A Cornucopia of Blessings

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

The Daf this week and specifically Tosfos’s explanation (Gittin 83a and 84a) deal with a paradox of sorts. The result of an action causes that very action to be invalid, which accordingly negates the result. That, of course, reinstates the action, which causes a result that once again negates the action. A similar vicious cycle is related to the laws of brachos. (This article needs to be read sitting down!) Someone devised a way to test prospective rabbis in their knowledge of halacha. They would present the candidate with a table full of food and would ascertain if he makes the brachos in the right order. (The rabbi was not allowed to say that he wasn’t hungry.) The general rule is that more-specific brachos take precedence over less-specific brachos. The proper order of brachos is, therefore, ha’motzi, mezonos, ha’gafen, ha’eitz, ha’adamah, and she’hakol. Of course, if one made ha’motzi first, that will usually obviate the need for other brachos. Still, ha’motzi does belong on the list in a situation where one is eating a food item that is not usually eaten as a meal food such as candy. In that case, one would make a bracha on the food item even during a meal. (See Pischei Halachah chapter 5, footnote 10.) Still, one would recite ha’motzi on bread first before candy, since it takes precedence. However, these rules only apply when one wants to eat all the food items now. Suppose one is sitting at a table where the cake for dessert is displayed. He is about to eat a grapefruit as an appetizer, when he recalls that mezonos comes first. In this case, since he doesn’t want to eat the cake now, he is not obligated to have a piece just to make the bracha of mezonos first. He may recite the bracha on the grapefruit first. This is an important halacha to know, as some smart kids will insist to their parents that they must eat the cake before salad, since, after all, mezonos comes first. However, ha’eitz does not always precede ha’adamah. If one likes a ha’adamah item more than a ha’eitz item, the ha’adamah comes first. For example, if someone likes watermelon more than apples, and wishes to eat them both now, he would recite the ha’adamah on watermelon first.

This concept is referred to as “chaviv,” dear; one recites the bracha on the chaviv item first. The same halacha would apply even if we substituted a pomegranate, one of the shivas ha’minim—the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised—for the apple. If one likes watermelon more than a pomegranate, one would still recite ha’adamah on the watermelon first. Then he would recite ha’eitz on the pomegranate.

To make things a little more complicated, the rule that the bracha over the chaviv item takes precedence over shivas ha’minim only applies when the food items have two different brachos—when one is ha’eitz and one is ha’adamah. However, if one desires to eat two fruits of the same bracha, the one that is of the shivas ha’minim takes precedence. Therefore, even if someone likes oranges more than dates, he would still recite a bracha on the date first. Since both the orange and the dates are ha’eitz, the shivas ha’minim come first. This is in contradistinction to reciting a bracha when faced with two produce items with different brachos, such as a tomato and a date. If one happens to like tomatoes more than dates, he would recite ha’adamah on the tomato first, even though dates are one of the shivas ha’minim. After that introduction, we arrive at the point of this article. Suppose someone has an apple (ha’eitz, not among shivas ha’minim), a pickle (ha’adamah), and a grape (ha’eitz and among shivas ha’minim) in front of him and wishes to eat all three now. He likes the apple best, then the pickle, and then the grape. On which should he recite a bracha first? We said that when two items have the same bracha, the bracha on the shivas ha’minim takes precedence over likability. Therefore, one should recite the bracha of ha’eitz on the grape before the apple. Now, he has to decide whether to first recite ha’eitz on the grape or ha’adamah on the pickle. When there are two food items, one ha’eitz and one ha’adamah, likability is the determinant. Since this individual likes pickles more than grapes, he should recite ha’adamah on the pickle first. Case closed? Not so fast. How could he recite ha’adamah first on the pickle when the apple is present? He likes apples more than pickles. The ha’eitz on the apple should take precedence over ha’adamah on the pickles. Yet he can’t make ha’eitz on the apple first, because, as we said, he should be reciting the bracha of ha’eitz on the grape first.

He can’t recite the bracha on the grape first, because he likes the pickle more than the grape, and its ha’adamah should take precedence. It’s a vicious circle. What a pickle! Rav Wosner, zt”l, writes that Rabbi Akiva Eiger was unsure about this very scenario. One could argue that in fact the apple should be out of the picture, since in a case of apple vs. grape, grape wins. So really one is only left with the choice of making a bracha on the grape first or the pickle first. The fact that there is an apple on the table and he will be eating it is irrelevant, since he will not be reciting the bracha on it in any case. (It is similar to the mathematical rule of order of operations. First figure out which fruit will get the ha’eitz and then pit it against the ha’adamah.) According to this logic, first one would recite a bracha on the pickle and then ha’eitz on the grape. However, the Steipler, zt”l, ruled that one should recite ha’eitz on the grape first. The bracha of ha’eitz, while recited directly on the grape, will cover the apple as well. Hence, the ha’eitz really includes both the apple and the grape. Since the person likes the apple more than the pickle, the bracha of ha’eitz takes precedence because it is covering the food items he likes more. Rav Wosner, zt”l, ruled similarly to the Steipler, but for a different reason. When one is in a quandary about which bracha to recite first, he should look for tie-breakers. For example, the opinion of the Elyah Rabbah is that one always recites the bracha over shivas ha’minim first, even if he likes the other food items better. He holds this way even if the shivas ha’minim item is ha’eitz and the other food item that he likes more is ha’adamah. Although we don’t follow his opinion as practical halacha, it can at least be used to break the vicious circle. Hence, we should recite ha’eitz on the grape, since that would at least be the ruling of the Elyah Rabbah. Moreover, there is the opinion of the Behag that ha’eitz always comes before ha’adamah regardless of other considerations. Once again, we don’t follow that opinion, but it can be used to break the stalemate—assuming that the person is still hungry by the time he figures out which bracha to make first.   

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@ gmail.com.

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