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Eikev – Order of Blessings

August 18, 2011

Our parsha contains the Torah mitzva of birkhat hamazon, the grace after meals.This is the only blessing on food which is mandated by the Torah, but serves as one source for the Rabbinical commandment to make a berakha before any food (Berakhot 48b).

When faced with a variety of foods, we give precedence to certain blessings according to a complex ordering which depends on various measures of the importance of the food (for instance, if it is one of the “seven species”, or if it is whole), the importance of the blessing (more specific blessings have precedence), as well as on personal preference (Shulchan Arukh OC 211).

Choosing a son-in-law
Although a young woman must choose her own partner, tradition puts great weight on the opinion of the parents. Our Sages urge the father to seek a groom for his daughter who is learned in Torah (Berakhot 34b). One traditional way that a young man’s Torah knowledge is unobtrusively tested is by inviting him over and having the prospective father-in-law present him with a dish of fruits, vegetables and candies. His choice of “hors d’ouevre” will reveal if he is familiar with the intricate laws of the proper order of berakhot!

This particular “examination” has a beautiful hidden message. The halakha itself establishes that one of the most important criteria determining the order of berakhot is a person’s own taste. So part of the exam involves discovering the guest’s likes and dislikes. The Jewish father is anxious to know his prospective son-in-law’s Torah knowledge, but at the same time he wants to know how the young man is able to integrate Torah scholarship with his own personality and preferences.

Rabbis
Rav Bunim Yoel Taussig, in his book Tiferet Banim on the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, relates a story which reveals an even deeper message in this custom. Once a promising Yeshiva student was examined in this way by his Rebbe, and responded to the plate of sweets by deferring to his host! The student pointed out that according to one important authority (Be’er Heitev Orach Chayim 213:1), the host is supposed to make a blessing before the guest. In this case the most learned solution of all, is also the simplest and most gracious of all. This shows that the most profound Torah knowledge often manifests itself in modesty and courtesy.

Rabbi Meir HAS JUST COMPLETED writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha.

Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, “The Jewish Ethicist”, which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology – Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.