haNehenin 1:11).
- But some people prefer to avoid saying the haMotzi –presumably because they don’t wish to recite the rather lengthy Grace after Meals which follows a bread-based meal – so they take the lenient way out and recite the mezonot on something which is definitely Mezonot, haAdamah on a vegetable, and a sheHaKol on something requiring that blessing. They then eat rice—which is covered by the blessing already recited. Following this manner, one would be required to eat at least the minimal amount of grain, about an ounce, in order to say the al hamikhya after-blessing.
- The last one is perfect for communities with an Asian-culture background, because in so many Asian countries, rice (and not bread) accompanies the majority of dishes.