Priorities - Berakhot 41
The Mishnah text under discussion holds that Rabbi Judah would bless one of the “seven species” mentioned specifically in Deuteronomy 8:8 – wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive (oil), and honey. On the other hand, the Rabbis would allow diners to choose whichever food they liked the best and bless that. If the multiple food items require the same blessing, one may choose any of them to bless. And if they have different blessings, the one liked the best should be chosen first. What if one faces barley and figs, both of the “seven species?” One rabbi suggests to follow the order they appear in Deuteronomy, for according to the Rabbis nothing happens in divine revelation without a purpose and logic.
What about a full meal? After all, blessing every individual food item would make eating much more difficult. The solution: the bread blessing at the beginning of the meal covers all other foods present during the meal. Of course, snacks outside of meal time require more specific blessings for specific foods, and as shall see in the next page, that may or may not include dessert.
The focus on how to bless what foods, whether to do so before or after, and which blessings to use for what foods may strike us today as excessive detail, pre-occupation with religious obligation, or simply unnecessary complication. Most liberal Jews today only use blessings for special occasions, not for everyday meals and snacks. Some have tried to re-interpret a “blessing lifestyle” by using blessings as “mindfulness”– before eating, one can pause and reflect on life and the food in front of you: who made it, where it comes from, etc. Would our lives be more satisfying that way? Possibly; but sometimes we’re just hungry.
Rabbi Adam Chalom