Have I said a beracha on this food or not? What should a person who finds himself in this predicament do? To answer this question we must first determine whether the requirement to recite the beracha is Mi’deorita (of biblical origin) or Mi’derabanan (of rabbinic origin).
Berachot for food may be divided into two groups, those recited before eating and those recited after eating. Each group can be subdivided into three groups according to the berachot recited after eating. The sub-groups would be those foods for which we recite Birkat Hamazon, those for which we recite a Beracha Me’ein Shalosh (Al Hamichya) and those for which Borei Nefashot is said. One could differentiate in Beracha Me’ein Shalosh between fruit included in Shivat Ha’minin and baked goods but we will not touch on that.
In Devarin 8/10 we read “Veachalta Vesavata u’verachta et Hashem Elokecha al haaretz hatova asher natan lach”, and you shall eat and be satiated and then you shall bless God for the good land he has given you. The Midrash Halacha on Parshat Bo (Mechilta Bo parsah 16) as well as the Gemarah in Berachot (21a and 48b) relate the Beracha in this pasuk to Birkat Hamazon. Accordingly it is agreed by the commentaries and poskim that Birkat Ha’mazon is mi’deorita.
In the Berita found in Gemara Berachot (48b) we learn that not only must one recite the Birkat Hamazon but one should recite a beracha (Hamotzi) before eating bread as well. This requirement is learned in one of two ways. The first opinion uses a Kal Vachomer – a logical deduction calculating that if the stated thing is true all the more so that which has not been stated would apply. In this manner the Gemara states that if the Torah requires a beracha after eating then all the more that we must recite a blessing before eating. (For the logic of this Kal Vachomer see Berachot 35a.) Rebi counters that one need not use a Kal Vachomer since the requirement for a beracha proceeding the eating of bread is explicitly learned from the words “asher natan lach”. Rebi read these words not as which he (God) has given you, but rather, and you shall bless God from when he has given you, namely before eating when the food is in your possession. (See in the Gemara Berachot 48b for two alternate pesukim from which we might learn the requirement for a beracha before eating bread.)
Most Rishonim (commentaries during the period of 1000AD – 1500AD) are of the opinion that the Berayta is not stating that a beraracha before eating bread – Hamotzi, is mideorita, rather it is giving the rabbinic decree of reciting a beracha some connection to the pesukim of the Torah. The Rashba on the other hand, understands that these Tanaim are of the opinion that the beracha before eating bread-Hamotzi, is mideorita. Yet, the Rashba agrees that we do not rule like these Tanaim but rather we accept the opinion found in the Mishna Berachot (20b), stating that the Beracha after eating bread – Birkat Hamazon is mideorita while Hamotzi is miderabanan.
The Gemara (Berachot 21a) teaches us a Halachic principle that in the event of a doubt as to whether a beracha has been recited, if the beracha is Mide’orita then it should be said but if it is miderabanan it should not be said. Accordingly, every one would agree that if a person is unsure if he or she has recited a Birkat Hamazon they must recite it at this time. (If it is within the allotted time to recite a Birkat Hamazon – approximately seventy-two minutes after concluding ones meal.)
If one is unsure, if he or she has recited a Birkat Hamotzi, and plans to eat more bread, according to most Poskim, all Tanaim would agree that the beracha should not be recited. In the opinion of the Rashba, those Tanaim who are of the opinion that Hamotzi is Mide’orita would require the beracha to be said in a case of doubt. On the other hand the Tana of the Mishna would rule that the beracha should not be said. Since the Rashba agrees with the other Rishonim that we rule like the Tana of the Mishna, in case of doubt, no Hamotzi should be said. This is also the ruling we find in Shulchan Aruch. (OC 167/8 and OC 184/4) It should be noted that though one may not recite a Birkat Hamotzi if there is someone else intending to eat bread then the first person may resolve his doubt by asking the second to have in mind to include him while reciting the Hamotzi.
In our next article we will discuss what should be done when the question of whether a beracha has already been recited applies to other foods.