The gemara in Berachot 39a states that Rav Chiya bar Ashi rules that one may make the blessing of HaMotzi over dried bread that was placed in water to soak. However, he encounters opposition on this matter from Rav Chiya (presumably a different person with the same name), who rules that such bread may not be used, since one has to "finish his blessing with the bread." Rava clarifies the problem of Rav Chiya by noting that in the case of dried bread, a person makes the blessing over only a small piece, and not on the entire loaf. However, Rava claims that even Rav Chiya's view is problematic in this regard, since he would also allow one to make a blessing over a small piece. Thus, Rava notes that one should first make the blessing of HaMotzi, and only afterwards should he actually break off a piece to eat. The gemara rules as per the view of Rava.

All seems well and good. However, Tosafot point out another issue that must be considered. If one is to make the blessing and only afterwards cut the bread, there will be some lag time between the blessing and the actual eating, a situation that we ideally would like to avoid. Rosh provides a solution to this problem, stating that before the blessing one should make a small cut in the bread, enough to be noticed but not enough to sever the piece completely. Then, once the blessing is completed, the cut should be finished and the bread eaten.

This approach of Rosh may also solve an issue raised in the Yerushalmi. There it is stated that Rav Chiya's concern is that if one cuts the bread before the blessing, then there will be time for the piece to drop and a new blessing would thus be necessitated. Thus, to avoid such a problem, we make a cut that still leaves the piece connected to the entire loaf, while at the same time we start the act of cutting the piece, thus decreasing, if only symbolically, the amount of time that one will have to wait between the blessing and the eating.

Both Rambam (Berachot 7:2), the Tur (O.C. 167), and the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 167) adopt this ruling, that one should make the blessing in its entirety before cutting the bread. However, the Bach raises a further objection, and perhaps the most obvious one - why should the cutting be considered a break in the action? We know that it is permissible for one to ask for salt at this juncture if there would be none on the table, and thus certainly the actual cutting of the bread should be no worse! He answers that really it is permissible to both ask for salt and to do the entire cutting after the blessing. However, both are permitted only if it is necessary (b'diavad), and neither one should ideally be done once the blessing has been said.

The Perisha raises another issue. We noted in the laws of waiting between washing and eating bread that one should not wait more than the time that it takes to walk 22 amot. This being the case, why is that standard not applied here - certainly it would leave time to cut the bread in between the blessing and the eating! He answers that the standard of 22 amot is used between two mitzvot that have to be done consecutively. However, here we are speaking about the continuous action that makes up one mitzva, and thus it must be done with considerable haste.

There is also the issue of Shabbat. As opposed to the rest of the week, when one makes a blessing regardless of how much he is eating, on Shabbat we have the special practice of make HaMotzi over two whole loaves. This being so, how is one supposed to cut the bread before the blessing, if that would render one of the loaves deficient? Tosafot are the first to raise this issue, and they thus claim that one should not make any cut before the blessing on Shabbat. Ramo sides with Tosafot, although Bach brings down the view of the Maharshal, who says that one should at least make a symbolic swipe, scratching a line into the challah before making the blessing.

[We should also note that in terms of which loaf should be used on Shabbat, there is much debate. Dr. Daniel Shperber, in his work Minhagei Yisrael vols. 1,3,4, notes that the loaves should be placed one on top of the other, with the lower one used on Friday night and the upper one during the day. In both cases, the loaf being used should be pulled slightly towards the one making the blessing.]


Our next halacha is a seemingly minor one, but it gives rise to discussion over a common, yet enigmatic, custom. The Tur cites Rambam, who says that one should not break off too small a piece of bread, since he will appear to be stingy, and he should also not break off too large a piece of bread, since he will appear to be overly ravenous. The Shulchan Aruch follows this ruling, and in the Beit Yoseif he notes its source as being from Berachot 46a, where the gemara states that the owner of the house should be the one to make the blessing of HaMotzi, so that he will be able to give out generous pieces to all those assembled (as opposed to a guest who might not feel comfortable handing out large slices of food that is not his). He also notes that the Rokeiach and the Yerushalmi debate as to whether the appropriate amount is a k'zayit (the size of an olive) or a k'beitzah (the size of an egg, or the size of two olives).

The Beit Yoseif then goes on to cite an interesting practice brought down by the Shibbolei HaLeket. Since the gemara rules that the owner of the house should be the one to make the blessing on behalf of all others present, the custom arose for him to preface his blessing with the word "birshut" - asking for permission from the others to make the blessing on their part. In return, the others would answer "birshut shamayim" - with permission from Heaven he may proceed with the blessing. Ramo notes that this is all done out of humility, so that the one breaking bread does not make himself as if he is more important than the others.

However, the Beit Yoseif also cites the parallel custom that comes with the drinking of wine. Before making the blessing of "borei pri ha-gafen" for others, one should say "savri." The meaning of this term is that the others should give the attention to the blessing and say "amen" once it has been said. Since there are times when one drinks wine for the purpose of a mitzva, it is important that the one making the blessing have the full assent of those around him to aid them in the discharging of their obligations.

However, the Derisha offers a fascinating explanation of this practice. Wine, as is well known, can serve both good and bad purposes. The first encounter with wine in the Bible is when Noach becomes intoxicated, a story that results in the cursing of his son and grandson. As such, wine has the potential to carry with it curses and death. Thus, one who drinks wine in the company of others calls their attention to the fact that he is doing so with only the purest of intentions, and with the hopes that no damage will result from this drinking. As such, he says "savri" before making the blessing, and they reply "l'chaim" - "to life," echoing his hope that his drinking will bring only good and not evil.

[ Interestingly, while this practice of saying "l'chaim" is brought down by Derisha in the name of Maharshal, two Ashkenazic Rabbis, I have seen this custom mainly among Sephardim. Anyone who has any information as to why Ashkenazim do not generally follow this view is requested to please forward it along.]

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