Hefsek: The Interruption of a Beracha

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September 19 2005
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The Gemara, Berachot 40a, states that if one recites a beracha on a food item, and prior to eating, verbally requests something necessary to eat that food item, he is not required to recite a new beracha. If he requests something that is not necessary to eat that food item, he must recite a new beracha. This concept is known as hefsek (interruption). Rashi, ad loc., s.v. Tol, explains that if one speaks between the recitation of a beracha and the eating of the food item upon which it was recited, the beracha is invalidated. However, whatever is necessary to eat the food item is necessary for the beracha to come to fruition. Therefore, it is not considered a hefsek.

There are two approaches to understand the nature of the mechanism of hefsek. One can understand that hefsek operates by severing the connection between the beracha and the item upon which it was recited. In doing so, the beracha is prevented from ever coming to fruition, and it is considered a lost beracha. If the verbal request is for something necessary to eat the food item, it is not considered a hefsek because that type of communication maintains the connection between the beracha and the food item rather than severing it. Alternatively, one can understand that a beracha is in a volatile state before it comes to fruition. Any interruption of the beracha in this volatile state will directly destroy it. When the verbal request is for something necessary for the food item, the communication is not considered to be destructive but rather constructive, and does not destroy the beracha. This article will discuss numerous issues that may be contingent on these two understandings.

Pausing Without Interrupting
Shibalei HaLeket no. 166, states that if one recites a beracha and then pauses a considerable amount of time before eating the food item, he must recite a new beracha, even if there was no verbal interruption. Magen Avraham 206:4, notes that R. David Avudraham (pg. 317) argues and maintains that one is not required to recite a new beracha.

This dispute might be explained based on the two understandings of hefsek. If hefsek operates by severing the connection between the beracha and the item upon which it is recited, it is arguable that an extended pause might also sever the connection even if there is no verbal interruption. However, if hefsek operates by directly destroying the beracha, the beracha can only be destroyed if an active measure is taken to destroy it. It cannot be destroyed by passively pausing, even if the pause is protracted. Mishna Berurah 206:12, rules that one does not repeat the beracha if there was an extended pause prior to eating the food item.

Interrupting a Beracha Recited After a Mitzvah
While most berachot recited on food items and mitzvot are recited prior to the action that necessitates the beracha (eating or performing the mitzvah), some berachot are recited subsequent to that action. One example is the beracha recited upon washing one’s hands prior to eating bread. [See Tur, Orach Chaim 158, who presents two reasons why the beracha is recited after washing one’s hands. First, netilat yadayim is one of the exceptions to the rule of reciting the beracha before performing the mitzvah. The rabbis instituted that the beracha should always be recited after washing one’s hands since sometimes one’s hands are too dirty to recite a beracha beforehand. Second, netilat yadayim is not an exception to the rule. The beracha is recited prior to drying one’s hands which is part of the mitzvah. This discussion will follow the first opinion.] Tur, Orach Chaim 165, quotes a dispute regarding one who wishes to eat immediately after using the restroom. According to one opinion, recitation of Asher Yatzar (the beracha recited upon exiting the restroom) between washing one’s hands and reciting the beracha of Al Netilat Yadayim constitutes a hefsek. According to another opinion, recitation of Asher Yatzar does not constitute a hefsek.

One could suggest that this dispute is contingent on the two ways to understand hefsek. In this situation, the beracha is recited after the performance of the mitzvah. According to the approach that hefsek operates by destroying the beracha, there cannot be a hefsek when it is recited after the performance of the mitzvah. One cannot destroy the beracha by interrupting because the beracha was not yet recited. If one recites Asher Yatzar after washing one’s hands, it will have no impact on the beracha of Al Netilat Yadayim that has not yet been recited. However, if hefsek operates by severing the connection between the beracha and the action upon which it is recited, there should be no difference between a situation where the beracha is recited first and a situation where the action is performed first. In either instance, the interruption prevents the connection between the beracha and the action from establishing itself. Mishna Berurah 165:2-3, notes that the most preferable option for one who wishes to eat immediately after exiting the restroom is to first wash one’s hands in a way that would not be valid for netilat yadayim, recite Asher Yatzar, and then perform the mitzvah of netilat yadayim.

A Brief Interruption
R. Avraham Danzig, Chayei Adam 5:11, questions whether one can apply the principle of toch k’dai dibbur to one who speaks between the recitation of the beracha and the swallowing of the food item. The principle of toch k’dai dibbur states that when a person makes a statement, that statement can be changed or rectified within the time it takes to say three or four words. Applying the principle to hefsek would mean that if one interrupts with one or two words after reciting a beracha and then immediately eats the food item, the beracha is still valid. If one does not apply this principle, any interruption, no matter how brief would constitute a hefsek.

Perhaps the question of whether to apply the toch k’dai dibbur principle to hefsek is contingent on the two approaches presented above. If hefsek operates by severing the connection between the beracha and the item upon which it is recited, toch k’dai dibbur - which serves to extend the timeframe of a statement - can be applied to sustain the connection between the beracha and the food item. However, if hefsek operates by directly destroying the beracha, the beracha cannot be reconstituted by the principle of toch k’dai dibbur. Mishna Berurah 167:36, rules that an interruption of one word is also considered a hefsek.

A Verbal Interruption Prior to Swallowing
R. Yeshaya Horowitz, Shelah, Sha'ar Ha'otiot 58b, questions whether it is considered a hefsek if one speaks after reciting a beracha between chewing the food and swallowing it. He notes that one does not recite a beracha if one tastes food without swallowing it (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 210:2). Therefore, the beracha does not come to fruition until one swallows. If one speaks beforehand, it should be considered a hefsek. Nevertheless, R. Horowitz is reluctant to require a new beracha in this situation. Magen Avraham 167:16, questions R. Horowitz's reluctance to rule that one must recite a new beracha. If in fact the beracha does not come to fruition until swallowing, any form of speech beforehand should be considered an absolute hefsek and should require a new beracha.

Perhaps R. Horowitz's doubt is based on the two aforementioned approaches to understand hefsek. If one assumes that hefsek operates by destroying a beracha in a volatile state, then there is no room to distinguish between one who started chewing the food, and one who has not yet started to chew his food. In both situations the beracha has not yet come to fruition and remains in a volatile state. However, if hefsek functions by severing the connection between the beracha and the food item, the connection is established when one starts to chew the food item. Therefore, one who speaks while chewing will not sever the connection and the beracha will come to fruition upon swallowing the food item.

Halacha:

References: Berachot: 40a  

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