Blessings on Food
“Blessed are You L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe… Who brings forth bread from the earth… Who creates various kinds of sustenance… Who creates the fruit of the vine… of the tree… of the earth… by Whose word all things came to be.”
With these words, recited before eating any type of food, we express gratitude to the Creator for the manifold blessings He bestows upon us for our sustenance. These blessings are our recognition that the earth and its fullness belong to G-d. After acknowledging this fact, we may then enjoy the bounty and riches of the land.
These blessings are not mere verbalizations, but are an essential part of our spiritual service. Saying a blessing, a distinctly human ability, is an opportune moment to mediate on G-d’s greatness as provider and Creator. This moment of spiritual awareness, represented by saying the blessing, transforms the commonplace activity of eating into a holy act.
Chassidic teachings explain that all food contains a G-dly spark of holiness. When we say a blessing before eating, and eat with the intention to serve G-d, we actually elevate the physical substance of the food into holiness. This holy spark, which is inherent in the food, becomes reunited with its Divine source. Six different brachot (blessings) correspond to the various categories of food. They belong to the type of blessing called bircat ha’nehenin (blessings of pleasure) which are required before we derive physical pleasure from G-d’s creations.
Children, from the time they are old enough to speak, are taught to say blessings over food. In this way, we nurture in them a sense of appreciation for G-d’s bounty.
After we eat, we must also remember G-d as the ultimate source of our sustenance, as the Torah commands: “And you shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land which He has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)
This command was given to the Jews prior to entering the Land of Israel, after wandering in the desert, where G-d sustained them with the miraculous manna. Even in times of great prosperity, when we might be tempted to delude ourselves into believing that our wealth is due only to our own efforts, we are reminded through the blessings to acknowledge G-d’s mercy.
BLESSINGS BEFORE EATING
Before partaking of any food, a brachah rishonah (preceding blessing), is said. There are six different blessings, each beginning with the same words, BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM, Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, and concluding with a few words related to the type of food eaten. Following is a transliteration, and translation of each Hebrew blessing, with examples of foods requiring that blessing.
1. BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM HA-MO-TZI LE-CHEM MIN HA-A-RETZ.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.
Examples: bread, bagels, challah, matzah, pita and rolls made from any of the following five grains: wheat, barley, rye, oat or spelt.
NOTE: Many of the above foods, especially bagels, pita and rolls, may require a blessing of mezonot, depending upon their ingredients. (See Regarding “Mezonot” Bread, page 60.)
2. BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM BO-RAI MI-NAI ME-ZO-NOT.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who creates various kinds of sustenance.
Examples: cakes, cereals, cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts, and pasta — if made of one or more of the five grains listed under the first blessing.
3. BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM BO-RAI PRI HA-GA-FEN.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Examples: wine and grape juice.
4. BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM BO-RAI PRI HA-AITZ.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.
Examples: all fruits from permanent trees, such as apples, oranges, and peaches, even if these fruits are dried; also grapes, raisins, and all nuts, except peanuts which are a legume.
5. BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM BO-RAI PRI HA-A-DA-MAH.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the earth.
Examples: all vegetables and greens from the ground, peanuts, legumes, and some fruits such as bananas, melons, and pineapples.
6. BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM SHE-HA-KOL NI-H’YAH BI-D’VA-RO.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, by Whose word all things came to be.
Examples: candy, dairy, eggs, fish, liquids, meat, mushrooms and everything else which is not included in the first five blessings above.
NOTE: The above blessings apply to foods in their basic form; however, the blessings may vary when the form is changed through processing, or when foods are combined.
Some Basic Laws
The rules of blessings on foods are intricate, requiring careful study. Following are some of the most basic rules. In addition to knowing the correct blessings to say over various foods, many other laws apply.
*A blessing is required whenever eating even a small amount of food.
*Before beginning to say a blessing, one should know the correct blessing to say.
*The food over which the blessing is being said should be held in the right hand (if the person is right-handed) at the time of the blessing.
*Do not talk from the moment of beginning a blessing until swallowing the first bite.
*As the name of G-d is mentioned in each blessing, and we are not allowed to say G-d’s name in vain, we should never say a blessing unnecessarily. However, when teaching blessings to a child, one may pronounce G-d’s name if necessary.
*Answer Amen immediately after hearing a blessing being concluded by another person. (Do not say Amen after your own blessing.)
“SHEHECHIYANU” A Special Seasonal Blessing:
BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM SHE-HECH-I-YA-NU V’KI-MA-NU V’HI-GI-YA-NU LI-Z’MAN HA-ZEH.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
This blessing is said the first time each year one eats a fruit or vegetable which is seasonal, i.e., one which grows only at a certain time of the year. The shehechiyanu should preferable be said before the regular blessing on the fruit, although some have the custom to say it afterwards. A shehechiyanu is said only if the fruit is ripe. Example of seasonal fruits over which one can say this blessing: kiwi, fresh figs or dates, pomegranates, cherries, tangerines, cantaloupes, and strawberries.
NOTE: This blessing is also said the first time a mitzvah is done each year, such as lighting the Chanukah candles, reading the Megillah on Purim, and taking the lulav and etrog on Sukkot.
When Eating A Meal With Bread
The blessing hamotzi, said at the beginning of a meal, is inclusive and exempts one from saying additional blessings over the other foods eaten at the meal. (For exceptions, see below.)
Washing One’s Hands: Before eating bread it is necessary to wash the hands ritually. When washing the hands in this manner, be sure the hands are clean and free of rings or anything else which might intervene between the fingers and the flow of water. It is preferable to use a special to-handled cup, although any large cup can be used. The water is poured first on the right hand, two or three times according to one’s custom, then on the left hand for the same number of times. If one will be eating at least two ounces of bread, one says the blessing:
BA-RUCH A-TAH A-DO-NOI ELO-HAI-NU ME-LECH HA-O-LAM A-SHER KID-SHA-NU B’MITZ-VO-TAV V’TZI-VA-NU AL N’TI-LAT YA-DA-YIM.
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.
Then rub the hands together and dry them. After drying the hands, say the blessing hamotzi over the bread. Do not speak or engage in other activities between Washington the hands and saying the blessing.
Other Blessings During The Meal: After the blessing of hamotzi is said, do not say blessings on the other foods in the meal, with the following exceptions:
*A blessing is said on wine, unless the meal was preceded by Kiddush.
*A blessing is required for some mezonot desserts, depending on the ingredients. Consult an Orthodox Rabbi for guidance.
*A blessing is said on all other desserts (e.g. ice cream, compote).
If in doubt, one can first say Bircat Hamazon (Grace After A Meal) and then eat the dessert, saying the appropriate blessings before and after the dessert.
After concluding a meal in which at least one ounce of bread was eaten, we say Bircat Hamazon.
NOTE: Some breads and rolls require the blessing mezonot because of their ingredients. See Regarding “Mezonot” Bread, page 60, for the many halachic factors concerning these breads.
Blessings Before Various Foods Without Bread
Whether eating a snack or a complete meal without bread, one must be aware of and know the appropriate manner in which to say blessings over individual foods.
*When eating several different foods in the same category, say only one blessing. For example, when eating apples, oranges, and peaches, say only one blessing ha-aitz. The blessing is made over the preferred item, with the intention of including all foods in that category.
*When eating several foods from different categories, say a separate blessing over each type of food. For example: mezonot on crackers, ha-adamah on coleslaw, shehakol on eggs.
Order Of Blessings: When one is eating foods requiring different blessings, the priority of the blessings is as follows: 1) mezonot; 2) ha-gafen; 3) ha-aitz; 4) ha-adamah; 5) shehakol. For example, first say mezonot on crackers and then ha-aitz on grapes; or ha-adamah on celery and then shehakol on milk.
Two exceptions are:
1. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, Kiddush over wine precedes the blessing over bread or cake.
2. When eating foods requiring the blessing of ha-aitz and ha-adamah, such as an apple and a banana, say the blessing over the preferred food first.
*After saying the blessing borai pri hagafen over wine, additional blessings before and after other liquids or drinks are not necessary.
Blessings on Combined Foods: When a dish contains different kinds of food from different blessing categories mixed together, the following criteria apply:
*If one food is clearly the main food, then even though many other types are combines, a blessing is made over the main food only. For example, for tuna salad with vegetable bits added, the blessing is said over the tuna.
*If the different foods are equally important, then the blessing is made on the one that constitutes the majority of the dish.
*When foods contain mezonot ingredients, the mezonot is considered the main ingredient even if it is the minority ingredient. The blessing mezonot is then said over the entire dish and includes the other ingredients. Examples are fruit pie and macaroni and cheese.
*If the mezonot ingredient is present only for the sake of binding, thickening, or adding color, the blessing is determined by the other ingredients. An example is, flour added to thicken soup.
When Food Is In Changed Form: Most juices and totally strained or ground foods require the blessing shehakol. However, if the food still resembles its original form and is conventionally eaten in such a manner, we say the blessing which would be made over the food in its raw form, such as ha-aitz on chunky applesauce.
When In Doubt As To The Correct Blessing: The following options apply:
*Wash hands ritually and eat bread, saying hamotzi. The food in question may then be eaten during the course of the meal. If the food over which there is a question is a fruit, then at least the first bite should be eaten in the same mouthful with the bread.
*If in doubt as to which of two blessings should be said over a particular food, you can first eat a bite of two different foods, one for each blessing, having in mind also the food in question. Then that food may be eaten.
*If one said the blessing shehakol instead of the specific blessing that applies to a particular food, then one has fulfilled the requirement for saying the blessing. However, this alternative may be used only if there are varying opinions among halachic authorities as to the proper blessing for this food. One must make an effort to know the correct blessings to say.
BLESSINGS AFTER EATING
After eating at least a k’zayit of food (approximately 1 ounce) or a revi’it of liquid (approximately four ounces), a bracha acharonah (after-blessing) is said. After-blessings should be said as soon as possible after one finishes eating. There are three different after-blessings. The text of these can be found in any siddur (prayer book).
In order to say the after-blessing, the above-mentioned minimum amount of food must be eaten within approximately six minutes. If it takes longer, such as when slowly sipping a hot drink, it is questionable whether one is allowed to recite the after-blessing. Consult an Orthodox Rabbi for the relevant laws.
This brief blessing is said after eating a variety of foods.
*It is said after eating one or more foods belonging to the categories of ha-aitz (fruit), ha-adamah (vegetables), and shehakol.
*When more than one food requiring Borai Nefashot is eaten at one sitting, the after-blessing is said only once. For example: meat and vegetables, potato chips and milk, coffee and eggs.
Bircat M’ain Shalosh
Bircat M’ain Shalosh is a short paragraph with variations in wording that adapt it to the following three categories:
*“Al hamichya,” is said after foods made of any of the five grains — what, barley, rye, oat, spelt;
*“Al hagafen” is said after wine and grape juice;
*“Al ha-aitz” is said after one or more of the five fruits with which Israel is blessed — grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives or dates.
When more than one of these foods is eaten, the after-blessing is said only once, incorporating the appropriate sections as indicated in the prayer book. On Shabbat, Yom Tov, or Rosh Chodesh, an additional sentence mentions the special day.
If a food or foods requiring the after-blessing of Borai Nefashot are eaten along with those requiring Bircat M’ain Shalosh, then Bircat M’ain Shalosh is said before Borai Nefashot.
Two exceptions are:
*After drinking wine and other liquids, say only the after-blessing on wine. Borai Nefashot need not be said for the other liquids.
*After eating one or more of the five fruits of Israel together with other fruits, say only the after-blessing on the fruits of Israel.
Bircat M’ain Shalosh should be said sitting, immediately after eating, in the same place where one ate.
Bircat Hamazon (Grace After A Meal)
This special blessing is said after concluding a meal in which a k’zayit (approximately 1 ounce) of bread was eaten. It contains several paragraphs originally instated by some of our great Sages thanking G-d for giving us food. No other after-blessing need be said. Saying Bircat Hamazon is known as bentching, from the Yiddish word bentch, to bless.
*Bircat Hamazon should be recited seated at the same place where one ate, unless at the time of saying hamotzi one intended to complete the meal elsewhere.
*Before saying Bircat Hamazon, men should rinse the fingertips and lips slightly. The water used for this is called mayim achronim (final waters). This may be done at the sink, but is often done at the table, using a special vessel. The water should be removed from the table before beginning the Bircat Hamazon.
*When three or more men over the age of Bar Mitzvah recite Bircat Hamazon together, this is known as a mezuman. A short introductory paragraph is recited.
*On Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chanukah, Purim and Rosh Chodesh, there are special additions inserted in the Bircat Hamazon.