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Borei Nefashot

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Parshat Kedoshim (Emor in Israel)
 Meaning, History and Some Laws of the Mini After Blessing
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The Torah portion of Kedoshim contains many important mitzvot. It also alludes to the mitzvah of reciting blessings (brachot) before and after we eat as explained below. This article will focus on the blessing that is recited after eating fruits, vegetables, and foods that do not grow from the ground – the blessing of Borei Nefashot as well as some information about the blessing of Me’einShalosh.

The Fourth Year – a Praise to G-d

When describing what to do with fruits of a newly planted tree, the Torah says that for the first three years one may not eat its fruit. Regarding the fourth year it says,[1] וּבַשָּׁנָה הָֽרְבִיעִת יִהְיֶה כָּל־פּרי֑וֹ קדֶשׁ הִלוּלִים לַֽה’ – And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the L-rd.
The simple meaning of the verse is that it is a mitzvah to bring the fruit of the fourth year to Jerusalem and eat it there as a way of thanking G-d for His blessings. This is considered a “praise to G-d.” According to many commentaries, [2] the reason for this mitzvah is that before benefitting from the fruit of one’s labor, one must thank G-d by symbolically “giving Him” part of the produce. Thus, this mitzvah is similar to that of Bikurim in which we give the fruit that ripen first on an annual basis to the Kohen in Jerusalem as a way of thanking G-d for that year’s harvest. This is also similar to the mitzvah of sanctifying one’s firstborn son and firstborn animals.
This explains why the fruit of the first three years are forbidden (orlah). Since these fruits are of poor quality, it is not appropriate to “give them” to G-d. And before giving an offering to G-d, it is not proper for one to benefit from the product. We therefore refrain from eating the fruit during the first three years. In the fourth year we bring the fruit to Jerusalem as a thanksgiving to G-d, and only after this may we benefit from the fruit of those trees.

Praise, Then Eat

The Talmud says[3] that, according to Rabbi Akiva, the above verse alludes to the fact that we must praise G-d by reciting blessings before and after we eat fruit or any food. Thus, the verse should be understood to mean that in the fourth year the fruit is holy and that before and after we eat it, we must praise G-d. It is self-understood that, just as we must praise G-d before and after eating the fruit of the fourth year, we must continue to do so every year.
An additional meaning of the words “the fruit shall be holy, a praise to G-d” is that all foods are considered sanctified and holy until we say the blessing on it at which time G-d allows us to eat from it. This echoes the statement of the Talmud[4] that all food belongs to G-d until after we say the blessing on it and only then does He give us permission to eat it.
The Logic of the Blessing
In the final analysis of the Talmud, the obligation to recite blessings before and after eating (with the exception of the blessing after bread and possibly the seven species of Israel – see below) is not a Torah obligation since the abovementioned verse is used to teach us other concepts. The rabbis established that we say these blessings because it is logical that one should not be allowed to benefit from this world without reciting a blessing. The verse is used by the rabbis to support this law which they enacted. This is called an asmachta – when the rabbis support a law which they enact by citing a verse which alludes to it although it is not the plain meaning of the verse.[5]

Can Logic Mandate a Biblical Obligation?

The Penei Yehoshuah points out[6] that in many places in the Talmud[7] we find that something learned by a logical process is considered a Torah law even if it is not written in the Torah. As such, he asks, why is reciting blessings not considered a Biblical obligation?
The Noda BiYehuda explains[8] that although the Talmud derives Torah laws based on logic, they are not considered separate mitzvot but rather are details of a general Biblical obligation whereas to be considered a separate mitzvah, the law must be stated explicitly. If logic alone can create a mitzvah, why would the Torah explicitly say to not murder, steal etc.? In addition, if everything dictated by logic is considered a Torah law, why is it not a Torah obligation for gentiles to recite blessings before and after they eat?
Rather, explains the Noda BiYehuda, because it is logical that one should not benefit from the world without thanking G-d, the rabbis instituted that we recite the appropriate blessings.

The Blessing after the Seven Species

It is noteworthy that, in addition to the Biblical obligation to recite the Grace after Meals (“bentching”) after eating bread,[9] some say[10] that it is a Biblical obligation to recite a blessing after consuming grains or any of the fruits of Israel. This is based on the fact that the verse which talks about the Grace after Meals (“And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the L-rd, your G-d”[11]) is written two verses after the verses that lists the seven species of the land of Israel. This indicates that when eating (and being satisfied) from these species, one must bless G-d. (Although the verse only lists two grains, wheat and barley, the grains of spelt, oats and rye are considered subcategories of the two.[12])
The blessing instituted by the sages for this purpose is called me’ein shalosh(similar to three) as it summarizes the first three blessings of the BircatHaMazon. (The me’ein shalosh is modified depending on whether one has eaten grain [al hamichya], the fruits of Israel [al ha’etz] or wine [al hagefen]). According to this opinion, if one ate these foods to the point of satisfaction and can’t remember if he recited the blessing afterwards, he should recite it again, following the principle that one must be strict regarding Torah obligations.
Others say[13] that only the obligation of “bentching” after eating bread is Biblical (d’Orayta). However, due to the importance of the species of Israel (as well as the importance of the grains which are satisfying foods), the sages (d’Rabanan) instituted a special blessing after eating them – that of the me’ein shalosh.[14]According to this opinion, in case one can’t remember if he said the me’einshalosh (also called Al HaMichya)or not, he would not repeat the blessing, following the principle that one should not repeat Rabbinic blessings when in doubt.
The main halacha follows the latter opinion – that only the blessing after eating bread is a Torah obligation.[15] Nevertheless, some advise[16] that in case of doubt, one should eat more of the food he was eating (after saying a new blessing on it since, he already decided that he had finished eating) and then recite the Al HaMichya. This would satisfy both opinions.

Borei Nefashot

The Code of Jewish Law[17] says that after eating fruit which are not of the seven species or vegetables or foods that don’t grow from the ground, one should say the blessing of Borei Nefashot.

The Text

The text of the Borei Nefashot is
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ’ָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא נְפָשׁוֹת רַבּוֹת וְחֶסְרוֹנָן עַל כָּל מַה שֶׁבָּרָאתָּ לְהַחֲיוֹת בָּהֶם נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי בָּרוּךְ חֵי הָעוֹלָמִים  which translates as “Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Creator of numerous living beings and their needs, for all the things You have created with which to sustain (enliven) the soul of every living being. Blessed is He who is the Life of the worlds.”

The Meaning

Here are four interpretations as to the meaning of this blessing:
1)     Needs and Pleasures
Tosfot[18] says that “וְחֶסְרוֹנָן/ and their needs” is referring to the fact that G-d provides us with our basic essentials. And “עַל כָּל מַה שֶׁבָּרָאתָּ לְהַחֲיוֹת בָּהֶם נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי/ for all the things You have created with which to enliven the soul of every living being” means that G-d also provides us with pleasures that are not essential (such as fruit and other sweets).
2)     Thanking G-d for What We Lack
The Rashba[19] says that the meaning of the blessing is that we are thanking G-d for creating us to be needy for the various foods He created. (It would seem that we thank G-d for this as through our being needy and turning to G-d to help us and He responds, we establish a relationship with Him.)
3) A Blessing for Eating Meat
The Vilna Ga’on points out[20] that, according to the Jerusalem Talmud,[21] the blessing of Borei Nefashot is said after eating animal products (i.e., meat, cheese or milk). The meaning of the blessing is that G-d creates נְפָשׁוֹת רַבּוֹת – many types of living things as well as providing them (the animals) with what they need.
4)     A Blessing for Reincarnated Souls
According to the Arizal[22] this blessing thanks G-d for creating (human) souls נְפָשׁוֹת רַבּוֹת and for enabling those souls who are not perfected (וְחֶסְרוֹנָן) to be reincarnated in foods and then elevated (לְהַחֲיוֹת בָּהֶם נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי) by those who say the proper blessings on them and eat them.

A Blessing That Is Called “Nothing at All”

The Talmud says[23] that after eating rice one should say “ולא כלום – nothing at all.” Rashi explains that this means one does not say the me’ein shalosh as one does after the other grains but that one says the Borei Nefashot blessing.
The commentaries wonder why the Talmud refers to the blessing of BoreiNefashot in a manner which seems demeaning (“nothing at all”). The Rashba[24]explains (see above) that all other blessings refer to the food that is being consumed (or was consumed) whereas this blessing is referring to the fact that we were created with needs that must be fulfilled. So, the expression “nothing at all” indicates that this blessing does not thank G-d for the actual food that was consumed.
The Vilna Gaon explains[25] that the blessing of Borei Nefashot was originally said only on animal products (see above that this is the opinion of the Jerusalem Talmud). Later it was expanded to include items that grow from the ground and to include water as well. When the Talmud says that nothing at all is said after eating rice, it was referring to the time when Borei Nefashot was only recited on animal products. It was only later that people began reciting the blessing on rice and similar products.
May Hashem bless us and provide us with all of our needs, both physical and spiritual!
[1] Levit. 19:24
[2] See Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachaye on the verse. The Ramban also quotes the Rambam who says that this mitzvah is to negate certain idolatrous practices. The Kli Yakar says that it relates to the six days of creation while Rabbeinu Bachaye gives a Kabbalistic explanation for the mitzvah as well.
[3] Brachot 35a. See also Torat Kohanim on the verse
[4] Ibid side a and b
[5] See Tosfot D.H. Ela                                                             
[6] On Brachot ibid D.H. Ela Svara
[7] See Bait Ha’otzar by Rabbi Yosef Engel, vol. 2, pg. 94 side b. There is a common expression in the Talmud (Ketubot, 22a, Bava Kamma 46b and Niddah 25a), “Why do I need a verse, it’s logical?” This indicates that a logical conclusion is considered a Torah law.
[8] In Tzlach on Brachot ibid, D.H. Uma Shakatav HaGaon Ba’al Penei Yehoshua
[9] See Brachot 48b based on Deut. 8:10
[10] Rashba on Brachot 35a, D.H. Ee nami, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachot 25a (in the pages of the Rif) D.H. Venireh, Rosh (3:16) and Tur (O.C. 209).
[11] Deut. 8:10
[12] See Pesachim 35a. Specifically, rye is considered a subcategory of wheat while spelt and oats are considered to be subcategories of barley. This results in halachic differences as to whether one may separate Challah from a dough made with one of these grains, on behalf of a dough made from a different grain. See Mishnah, Challah, 4:2 and Y.D. 324:2
[13] Rambam, Laws of Brachot, 8:12 and Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, 32a, D.H Venireh in the name of his teacher
[14] See sources brought in Encyclopedia Talmudit, entry Bracha me’ein shalosh
[15] O.C. 209:3
[16] Taz 3 on ibid, Mishnah Berurah 10
[17] O.C. 207:1
[18] Brachot 37a D.H Borei Nefashot
[19] Responsa vol. 1:149 as explained in the notes of the Rashba, Machon Yerushalayim
[20] Imrei No’am on 37a. See also Shenot Eliyahu on Mishnah Berachot 6:8
[21] Brachot 6:1, page 63a in the Artscroll Mesorah Edition. See also Babylonian Talmud, 44b that this is the view of Rabbi Yitzchak bar Avdimi.
[22] Quoted and explained in Kaf HaChaim 204:38
[23] Brachot, bottom of 37a
[24] In the Responsa cited above in note 20
[25] Imrei No’am ibid based on the three opinions in Brachot 44b
ׂWishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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