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Laws of Borei Pri Ha’Etz

Parsha Halacha – Parshat Shelach (Korach in Israel)
Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Tammuz
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The Torah portion of Shelach tells the story of the spies and how they brought back the fruits of the land of Israel to the Jews in the desert, as the verse says,[1] “They came to the Valley of Eshkol, and they cut a branch with a cluster of grapes. They carried it on a pole between two people, and they also took some pomegranates and figs.”

Bikurim of the Spies

The Gerrer Rebbe explains[2] that, had the spies brought the fruits with good intentions, they would have been fulfilling a mitzvah similar to that of Bikurim. In that both were the first fruit of the land that were (supposed to be) brought to praise G-d. To accomplish this, the spies needed to see only the good in the land and its fruits. Had they done this, they would have rectified the sin of Chava (the first woman) who looked at the Tree of Knowledge in a hedonistic way, as the verse (Gen. 3:6) says, “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and the tree was desirable to make one wise…”

Fixing the Sin

Instead of using the fruit to praise the land, the spies connected the fruit with their bad report of the land. In order to fix this sin, the Jewish people were commanded to bring the first fruits (Bikurim) to Jerusalem and praise G-d for those fruits (as opposed to complaining about them).[3] Rabbi Menachem Zemba explains[4] that this is why, when giving examples of the fruit that people would bring for Bikurim, the Mishnah[5] mentions specifically a fig, a grape cluster and a pomegranate as these were the fruits brought back by the spies to strengthen their negative report.

A Segulah For a Long Life

This explains why bringing Bikurim is a segulah for long life, as the Midrash[6]says that a Heavenly voice would sound, saying to the people who had brought Bikurim, “May you merit to do the same next year.” Showing appreciation for G-d’s kindness brings a blessing for long life. This is the opposite of the sin of the spies whose lack of appreciation for G-d’s blessings brought the early death of that entire generation.[7]
This article will focus on some of the laws relating to the correct brachot on various fruits and vegetables.

Borei Pri Ha’Etz

Our sages instituted that a special blessing be recited before eating fruits that grow on a tree – the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’Etz/Who Created the Fruit of the Tree. The blessing they established for items that grow from the ground but not on a tree is Borei Pri Ha’adama/Who Created the Fruit of the Ground.
The Alter Rebbe explains[8] why the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’Etz was established. “And they established a unique, specific, and distinct blessing for them, one which clarifies and specifies their importance, namely that these are the fruit of the tree and that they don’t grow on the ground This is in order to increase the honor of G-d by mentioning His praise by recalling a specific dimension of His praise: that He created choice produce, such as the fruit that grows on trees.”

Defining a Tree

The Talmud says[9] that a plant whose “gavza” (see below for the translation) remains after one removes the fruit and it (the gavza) continues to grow more fruit (i.e., the next year) is considered a tree as far as the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’Etz. Whereas a plant whose “gavza” dies when the fruit is picked and doesn’t produce any more fruit is not considered a tree for this purpose.
There are three different opinions as to what the word “gavza” means.[10]
1)     Root, Trunk and Branch
Some say[11] that the word gavza means root. As such, as long as the roots of a tree survive from year to year and continue to produce (a trunk, branches and) fruits, the plant is considered a tree for the purposes of “Borei Pri Ha’Etz.” According to this opinion the bracha on strawberries, bananas, and pineapples is Ha’Etz.[12]
2)     Root and Trunk
Others say[13] that gavza means the trunk and in order for a plant to be considered a tree for the purpose of Borei Pri Ha’Etz the trunk too must survive from one year to the next. As such, the above-mentioned fruit would be defined as Ho’adama.
3)     Root, Trunk and Branch
Finally, some say[14] that the word gavza includes the branch on which the fruit grows. As such, a fruit is only Borei Pri Ha’Etz if it grows on a tree whose root, trunk and branch all remain intact from year to year. Both papaya and eggplant are in this category. (See below)

Halacha

In practice one should say the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’adama when eating any of the fruits that are questionable.[15] The reason for this is that this blessing also covers the fruit of the tree (since, ultimately, they too grow from the ground) whereas the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’etz does not cover a fruit that didn’t grow on a “tree.”[16]
If one mistakenly already recited the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’etz on these fruits, he has fulfilled his obligation and should not say Borei Pri Ho’adama.[17] Some say[18] that one should eat only a small piece of that fruit and then find a different food on which to say Ha’adama before continuing to eat.

Eating a Banana and an Apple

One who wishes to eat a banana (or any other fruit that may or may not be Borei Pri Ha’Etz) as well as an apple (or any other fruit that is certainly a Borei Pri Ha’Etz) finds himself in a difficult Halachic position.
·        If he says Ha’etz on the apple first, he may be covering the banana as it may be Ha’Etz. So he won’t be able to then recite Ha’adama before eating the banana. On the other hand, since, according to some the correct bracha on banana is Ha’adama, he has not fulfilled that obligation as of yet.
·        To say Ha’adama on the banana first is a problem since the correct brachamay be Ha’Etz which he knows that he is about to make. Thus, saying Ho’adama first is causing an unnecessary blessing.
I have found three suggestions as to how to proceed in this case:
1)      Ha’Etz then Ha’Adama
Rabbi Alexander Mandelbaum suggests[19] that one should say Ha’etz on the apple while having in mind that this blessing doesn’t cover the banana. (If possible, he recommends that one remove the banana from the table before making the Ha’etz.) One may then say Ha’Adama on the banana. Although he may be causing an extra blessing, one may do so in order to get out of a doubtful situation regarding brachot.
2)     Ha’dama then Ha’Etz
The Yalkut Yosef recommends[20] that one first say the blessing of Ha’adama on the banana while having in mind that he is not “covering” the apple with that bracha. He may then say Ha’Etz on the apple. (Although Ha’etz is usually said before Ha’adama, this isn’t a hard and fast rule.[21] The advantage of this order is that, halachically, Ha’adama doesn’t cover an apple when it is made on a separate item.)
3)     Ha’etz then Break
Rav Chaim Sholom Deitch (of Kolel Tzemach Tzedek, Jerusalem) says that one should make the blessing on the apple while intending not to eat the banana at this time. One should then wait (at least) 10 minutes before eating the banana. The advantage of this method is that, since one doesn’t plan to eat the banana at that moment, one need not be concerned with causing an additional bracha at a later time.

Cabbage and Garlic

The Chazon Ish writes[22] that a product that does not look like a fruit is not considered a fruit for the blessing of Borei Pri Ha’Etz even if fits the other criteria. This explains why the blessing on cabbage and garlic is definitely Ha’adama.

Raspberries

The Alter Rebbe writes[23] that the blessing on fruit that grows directly on the bush as opposed to from a branch, such as raspberries, is Ha’adama. Other authorities give different reasons why raspberries should be Ha’adama.[24]Some authorities say that the blessing should be Ha’Etz.[25] As such if one already said Ha’Etz they should not repeat the blessing.[26]

Coconuts

Although coconuts grow directly from the tree, they are considered to be Borei Pri Ha’Etz since they are from a significant tree.

Eggplant and Papaya

Although both eggplant and papaya are perennials the commentaries rule that the blessing of Ha’adama should be recited on them. The fact that they grow fruit during their first year and then they don’t last more than three years indicates that that they are more like a vegetable than a fruit. In addition, the branches of these “trees” die every year. If one said Ha’Etz they have fulfilled their obligation.[27]

Cranberries

The Mishnah Berurah writes[28] that many have the custom to say Ha’adama on bushes that grow very close to the ground as they do not have the importance of a “tree” for the purpose of a bracha. This would include cranberries which grow on small bushes near the ground. Since the Alter Rebbe does not quote this opinion, the Chabad custom is to say Ha’Etz on cranberries.
G-d willing we will discuss more about the blessing of Ha’Etz, in the future.
[1] Numbers 13:23
[2] Sefer HaZechut on 13:20
[3] Arizal, quoted in many sources
[4] Chidushei Hagramaz, Siman 50
[5] Bikurim 3:1
[6] Yalkut Shimoni, Parshat Ki Tavo. (The Pardes Yosef quotes the Sifri. But I have not found it in the Sifri.)
The Sefat Emmet in Likutim on Parshat Ki Tavo (cited in the Pardes Yosef) wonders how any person who brought Bikurim on a yearly basis would ever die, considering that they would be blessed by G-d each year, to live to the next year. He explains that the blessing was only effective if the person brought Bikurim of their own accord. But if they had Divine assistance, it was not effective. Hence, the first year it was effective since they hadn’t been blessed the previous year. The second year, however, when they were aided in bringing the Bikurim by G-d’s blessing (“May you merit to do the same next year”) the blessing was not effective. Whereas when they returned for the third year, it was with their own power (since the second year’s blessing was not effective), so they merited the blessing. And so on for the following years. Based on this, they could only die on the even numbered years of their bringing Bikurim but not on the odd numbered years.
[7] Pardes Yosef
[8] Siman 202:1
[9] Brachot 40a and b
[10] These three opinions are cited in the Alter Rebbe’s Seder Birchos HaNehenin, 6:6. See Halachos of Brachos by Rabbi Pinchos Bodner (Feldheim 1996), pages 422-423
[11] Tosfot on Brachot 40a D.H. Isai LeGavza, Rosh Brachot 6:23, Mordechai Brachot 131 in the name of the Rabbi Yosef and and Tur, O.C. 303 in the name of the R”i.
[12] See Halachos of Brachos, pages 392 and 393 and Ketzos HaShulchan 49:18 with the Badei HaShulchan
[13] Mordechai Brachot 131 in the name of the Rabbi Ra”m, Tur in the name of Rabbeinu Yosef based on the Teshuvot HaGe’onim.
[14] Drisha 203:1 in explanation of the opinion of the Ge’onim, Rashi D.H Gavza on Brachot ibid. But see Tzemach Tzedek on Mishnayot Brachot 10d
[15] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 203:2, Seder Birchos HaNehenin ibid
[16] Seder Birchos HaNehenin 1:4
[17] Ibid 6:6
[18] Mishnah Berurah 203:3. See note 6 in the Dirshu Mishnah Berurah (based on the Chayei Adam) that the Mishnah Berurah is of the opinion that the main halacha follows the view that Ha’adama is the correct blessing. As such, even after the fact, one should find a way to recite another Ha’adama before continuing to eat.
[19] Vezot HaBracha, page 292
[20] Vol. 3, page 419
[21] See Seder Birchos HaNehenin 10:7 that when eating an Ha’Etz and Ha’adama food, one should recite the blessing on the food he prefers. If he prefers them equally “it is good to recite Ha’Etz first.”
[22] Orlah, 12:3
[23] Seder Birchos Hanehenin
[24] See notes on Halachos of Brachos, page 395
[25] Chayei Adam quoted in ibid and Mishnah Berurah 203:1
[26] See Badei HaShulchan 49:7
[27] See Piskei Teshuvot 2033 and notes 18 and 19. See also Yalkut Yosef 203:4
[28] 203:3
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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