I. ALL IN A ROW
The gemara in Berachot 42a says that there are three situations in halacha when two things must be done one immediately after the other, with minimal, if any, breaks in between. The first is that the slaughtering of an animal brought for a sacrifice must be done immediately after the semicha (the placing of hands on the animal); the second is that Shemoneh Esrei must be said in the morning immediately after the blessing of "ga'al Yisrael"; the third one is that a blessing must be made immediately after the washing of the hands by a meal.
There is some debate as to the referent of this final statement.Rashi claims that it refers to the fact that one must recite Birchat Ha-Mazon right after washing mayim acharonim, and Tosafot agree with this view. Both Rif and Rambam agree with this interpretation, but Rosh, echoing the view of the Yerushalmi, claims that it may be referring not to the washing done at the end of the meal, but rather to that done at its beginning. Thus, the blessing referred to in this case is the blessing of "ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz" said on the bread, and the law is that one should not pause unnecessarily between washing his hands and beginning the meal.
TheShulchan Aruch (O.C. 166) brings down both opinions, noting that it is commendable to be careful and not pause after the washing before the meal, and such is his halachic leaning in the Beit Yoseif as well. Interestingly, in the Beit Yoseif he bases this law on the fact that the Yerushalmi claims that anyone who makes the blessing immediately after the washing will have a meal that the Satan does not inveigh against. Since this would not make sense if it was referring to the washing done after the meal is over, he feels that this statement of the Yerushalmi must favor the view that the washing before the meal is meant. However, the Darchei Moshe raises the question as to why the Beit Yoseif had to look to the Yerushalmi for an answer instead of turning forward a few pages in the Babylonian Talmud. On Berachot 52b the gemara clearly states that the meal should come immediately after the washing, and thus it would seem that there is an easy proof for the view of Rosh. The Darchei Moshe leaves unanswered the question as to why the Beit Yoseif ignored this source.
[We should note that Tosafot in Sotah 39a claim that the Yerushalmi refers to mayim acharonim and not mayim rishonim, thus undermining its validity as a proof for the view of Rosh.]
Tur cites a view from Rabbeinu Yoel who claims that there is a distinction to be made within this law. If the table is set at the time of the washing, then even if a person delays a bit after washing his hands it will not be considered to be a break, since his mind is on the meal that it to come. However, if the table is not ready to go then he has to make sure to eat bread as soon as possible after washing so as to avoid an unnecessary delay. Tosafot in Pesachim 106b use this as a distinction between Shabbat and weekdays, with the former being a time when the table is set in advance. This comes in useful when people have many guests at Shabbat meals. Even though the first person to wash may have to wait several minutes before ha-motzi is said, since the table is set all along there is no problem with the ensuing delay in terms of it being considered a halachic break in the action.
II. BREAKING BREAD
The next aspect of the laws of ha-motzi deals with the bread itself. We will begin this week with one small law and a beautiful explanation of its source, and we will continue next week with further details.
The Tur writes (O.C. 167) that one should break bread from the part of the loaf that is baked the best. This statement is based on an interesting story in Sanhedrin 102b, where this law is mentioned as a virtual side point. The gemara there discusses various people and types of people who did not merit to receive a portion in the World-to-Come. We are told that Rav Ashi was teaching this chapter and ended his lecture one day at the point where the gemara speaks about the three kings who did not merit the World-to-Come. As such, he ended his lecture by telling his students that tomorrow they would learn about their "friend."
That night, Menashe, one of the three kings, came to Rav Ashi in a dream, asking him how he could dare call him his friend, when Rav Ashi's knowledge of Torah was so inferior. To prove this point, Menashe challenged Rav Ashi to tell him what part of the bread one should eat when making ha-motzi, a question that Rav Ashi could not answer. Menashe then told Rav Ashi the correct answer, namely that one should eat from the part of the bread that turns brown first, i.e. the part that is baked the best.
The question on this gemara is why Menashe uses this example to prove his superiority in Torah to Rav Ashi? The Maharsha offers a wonderful explanation of this point. The blessing on bread is different that all of the other blessings made on specific foods. While all of the other blessings use the root "bara," that Hashem created the fruit of the vine or the tree or the ground, by bread we say "ha-motzi," that Hashem brings forth bread from the earth. Why is there such a difference? To answer this, Maharsha notes the earliest occurrence of bread in the Torah. When Adam sins and is cursed by Hashem, he is told that the ground will henceforth be cursed on his account, and bread will only come to him by the "sweat of his brow." Thus, bread ceased to exist in the manner in which it had been created, and from that point on it existed only when it was actually brought forth by exertion and effort.
However, there is a further aspect to bread. The fact that we are able to bring forth bread serves as a testament to our ability to repent before Hashem. While man was condemned to work for his food, the fact remains that Hashem has allowed us an avenue by which that food can be obtained, and thus the blessing of ha-motzi signifies repentance. Thus, Menashe discusses a law concerning bread with Rav Ashi in indicate to him that even though he (Menashe) was generally a wicked king, he did eventually repent and thus he did ultimately merit a share in the World-to-Come.
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