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Chapter 11: Berachot — Blessings

Chapter 11: Berachot — Blessings

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Introduction to Berachot

G‑d created the world. Everything in the world is His. He created man who benefits from the earth’s resources. The Jew shows his gratitude to G‑d by making Berachot — blessings.

Birkat Hamazon Grace after Meals

The only Berachah mentioned in the Chumash is Birkat Hamazon, the Bentching or Grace after Meals. This blessing is recited after eating bread. The Berachah contains a number of paragraphs which talk about: how G‑d feeds humanity; the special nature of Eretz Yisrael [Land of Israel] and Jerusalem.

Although this is the only Berachah mentioned in the Chumash, however, the Rabbis said that if G‑d wants us to thank Him after we have eaten, how much more so should we thank Him and say a Berachah before we eat. They therefore instituted Berachot before eating food. Furthermore, they said we should make a Berachah before we do a mitzvah.

100 Blessings a Day

King David instituted that every Jew should say 100 blessings every single day. If you take a Siddur and count up all the blessings you say from the minute you wake until you go to sleep, there are 100. [To start with, you have 19 x 3 blessings for the Amidah of Shacharit, Minchah and Maariv]. We shall now take a closer look at some of those blessings.

Netilat Yadayim — Washing the Hands

Upon waking up in the morning, the first thing to do is to say Modeh Ani ... [see Siddur]. This proclaims your thanks and great faith in G‑d in returning and refreshing your soul. Following this, the hands are washed using a cup, three times alternatively, right, left, etc. The Berachah: Baruch ... al netilat yadayim, is recited.

N.B. The washing of the hands for a meal is different from the washing of hands upon awakening:

Upon awakening, wash: right, left, right, left, right, left.

Before eating bread, wash: right, right, right, left, left, left.

After washing one’s hands before a meal of bread, it is customary not to speak until one has made the Berachah on the bread.

Birchot Hashachar — The Morning Blessings

A number of blessings are recited each morning to thank G‑d; for our hearing, eyesight, straight posture, ability to walk, our clothing, and in general for being Jewish. [See Siddur.]

Birchot HaTorah — The Torah Blessings

A special blessing is made each morning over the portion of the Torah which we learn on that day. The Torah is a beautiful gift from G‑d, and every day we thank G‑d for this gift.

Note that the same blessing is said when one has an aliyah.

Tefillah

Many blessings are said during the prayers, particularly in the Amidah [silent prayer] when 18 [actually 19, as one was added later] blessings are said which bless G‑d for a variety of things including our livelihood, income, health, justice, peace etc.

Blessings over Food

A blessing is said before eating any food or drink. Below is a list of foods with the Berachot we say over them.

Fruit of a tree — Baruch Ata…Borei Pri Ha-eitz

Vegetables — Baruch Ata…Borei Pri Ha-adamah

Meat, Milk, Cheese, Fish, Water, Juices — Baruch Ata…Shehakol Nihyoh Bidvaro

Cake — Baruch Ata…Borei Minei Mezonot

Bread — Baruch Ata…Hamotzee Lechem Min Ha-aretz

Wine — Baruch Ata…Borei Pri Hagafen

Note that a Berachah is said no matter how small the quantity of food.

Eating Bread

If your meal contains bread, the procedure should be:

1) Wash hands three times [right three times, left three times] with a cup.

2) Say BerachahAl netilat yadayim —Don’t speak.

3) Hold bread, say BerachahHamotzee lechem min ha-aretz. Dip bread in salt three times and eat.

4) After finishing eating, wash hands [fingertips] [Mayim Acharonim] and recite Grace after Meals.

Note that grace is only recited if 27 grams/1 oz bread was eaten. If Hamotzee is said, it is not necessary to say any other blessings for food eaten during the meal. However, a blessing must be said over dessert [or wine drunk during the meal].

After eating cake or special fruits

After eating cake, or any cooked or baked food from the five species of grain [wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt] or after wine, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives or dates [all foods which the Land of Israel is blessed with], a special blessing called Al Hamichyah is said. In essence, it is a shortened form of Grace after Meals [Over grain one says Al Hamichyah, over wine Al Hagefen, and over fruit Al Hapeirot].

Note that one must eat at least 27 grams/1 oz. to say this blessing.

After eating any other food

After eating any other food, a short blessing called Borei Nefashot is recited:

Baruch Ata…Borei Nefashot Rabot Vechesronan Al Kol Ma Shebarata Lehachayot Bahem Nefesh Kol Chai Baruch Chai Haolamim.

Blessings over Mitzvot

Blessings are made when putting on a Tallit, Tefillin; fixing a Mezuzah; sitting in a Sukkah; Baruch Ata…Leishave Basukkah; shaking the Arbaah Minim; Baruch Ata…Al Netillat Lulav separating Challah from dough; blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah; Baruch Ata…Lishmoa Kol Shofar, and on many more occasions.

Shehechiyanu

Upon wearing a new garment, eating a new fruit, and on lighting the candles and making Kiddush on Yomtov, the Berachah Shehechiyanu is recited; Baruch Ata…Shehecheyanu Vekeymanu Vehigianu Lizman Hazeh.

Phenomena

Blessings are said over certain natural phenomena e.g. thunder and lightening, shooting stars, rainbows, etc. A special blessing called Asher Yatzar is recited by a person each time he visits the lavatory. This blessing thanks G‑d for the wondrous ways in which the body absorbs the food it needs and excretes the waste.

Gratitude

Saying blessings is part of the Jewish people’s attitude. We make a blessing on hearing bad news as well as good news for we truly believe that everything G‑d does is for the best [even if we can’t fully understand why]. The words Baruch Hashem — Blessed be G‑d, are constantly on our lips. This emphasizes the total dependency of the Jewish people on our Father in Heaven.

A full list of Berachot may be found in a Siddur. It is praiseworthy always to use a Siddur when saying long Berachot.

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
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