Shulhan Shel Arba: The First Gate

Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher, Shulhan Shel Arba (late 13th-14th century Spain)

The First Gate: An explanation of the blessings that a person is obliged to bless over the table, and the other obligations of the table


[463] There are eight table blessings, and they are: netilat yada’im [over hand-washing], ha-motzi [over bread], the four blessings of birkat ha-mazon [grace after meals], and two blessings over the wine (before and after the meal)The reason for these eight has to do with the table being considered equal to the altar of the Temple.  Just as the altar atones, so does the table.  Look – when you put bread on the table to feed the poor, it is like a sacrifice on the altar.  Just as the incense on the altar (which atoned more than all the sacrifices upon the altar of bronze) was made of eight kinds of spices four in the anointing oil- myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, and cassia; and the four in the incense itself which are specified in Scripture: stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense[1] we are commanded to say eight different kinds of blessings over the table corresponding to them.  Most people do not take this into consideration or pay attention to this matter.  But it is necessary for person to make himself holy at his table during his meal with these eight blessings that correspond to the eight kinds of spices specified in the Torah, which used to be in the Temple, in order to fulfill the commandments in their essence, and to direct one’s mind in the blessings to their basic foundations.

The first blessing is al netilat yada’im -“over the washing of the hands”. Our rabbis z”l specifically fixed the form of this blessing with the word “netilah,” which literally means “raising high,” as the Targum translates “then a spirit lifted me up [va-tise’ni]”[2]  – “raised me up” [va-nitaltni]. These two verbs are also used synonymously when it is written “He raised them and lifted them up [va-yitlem va-yinas’em] all the days of old.”[3] It is necessary to raise up one’s hands when saying this blessing.  Moreover this would include the point of raising hands in prayer, to concentrate one’s mind on them (i.e., the ten fingers of one’s hands) to be made holy by them from the ten sefirot. It is like someone who raises their hands upward to concentrate on opening the source above, pulling and drawing down the divine energy flow.  This is what Scripture means when it says, “I reach up for your commandments which I love.”[4] This verse teaches you that in some of the commandments there is an imprint or picture above, which a person needs, in order to follow them below, so you should raise your hands toward them above.  Even here over the table  when you are eating, you ought to lift up your hands and raise them above.[5] You should concentrate on the ten sefirot when you lift (or wash) before you eat, and likewise after you eat with the mayim aharonim [i.e., the washing after the meal]. Scripture talks about this when it says, “Lift your hands toward the sanctuary and bless the Lord.”[6] Similarly with the ten things that are necessary for a cup of blessing, according to the custom of those in the past.[7]  All this is to hint that the purpose of concentrating on our eating [p. 464] at the table is only for our body to be sustained and be able to serve the Creator so that our soul will merit to stand among “the ten,” and that the brilliant light be her food and hover protectively over her. And know the truth, that the structure of the body with ten fingers on the hands that can be raised above, and ten toes below, with our body in the middle – was designed this way, to get us to visualize the connection between heaven and earth.  Just so, our body  links our upper and lower ten digits.[8]  And understand for this reason the Torah describes the sanctification of the priests’ hands and feet, as Scripture says, “They shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die.”[9]  This washing Targum Onkelos (may his memory be a blessing) translates with a word that connotes holiness, even though in the other places where “they shall wash” is written, it is translated “they shall remove the dirt from” [va-yes’hun], but here he translated it “they shall sanctify” [va-yikadshun]. This is to explain that the priest used to sanctify his hand and his feet.  With his right hand for his right foot and his left hand for his left foot, he would concentrate on “the ten” and make himself holy through their holiness, and draw upon the blessing from their blessedness, and with this thought in mind the priest would sanctify his hands and feet in the basin when he approached the altar. Thus the table is called an altar.  For this reason they [the rabbis] were very severe with the punishment for someone who makes light of hand washing; he is to be “uprooted from the world.”[10]  The severity of this punishment is because hand-washing hints at the thing upon which the whole world depends.  So whoever makes light of “lifting” the hands (for washing) causes a washing that destroys the world. As it has been said, “wash before or be fed pig meat; wash after or a life might be lost.”[11]  And this also was said about netilat yada’im: “whoever makes light of hand-washing will end up poor.”[12]  Wealth is accumulated by the work of one’s hands, and so it is written, “in all that you extend your hand to,”[13] and blessings are linked to “the ten.”  This is hinted at in “you shall surely set aside a tenth,”[14] that is, “from ten [‘eser] so that you will become rich [tit-‘asher].[15]  They proved that ‘osher –“wealth” – which is a shibboleth [“an ear of wheat” spelled with a shin] is from the ma’aser [“tithe” spelled with a sin] which is a sibboleth [that is, the letter shin in ma’aser is pronounced like the letter samekh in “sibboleth,” to hint that blessing and wealth is linked to “the ten” (the ten sefirot).[16] Proof of this is in the birkat kohanim (the priestly) when they raise and extend their hands.[17]  It should become clear from this that the more a commandment requires this sort of thinking directed above, the greater the punishment for making light of it.  This is like the issue of saying “Amen.” As great as one’s reward is for answering “Amen,” double is the punishment for making light of it.  This is what our rabbis z”l taught in a midrash: “Everyone who is careful to answer “Amen” in this world deserves to answer “Amen” [p. 465] in the world to come.”  David (peace be upon him) said, ‘Blessed is the Lord forever, Amen and Amen;’[18] ‘Amen’ in this world, and ‘Amen’ in the world to come.  For everyone who answers ‘Amen’ deserves two worlds: this world and the world to come.[19]  And in the Temple, when The Name of God was spoken aloud as it is spelled, they did not answer “Amen.”  But in the precincts of the Temple where it was not permitted to say it as it is spelled, they would say aloud “Amen” instead of The Name, because the word “Amen” hints at the letters of The Name.[20] Therefore, greater is the one who says “Amen” than the one making the blessing using a circumlocution for the actual name of God.[21] And everyone who makes light of saying “Amen,” their punishment is double in the circles of hell, that is, the circle called “a land whose light is darkness,”[22] which is lower She’ol.  The prophet who spoke about those that make light of answering “Amen” referred to this when he said “They have forsaken Me, the Fount of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns which cannot even hold water.”[23] But whoever answers “Amen” with its letters opens “the Fount” and draws out the flow of blessing. And accordingly the verse refers to those who make light of it when it says “hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns.”  That is to say, they are punished with a double punishment, the one worse than the other.[24] Thus you learn that the greater the reward is for doing something, the greater the punishment for not doing it. Now right after washing and drying his hands, he ought to eat, and so they said, “Right after washing his hands, ha-motzi’.[25]

Washing the hands, even though it is not explicitly commanded in the Torah, was given by our rabbis z”l the authority from a verse in the Torah, as it is written, “If one with a discharge, without having rinsed his hands in water, touches another person.”[26]  Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh said from here our rabbis z”l gave the command to wash hands the authority of the Torah.  Washing hands, whether it’s before eating unconsecrated food or the terumah offering, is done up to where the wrist joint is connected to the palm of the hand.[27]  Whatever applies to ritual immersion also applies to washing hands.[28] A person washing their hands in the morning can set the condition that it covers the whole day.[29] Some have explained that this applies specifically to an exigent situation,[30] while others say even when it is not an exigent situation.[31] One who washes his hands should not eat until he has wiped them dry, because anyone who eats without drying, it is as if he eats unclean bread, as it is said, “So shall the people of Israel eat their unclean bread.”[32] The word lahmam -“their bread”- is an acronym for lihot mayim – “wet with water.”[33] Someone washing must raise their hands up, so that the water will not run back down below his wrists, and make his hands unclean all over again.[34]

[p. 466] There is a distinction between washing before (mayim rishonim) and washing after (mayim ahronim) a meal in many particulars. Mayim rishonim require a person’s effort, either another person to pour it over his hands, or he himself to pour it with one hand over the other.  That is not the case with mayim ahronim, for which a person’s effort is not required to make it flow.  Mayim rishonim require raising the hands in a way so as not to bring them back down and make them unclean.  That is not the case with mayim ahronim, for which it is required to lower one’s hands downward to remove the dirt. Mayim rishonim require wiping dry, because the wiping dry is crucial to the point of the hand washing; mayim ahronim do not require wiping dry. [35] Mayim rishonim require that there be nothing on one’s hands separating them from the water, such as wax, pitch, flour, or feces on one’s fingernails.  For mayim ahronim, it doesn’t matter whatsoever if there is or isn’t something separating one’s hands from the water. With mayim rishonim, the hands can be washed either with a vessel or over the ground.  In other words, we need not worry if the water falls onto the vessel or onto the ground. With mayim ahronim, one only washes with a vessel, since the water has to fall into the vessel and not onto the ground. With mayim rishonim, if one has rubbed his hands together, he has to do netilat yada’im all over again; with mayim ahronim it is not necessary.[36] With mayim rishonim, one recites the blessing “al netilat yada’im.” With mayim ahronim, there is no blessing, except for someone saying birkat ha-mazon, who says the blessing “al rehitzat yada’im” (“concerning the washing of the hands”).[37] Mayim rishonim require pauses; it shouldn’t be poured all at once.  Rather, taking up his hands, one washes and pauses, and then takes up and washes and pauses again.[38]  But the mayim ahronim one may pour all at once. Mayim rishonim specifically requires water, and not other kinds of liquids.  But for mayim ahronim, even other liquids are acceptable, such as wine and milk, since they are only used to remove the dirt. Mayim rishonim require a vessel (from which to pour it), as it is written about the priests’ washstand: “from it;”[39] one should not remove or rub off the water in a river; for mayim ahronim, it is permitted. Mayim rishonim go as far as the perek (“the joint”) which is where the hand ends, where the hand and the arm bones are joined.  Mayim ahronim are required only up to the edge of the hand where the fingers end.  And there are some who say that this is [p. 467] the extent that is required for mayim rishonim – the place where the fingers end. And that the extent for mayim ahronim is up to the middle section of the fingers, since mayim ahronim are only to remove the dirt, and from that point and higher the cooked food is unlikely to get on them. A specific quantity is required for mayim rishonim, namely a quarter of a log,[40] but mayim ahronim do not require a specific quantity.  One can extend the effect of mayim rishonim by setting a condition, but one cannot extend the effect of mayim ahronim with a condition.[41]  A mnemonic for all of these differences between mayim rishonim and mayim ahronim is KoHe”N He”N Sha’A”H MiKaPeRe”T (“For the precious priest, the hour atones”): K – Ko’ah adam (“by human power”); H – Hag’ba’ah (“raising up”); N- Niguv (“wiping dry”); H-Hatzitzah (“nothing separating”); N- Netilah bayn klay beyn ‘al gabay karka’ (“washing into a vessel or onto the ground”); Sh – Shifshuf (“rubbing”);  ‘A – ‘Al netilat yada’im (the blessing ‘al netilat yada’im); H – Hefsek (“pausing between pours”); M – Mayim (“water, and nothing else”); K – Klay (“poured from a vessel”); P- Perek (“up to the joint”); R – Revi’it log (“a quarter of a log”); and T- Tenai (“setting a condition”).

What goes for this blessing, al netilat yada’im, that it is worded with both the explicit second person singular pronoun “You” and the “hidden” pronoun implicit in the third person singular past tense verb form,[42] is the rule for the rest of the blessings that are fixed according to this formula. This is the secret of blessings, that “the World” is what “sanctified us by His commandments,” and we bless it with the phrase melekh ha-‘olam – “King of the World,” and thus you will find it in the Song at the Sea,  “Adonai yimlokh le-‘olam va’ed” – “YHWH will be King for ‘olam forever.”[43] And this has been evoked by the expression “YHWH will be King,” the word “world” and the word “forever.”  This is a reference to the three names for God in “The Thirteen Attributes,” which is similarly evoked by the expression “Barukh YHWH ha-mevorakh le-‘olam va’ed” – “Blessed be the Lord to Whom blessing is due as ‘World’ forever,”[44] and likewise in the prayer “Aleynu le-shabe’ah” by the expression, “Before the Kings of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, Who spread out the heavens and established the earth.”[45]  It is precisely in this manner that the phrasing of blessings was fixed and ordered.  But for the experts on the literal meaning of the text, it seems grammatically inconsistent, since it would be better to say, “us whom You sanctified and by Your commandments You commanded.”[46] However, there are pretty good reasons for it to be phrased exactly as it is with its literal meaning, in order to fix in the heart that the Holy One Blessed be He is both revealed and hidden:[47] revealed in regard to His ways and actions; hidden in regard to His essence and His very Selfhood.  Therefore you will find that when Moses Our Teacher (peace be upon him) asked about knowing Him (may He be Blessed) in regard to his ways, he said to Him, “Pray let me know Your ways.”[48] He replied, “I will make all My goodness pass before you.”[49] But when he asked to know Him in regard to his very Selfhood, and said to Him, “Oh let me behold Your Presence,”[50] He replied, “You cannot see My face.”[51]  He explained to him these two ways: that He is revealed, and that it is possible to conceive of Him in regard to His ways and actions; and that He is hidden in regard to His Selfhood, and there is no power or device to conceive of Him in this way.  And therefore, here when we say “Barukh Atah” – “Blessed are You” – with a present participle [and the pronoun “You”], we should focus on how He (May He be Blessed) is revealed through His actions.  And when we continue speaking using the third person singular (be-nistar), saying “asher kidshanu bi-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu” – “who sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us” – we should focus on how He (May He be Blessed) is hidden and invisible to our power of conception.  An analogy to this is that the sun, which is one of His servants,[52]and of which human beings can conceive through its actions, such as how it works in the lower world with its heat on the speaking species, animals, and plants, and through its light and heat.  And thus it is written, “nothing escapes (nistar) his heat.”[53]  But if trying to conceive the sun itself, one looks into the light itself, the light of his own eyes will be extinguished, and understand this! So in order to hint at Him being revealed and hidden, Scripture has said, “And your faithful ones shall bless You,”[54] that is to say, “in this way they shall bless You:” revealed and hidden, and this what is meant by “They shall talk of the majesty of Your kingship [kevod malkhutkha],”[55] using the present tense, to teach about Him being revealed.[56] And it said, “to make His mighty acts known among men,”[57] to teach about Him being hidden.

[468] And you knew that there are many other particulars in the laws of netilah, such as water that has dripped from an animal drinking, and water which is salted, and with water that a baker rinses his hands in, and two that have taken from a fourth, and with one of one’s hands rinsing, the other taken up to wash which they call in the Talmud, Massakhet Gittin “clean hands,” and if one is permitted to accept water from a gentile or from a menstruating woman, since there are those who have written that water is not accepted from a foreigner, and so on in many other things like this. And it is the rule with the laws of “ha-motzi’”, and likewise the rest of the blessings we are going to discuss, and other blessings of the table, for which there are many other particulars that I have omitted and not written about, for if I had decided to write about these particulars, the book would have been too long.  For it is my intention to speak only briefly about generally known rules. Those in the know will know the particulars that go with them.

A second blessing “Ha-motzi’ lehem min ha-aretz” is from the words of the scribes, which they derived a fortiori: “If one who has satisfied his hunger says a blessing, how much the more so ought one when he is hungry say a blessing.”[58] The explanation is that when one has satisfied his hunger and has already enjoyed the holy things of Heaven, which until he has said a blessing are prohibited to him as if they were hekdesh, how much the more so when he is hungry and about to enjoy the holy things of Heaven ought he say a blessing before eating them, so as not to be penalized with having to make a sacrilege offering (korban me’ilah).[59]  You would think that one should say “min ha-adamah” – “from the ground” in this blessing, but it gets the expression from Scripture: “le-hotzi’ lehem min ha-‘aretz.”[60]  And if you take issue with the precise meaning of the expression “lehem” – “bread,” you will find that it means food in general, as in “he [King Belshazzar] gave a great banquet [lehem],[61] since the bread itself is not what comes forth from the earth, but rather the produce from which they make bread.  And so you will find with the manna: “I will rain down bread [lehem] for you from the sky.”[62] It is well known that bread did not come down from the sky, but the manna out of which they made bread,” as it is said, “they would make it into cakes.”[63]

The one who breaks the bread when he breaks it should grasp the loaf in his two hands with ten fingers because of his love for the blessing [over the bread]. And thus you will find ten words in the blessing “ha-motzi.”  And likewise the verse [from which it is derived]: “You grow grass for cattle, herbage for man to work to bring forth bread from the earth.”[64] And we find ten mitzvot that were given regarding produce: (1) “You shall not plow [with and ox and ass together];” (2) “You shall not muzzle [an ox while it is threshing];” [65] (3) terumah for the priest; (4) the first tithe for the Levite; (5) the tithe of the tithe that the Levite gives to the priest; (6) the second tithe; (7) the tithe for the poor; (8) gleaning; (9) “the forgotten sheaf;” and (10) leaving the corners of the field for the poor.

[469] And know that the participle “ha-motzi’” implies both past and future action. For example, “who brings you forth [ha-motzi’] from the land of Egypt”[66] has a future sense.  It alludes to the same time about which our rabbis z”l taught this midrash: “In the future the land of Israel will bring forth [totzi’] cakes and fine woolen clothes, as it is said, ‘Let a slice of grain appear in the land.’[67]  And we allude in the blessing “ha-motzi’” to the future time when our food will appear without effort and toil, and the land will bring forth actual bread like the bread which we eat and over which we say the blessing.  For thus the world would have behaved in the time of Adam had the land not been cursed because of his sin, as it said, “Cursed is the land because of you.”[68] And in the future when the sin has been atoned for, the world will return to the way it’s supposed to be.

And when one is breaking the bread, he finishes the blessing and then breaks it.  This is out of respect for a king.  And accordingly it is necessary to put pleasing the Holy One Blessed Be He first before pleasing a king of flesh and blood or pleasing oneself, as it is said, “Fear the Lord, my son, and the king.”[69]  And whoever breaks the bread before he blesses or before he finishes the blessing – he is called a glutton.  About him it is said, “the greedy man [botze’a’] reviled [barekh] and scorned the Lord,”[70] that is to say, he breaks and afterwards then says the blessing, and so “has scorned the Lord.”

The head of the house breaks the bread in order to show that he’s being generous with all he has.[71]  And the guest leads the blessing after the meal in order to bless the head of the house.  The one who breaks the bread is the first to extend his hand into the common serving plate.  And if he wants to show respect for his teacher or someone greater than him in wisdom, it’s his choice.  And when he breaks a piece from the loaf, he should break a piece from the side of the loaf that is baked the best, for this is amongst the choicest of mitzvot to evoke the name of heaven over it, as it is said about the grain offering [minhah] of the priest: “offer it as a meal offering of the best baked pieces,”[72] for which the Tractate Zevahim said, “the word tofini would be the nicest baked part.”[73]

If one has said the blessing “ha-motzi’” and has a conversation in the interim before he eats, he says the blessing over again.  But if the conversation is just something that has to do with the table, like “take it and say the blessing,” or  “pass the salt or relish,” or even “mix some mush for my ox,” he does not have to repeat the blessing, since a person is required to give food to his livestock first, and after that eat, as it is said, “I will provide grass in your fields for your livestock” and then “you shall eat your fill.”[74]  Thus it is something that has to do with the table and does not count as a break.   It is like some one butchering a hundred chickens.  If he talks between one butchering and another to say, “pass me some others,” it has to do with the butchering, and does not count as a break.

[p. 470] The person breaking the bread is not allowed to taste it until those responding “Amen” finished saying, or at least until most of them have responded.[75]  That being said, they should not stretch out their “Amen” either; whoever takes too long to say “Amen” is in error.[76]  And the diners are not allowed to taste the bread until the person making the blessing has tasted it.[77] If one has eaten and forgotten to say “ha-motzi’,” he goes back and says the blessing, as long as he has not finished his meal.  But if he has finished his meal, he does not say the blessing because what’s over is over.[78]

A third blessing is “boray peri ha-gafen” – “Who created the fruit of the vine.”  One cannot say that blessing the bread exempts one from saying it, because wine “attaches” a blessing to itself.[79] It would seem preferable for us to say “boray peri ha-etz” – “Who created the fruit of the tree” – but because of the high status of wine, they specified the name of the tree, that is, “the grapevine” [ha-gafen].  For had they not wanted to specify the name “the grapevine” because of wine’s importance, they could have fixed the blessing to say “boray peri ha-anavim” – “Who created the fruit of the grapes” because grapes themselves are the fruit of the grapevine, and wine is the fruit which comes from grapes, just as oil is the fruit that comes from olives.  Accordingly, they fixed the blessing “boray peri ha-gafen” even though truthfully, grapes are the fruit of the vine, still, the drink which is pressed from the grapes is the fruit of the grapes themselves, and this is because it is considered more important than grapes, just as oil is considered more important than olives.  And the Tosafists z”l went back and forth on this topic a lot, and they proved that wine is not called “fruit”, as it is taught in Massekhet Bikkurim:[80] “’from the first of every fruit of the earth:’ the fruit which you bring as first fruit offerings, and you do not bring drinks as first fruit offerings; therefore wine is not a fruit.” However, they brought these matters up again at the end, and said that wine is called “fruit” by gezerah shavah,[81] since in another context, the word “fruit,” namely “fruit of orlah[82] refers to wine, in Massekhet Orlah:[83] “They absorb the forty because of orlah only for what comes out of grapes and olives, namely, wine and oil.”  And hear from this that just as in regard to orlah wine is called “fruit,” so in regard to blessings it is called “fruit.” The drinks that come from them are like them.  And so from this one ought to say the blessing over wine with the expression “boray peri ha-gafen,” and thus to specify the name “gafen” by saying “peri ha-gafen.”  And so our sages z”l explained it for us when they said in Massekhet Berakhot, “From where do we get that you only say a song over wine, as it is said, ‘But the vine replied, ‘Have I stopped yielding my new wine which gladdens God and men?’’[84] If it gladdens men, how does it gladden God?  From here you get that you only say a song over wine.[85] And thus an objection was raised among the Tosafists: “But surely it is over several things that we say Hallel, like when they came from battle, as it is said about Jehoshaphat in the Book of Chronicles,[86] or on the Fourteenth of Nisan, when they slaughtered the paschal lamb!” They answered and explained thus, “From where do we get that a song is said over nothing that has to do with the sacrificial altar, such as the flinging of blood, the burning of incense, the water libation, and the rest of the activities of the altar – except for the wine libation, as it is said, ‘But the vine replied to them, ‘Have I stopped yielding [p. 471] my new wine [tiroshi]?’’[87]  And they said in the Aggadah: “Nine hundred twenty-six kinds of grapes were created in the world, the numerical equivalent of the letters of the word tiroshi – “my new wine,” but all of them were stricken when Adam sinned, and only one remained for us.”[88] The status of the grapevine is further enhanced in the way the prophets would always compare the community of Israel to a grapevine, and this is what Scripture meant when it said, “You plucked up a grapevine from Egypt.”[89]  And there are still other weightier reasons, but it is not necessary to go into them at length here.  Know that the point of human wine-drinking ought to be only in service of food for health reasons alone, so that the food and drink will be mixed internally in a moderate manner, and that one direct the way he conducts his drinking to overcome his hunger and thirst.

If wine comes to them in the middle of a meal, each person says the blessing for himself, since the throat may not be empty (when it comes), but after the meal, one person says the blessing for all.[90]  The explanation: The throat may not be empty because all the diners are involved in eating, and some may not hear the blessing, or be paying attention or listening.  That is how Rashi z”l explained it.  So by this logic, if they all were to stop eating and listen, one person could say the blessing for himself.  And there is someone who explained that even if they were listening and each one says the blessing for himself – because they are not able to reply “Amen,” since anyone who was chewing something in their mouth might swallow something down the wrong pipe.[91]  And this is the view of the Jerusalem Talmud, where their version says, “’The throat may not be empty.’ Rabbi Muna said, ‘If someone sneezes during a meal, it is forbidden to say to him ‘asuta,”[92]since that might endanger his life.”[93]

If the wine is changed, one must say a blessing, because even though he has already said “boray peri ha-gafen” when he was about to drink in the beginning, he is required to say a blessing for this change of wine, and this is the blessing “ha-tov ve-ha-metiv.[94]  So why did they say this for a change a wine, and not for a change of loaf or other things?  For many reasons: (1) The crucial component for rejoicing at a meal is none other than wine.  The way of kings is to change their wine, but not their loaf, and the people Israel are “the sons of kings.”[95]  (2) Every table onto which they bring wine after wine is an expression of the multiplication of joy, but a person should not multiply his joy too much in this world, as it is said, “Our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  They shall say among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them!’”[96] Our rabbis taught in a midrash,[97] “When ‘will our mouths be filled with laughter’?  When the nations (i.e., the Gentiles) say, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ Another verse completes this thought, “They will rejoice with trembling.”[98] They said, “In a place of rejoicing there will be trembling.”  The explanation is that even in a place where there is rejoicing and joy from doing a mitzvah, there it is necessary that there be some trembling, too, to remember how the world is subject to the evil inclination and is shaken by it, so that it should not be shaken by our joy. Therefore it is a custom in a few Jewish communities at life cycle celebrations and meals celebrating a mitzvah to break there a vessel of glass or “flagons of grapes”[99] to sadden those rejoicing, so that the simhah be mixed a little bit with trembling.  And there is no greater simhah than Israel’s rejoicing at receiving the Torah [Simhat Ha-Torah] on Mt. Sinai, in the presence of the Holy One, about which it is written “like the Mahanayim dance,”[100] yet you know that even there, the tablets of the covenant were broken.  And if you would think hard and lift up your eyes to “ever since God created human beings on the earth,”[101] you will find in the Holy One Blessed Be He His boundless joy: [p. 472] “May the Glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works!”[102]But His joy has a limit with respect to the human race, “because he too is flesh.”[103] That is what is written about Him when it says: “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and His heart was saddened.”[104] Even in the Mishkan, which was a microcosm of the world, on the eight day of the priests’ assigned service, which was the day of the New Moon for the month of Nisan, on that very day there was nothing like it in its degree of joy, its intensity multiplied tenfold, to what our sages z”l referred when they said, “On that very day they got ten crowns”[105]  – you already knew what happened, and to what end that joy came.  On that very day Nadab and Abihu died, like whom, after Moses and Aaron, there were none among the Israelites to compare.  And this is what Scripture meant when it said, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended.”[106]  And see also what Ecclesiastes says about the joy of this world: “Of revelry I said, ‘It is mad!’  Of joy (simhah), ‘What good is that?’”[107] And the explanation of this statement is that because joy and sorrow are brothers attached to one another like day is attached to night, just as a person is sure in the day that night will come after it, and as sure at night that the day will come after it, so is he sure that joy will come after sorrow, and likewise sorrow after joy.  And so he said, “The heart may ache even in laughter, and joy may end in grief,”[108] to explain about sorrow after joy, and he said, “From all grief there is some gain,”[109] to explain about joy after sorrow.  From this you learn that the joy of this world can never be complete, but rather any good in it and contentment with it is “futile and pursuit of the wind,”[110] all glory in it is to be mocked,[111] its “glorious beauty is but wilted flowers.[112] For right at the moment when a person’s hopes are highest in the midst of joy, it stops, flickers out, and goes away. For this reason they ruled that the blessing over a change in wine should be “ha-tov ve-ha-metiv” (“Who is good and Who does good”), the same blessing they added to the grace after meals to remember the martyrs of Beitar when they were permitted to bury them.[113] The explanation: Ha-tov – “Who is good” – because He didn’t let the bodies putrefy; ha-metiv – “Who did good” – by letting the bodies be buried.[114]  And all this is to make human beings feel sadness, being fashioned from clay, composed of natural elements which are dead bodies, sunken in the desires of our senses – so that we’re brought back from a surfeit of joy to the middle way.

And another reason why they ruled that Ha-tov ve-ha-metiv should be the blessing for a change of wine, is that wine is a drink that comes from grapes that are in a vineyard, and our sages z”l already said “Seven years our enemies manured their vineyards with the blood of the martyrs of Beitar.”[115] So for that reason they ruled that Ha-tov ve-ha-metiv should be the blessing for a change of wine.  And you need to know that it is the way of Torah for a person to be required to restrain his eating and drinking, and that he thus guard his mouth.  This is why the Torah specifies which foods are permitted and prohibited, and afterwards connects to them the admonition: “You shall be holy,”[116] that is to say, be ascetic and restrain yourselves from even those foods that are pure and permitted, for if one don’t restrain himself from permitted food that is too pleasing to him, he’ll become one of those who “glut themselves on meat and guzzle wine.”[117] From this he profanes himself and his good qualities, and if a talmid hakham –a “disciple of the sages”  – profanes his Torah.  And already our rabbis taught us how a person should conduct himself when he’s drinking: he should sip the wine and let it linger in his throat, and by this be satisfied.  And they brought proof from the altar [p. 473] where they used to close up the pits, which were holes under the hollow part of the altar from where the libations would flow down into the empty part, so that the wine would linger in the altar, which is what they were talking about in the chapter “Lulav and Willow”:[118] “Resh Lakish said, ‘At the time when they poured the wine libation on Sukkot on top of the altar, they would cork the pits, as it is said, “to be poured in the sacred precinct as an offering of fermented drink to the Lord;”[119]’Fermented drink’ (shekhar) because it connotes “joy,” “satisfaction,” and “intoxication.” Raba replied, ‘Hear from this that wine satisfies a person; in his throat it satisfies him’ – meaning that if he lets it linger in his throat, he will be satisfied, for so they used to let the wine linger in the altar. And they said in tractate Yoma:[120] “Whoever gives a drink of wine to a talmid hakham, it is as if they are making libation sacrifices on the altar, as it is said, ‘O men (‘ishim), I call you,’” and thus “ishim” is interpreted midrashically to connote both “wine flagon” as in the word “‘ashishah,” and “sacrifice,” as in the expression “isheh la-Shem” – “fire offering to the Lord.”[121]

Things which come during the meal for the meal such as fish, salt, etc., even though one eats them without a piece of bread, like what comes as the main course of the meal, do not require any blessing, because the bread (and the blessing said for it) exempts them.[122] Things that come during the meal that are not for the meal, such as figs and grapes that do not come as part of the main course, do require a blessing before eating them, but not one after them.[123] But if one comes to season the bread with figs or grapes, then it is part of the main course, and they require no blessing, neither before nor after them, because the bread exempts them. But if they come as dessert after the meal proper is over, they require a blessing before, even if one eats them with bread, but not after them, because birkat ha-mazon exempts them.

And in tractate Yoma, in the chapter “The Appointee,”[124] they said: “It is halakhah at a meal, that a person who leaves the dining room to urinate washes one of his hands and re-enters.  But if he spoke with his companion [while he was out],[125] he washes both hands and returns, he does not wash outside, but rather inside, returns to and sits down at his place at the table, and turns his face back towards his fellow guests.[126] Rav Hisda said, ‘They meant this only for someone returning to drink, but in if he’s returning to eat, he washes outside and re-enters. It is known that he has a delicate sensitivity about such things.[127]

If one was reclining and eating at the table, and the time for minhah came, if there isn’t enough time to wait before it’s too late, he interrupts his meal [p. 474] and prays. But if there is enough time to wait, he finishes his meal and then prays.[128] And likewise if during the festival of Sukkot he forgot to wave the lulav, and he is standing over his table, if there is enough time in the day to wait, he finishes his meal, and then waves it, but if there is not enough time in the day to wait, he interrupts his meal and waves the lulav.[129]

If one has finished eating, he still should prolong his time at the table.  And so our rabbis z”l said: “Whoever prolongs his time at the table, his days and years are prolonged for him.”[130] And the reason behind this statement is that the table in the house is like the altar in the Temple.  Just as an altar atones, so also a table atones, when one feeds the poor on it.  So by prolonging one’s time at the table, it is more likely that a poor person will come and he’ll give him a piece of food so he’ll be provided for.[131]  And his prolongation of his time at the table with this intention leads to the tzedakah about which it is written, “by way of tzedakah comes life;”[132]thus his days and years are prolonged for him.  And they said in tractate Berakhot: “’A wooden altar three cubits high and two cubits long, with edging; and its length and its walls were of wood.  And he said to me, This is the table before the Lord.’[133] This verse opens with an ‘altar’ and ends with a ‘table,’ which means none other than that just as an altar atones, so a table atones.”[134] Indeed, we have heard with our own ears, and many have told us,[135] that among the leading sages of Provence, and the people who owned and ran inns, that they practiced an especially honorable custom, which was prevalent among them from the earliest days.  Their tables, upon which they feed the poor, when it was their time to go to the cemetery, were made into the coffins and slabs with which they were buried.  And all this is to arouse and fix in their hearts, that humankind, though they reach the tip of the clouds[136] and their wealth grows as high as the wealth of King Solomon, will take none of it with them, nothing from all they toiled for under the sun, [137] except the good they do and the tzedakah they compassionately bestow upon the poor, just as it said, “Your righteousness [tzidkekha] will march before you.”[138]

And thus one needs to say words of Torah over the table, because even though one has said all the blessings he is required to say, and will eventually conclude with birkat ha-mazon, saying birkat ha-mazon will not exempt him from his requirement unless he speaks words of Torah.  And so our rabbis said: “Every table over which they ate and said words of Torah, it is as if they ate from the table of God [Makom], as it is said, ‘He said to me, This is the table before the Lord,’”[139] that is to say, when they spoke over it words of Torah, thenthis table is before the Lord.”[140] “And every table over which they ate and did not say over it words of Torah, it is as if they ate from the sacrifices of the dead.  As it is said, ‘For all tables were full of vomit, no place [bli Makom] without excrement,”[141] that is to say, the words of Makom, i.e., God, are not mentioned there.[142] And all this is to instruct you that humankind [adam] was not created for eating and drink, but rather to engage in Torah.  For this is what Scripture meant when it said, “for man [adam] was born for toil [‘amal].”[143] Our sages interpreted this in a midrash:[144] “’For man was born for toil’ – I don’t know if this is toil by mouth, or if it’s toiling in the Torah.  When Scripture says, “The appetite of a toiler [‘amel] toils [‘amlah] for him, because his mouth craves it,”[145] toil by the mouth is being spoken about.  But this is exactly how I fulfill “For man was born for toil” when it refers to toiling in Torah, so I say it means “for toiling in Torah he was born.”[146]  And so they said in another midrash: Just as in the Creation, He created domestic and wild animals, birds, reptiles and swarming things, and after that created Adam, as it is said, “And God created Adam in his image,”[147] so it was written in the Torah “This you shall eat” and “this you shall not eat,”[148] [p. 475] and after that Adam was born.  This is why Scripture connects this parashah  (“Shemini”) with the next one that begins “When a woman at childbirth bears a male,”[149] to say it is for toil in Torah he was born.  And thus right after that it is written, “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised,”[150] teaching that even before he was formed the Torah and commandments encircled him, and afterwards he was born.  This is what it meant when it said, “When a woman at childbirth bears a male”[151] – that The Holy One Blessed be He imposed commandments before him and after him, and he is in the middle.[152] This is what it meant when it said, “For man was born for toil”[153]– that for toil in Torah he was born.

You already knew from “The Wisdom of Formation”[154] that a human being has seven apertures: two ears, two nostrils, two eyes, and the seventh is the mouth.  And the “sevenths” are what the Holy One Blessed be He has “chosen.”  He created the heavens, and chose the seventh one, which is “aravot”  (“deserts”),[155] as it is said, “Cast up a highway for Him who rides through the deserts [aravot].”[156] He created seven days of the week, and chose the seventh day, which is Shabbat, as it said, “the days were formed, and for Him there was one among them.”[157]  He created seven climates, and chose the seventh one, which is the land of Israel, as it is said, “For the Lord has chosen Zion.”[158] And meditate well on this verse: “The Canaanites were then in the land.”[159] The secret meaning of the verse is “and a girdle she gives to the merchant [la-kana’ani –‘to the Canaanite’]”[160] – a girdle is put on the middle of a body.[161] He created seven apertures in the head, and chose the seventh one, which is the mouth.  And it is well known that he did not choose it because it eats and drinks, but rather because of the Torah and the mitzvah to bless His Name and declare His praise, just as the heavens and their hosts declare His glory, as it said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims His handiwork.”[162] And thus it is written, “This people I formed for Myself, that they might declare My praise.”[163] It is obvious that all that the Holy One Blessed be He created in the world, He created only for His glory, and so the prophet proclaimed: “Everyone who is called by My Name, I created for My glory,”[164] and it is written, “The Lord made everything for a purpose – le-ma’anehu,” to praise Him, like in the expression, “And Miriam chanted – ve-ta’an – for them.”[165]  So if everything was created to praise Him, it goes without saying that the mouth, which is the particular instrument for praising Him, was created for none other than this.

If someone is about to say birkat ha-mazon, he is required to wash his hands first, and then say the blessing “al rehitzat yada’im;” this washing is an obligation.  And so they said, “Mayim rishonim is a mitzvah, mayim ahronim an obligation (hovah), washing during the meal optional.”[166] And when they said “during the meal,” they meant it is optional between one cooked dish and another. But between a cooked dish and cheese, it is an obligation.[167]

Rav Hisda said, “if someone has eaten meat, he is forbidden to eat cheese, but if he ate cheese first, he is permitted to eat meat,[168] and Rav Hisda’s view is the accepted view.[169] But surely he said, “He is forbidden to eat cheese until another meal.” Indeed, for a whole day is a more stringent practice, and thus it was when Mar Ukba’s practice was to wait only until the next meal.  For Mar Ukba said, “I am in this matter like ‘Hametz the son of Wine,’ for if my father would eat meat he was fastidious and wouldn’t eat [p. 476] cheese till the same time the next day. But while I won’t eat it at the same meal, I’ll eat it at the next meal.[170]  And the custom of Mar Ukba’s father to wait for a whole day is extra stringent, so accordingly we follow Mar Ukba’s practice, even though he said, “I am in this matter like Hametz the son of Wine.”  And so it is our practice to wait just until the next meal.  Hence, it is not sufficient just to wipe one’s mouth or to wash one’s hands, since meat is not digested after the first meal for at least six hours, and meat caught in between the teeth is still meat, as it is said, “The meat was still between their teeth.”[171]  But if one eats cheese, he is permitted to eat meat without any delay at all.  He only has to wipe his mouth whether it’s day or night, and wash his hands if it’s at night, but not if it’s during the day, nor does it make a difference whether it’s game or meat from a domesticated animal.[172] Poultry and cheese are eaten “like an epicurean,”[173] which I found in the explanation of the Arukh to mean without wiping one’s mouth or washing their hands whether in the day or in the night.[174]  The reason given was that mayim ahronim are an obligation, because a person eats salt after his meal, which contains Sodomite salt that blinds the eyes, even one grain in a kor of regular salt,[175] though no blessing is required, except for someone who is saying a blessing over washing dirty hands.  For just as a polluted priest was unfit for the Temple service, someone whose hands are polluted is unfit to say a blessing. What does it mean to be “polluted”? Anything that is not fit to be brought near the altar, such as an animal or birds, but whatever is fit does not require washing, since it isn’t something that’s polluted.  However, there are some among the great teachers who are of the opinion that anything can be polluted.

Right after washing the hands comes the blessing, in other words, whoever has washed their hands for mayim ahronim ought to say birkat ha-mazon immediately.[176]  And so you will also find in the Jerusalem Talmud: “Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rabbi Abba, ‘There are three pairs of things that need to be done in immediate succession: the 18 Benedictions prayer has to follow the blessing for redemption without a break, kosher slaughter has to follow the laying on of hands without a break, and the blessing has to follow hand-washing without a break. The 18 Benedictions prayer has to follow the blessing for redemption without a break, as it is said, “The Lord is my Rock and my Redeemer,’ to which immediately is connected, ‘May the Lord answer you in time of trouble.’[177] Kosher slaughter has to follow the laying on of hands without a break, [p. 477] as it is said, ‘He shall lay his hand…He shall slaughter.’[178] The blessing has to follow netilat yada’im without a break, as it is said, ‘Lift your hands toward the sanctuary and bless the Lord.’[179] Rabbi Yosi the son of Rabbi Abin said, ‘Everyone who connects ge’ulah to tefilah without a break, Satan cannot accuse for the whole day; and everyone who connects the blessing to netilat yada’im without a break, Satan cannot accuse him during that meal. And likewise, everyone who lays his hand and slaughters without a break, there will be nothing invalid about that sacrifice.” So says the Jerusalem Talmud.[180]

One has to be careful when he is about to say birkat ha-mazon not to leave the table without any bread on it, as they said in tractate Sanhedrin:[181] “Whoever does not leave bread on his table, about him Scripture says, ‘With no remnant for him to eat, his goodness will not take hold.”[182] The reason for this practice is so that the blessing about which this was said will take hold; for if nothing is left, in what can the blessing take hold, because no blessing takes hold upon nothing, but only upon something?  And the table in the sanctuary, which never was without bread, attests to this.  And that bread was eaten by the priests who ministered to the sanctuary, and only a little of it was enough to feed many of them, and so our rabbis said, “Every priest who approached it was made doubly happy,”[183] and through this very bread on the table blessing descended and was dispersed in the food of the world, from the showbread, by way of “something from something” and not something from nothing.  For even the prophets who were “capable of serving in the royal palace”[184] were not capable of producing something from nothing, but rather only something from something. Let me call for myself reliable witnesses:[185] Elijah and Elisha, the former through “flour in a jar,”[186] the latter “a jug of oil” – all was “something from something,” for no one has the power to make something from nothing but the Holy One Blessed be He, Shaper of creation which He created from nothing, and with all due to respect for Him, we find that even He only did it in the six days of the creation of the world.  From then on till now, everything is “something from something.”  And thus it is written, “which God created and made.”[187] The explanation: “which God created” – something from nothing; “and made” – from then on, something from something, not something from nothing. So accordingly, it is necessary that a person about to recite birkat ha-mazon, leave a piece of bread on the table, for even a little of it is enough for the blessing to take hold in, and its power will be distributed through an increase of the small amount, just like the hidden miracles that are done for us every day, without us knowing or being aware of them.  Just as our rabbis said: “[188]No miracle-worker is aware of his own miracle.”  And you should know that the cause behind the blessing that drops down in the food of the world and in the showbread is explained in the verse: “It [the frankincense] shall be a reminder-offering with the bread.”[189] As you already knew that they used to place frankincense on top of the bread, which is what is written just before, “With each row you shall place pure frankincense,”[190] the showbread and the frankincense used to counteract one another, just like the etrog and the lulav,[191] and the blue dye and white cloth (when blue dye could still be found).  For the Most High has no share in the showbread, while the ordinary mortal has no share in the frankincense, which they would burn upon the fire.  Therefore Scripture said, “It shall be a reminder-offering with the bread,” because by burning the frankincense which is on top of the bread, it becomes a reminder to the power above for blessing to drop down on it and from it into the food for the world.  And understand this, that it is for this reason that there were twelve hallot arranged on top of the table. And from there the blessing came, which corresponded to the twelve angels[192] surrounding the throne of glory, which are called “four camps [p. 478] of the Shekhinah,” from which the world is blessed to the four winds, and they serve three to each wind, the meaning behind the four banners that were in the desert. Also corresponding to them below were the twelve lions on Solomon’s throne, and they are like these twelve hallot and the twenty-four tenth-measures,[193] and arouse your mind to this!

One also has to careful when about to say birkat ha-mazon to remove the knife from the table.  The reason for this practice is because the table is called an “altar,” and just as on an altar we have been warned not to brandish something made of iron over it, as it is said, “do not build it [an altar] of hewn stones, etc.”[194]  The rule of Torah is that if one makes it into an altar of hewn stones with a tool of silver or flint, it is permitted.  For the point of the prohibition is not against it being hewn, but rather because it is hewn with something made of iron, i.e., a sword, and Torah kept it far from the tabernacle, when it is written: “gold, silver, and copper,”[195] but does not mention iron there.  And likewise with the sanctuary it is written, “No hammers or axe or any iron tool was heard in the House when it was being built.”[196] The reason is because that is the power of Esau with what he was blessed from his father’s mouth; this is what is meant by “By the sword you shall live,”[197] and it is written, “but Esau I hated.”[198]  Therefore it is kept far from the sanctuary. And likewise at the table we have been warned to remove the sword from it, because the sword is something destructive[199] and the source of destruction, the opposite of peace, and it does not belong in a place of blessing, i.e., peace.  For indeed the altar and the table prolongs a person’s days, while a sword shortens them, and it makes no sense to brandish something that shortens over something that prolongs life.[200]

One also has to take care to spread a cloth over the bread on the table when saying the blessing, for thus it was the custom of the old-timers to cover the bread when they would recite birkat ha-mazon, so that the bread won’t be embarrassed (that we’re reciting this blessing for the food over wine and not bread), and likewise when they would recite the Shabbat Kiddush on wine and not bread.  And so they said for the daytime Kiddush: “One spreads a cloth and recites the Kiddush,”[201] that is to say, one spreads a cloth over the bread, and then one recites the Kiddush over the wine.  There is also in this an allusion and symbol of the descent of the manna, which when the manna first came down, it would come down on the surface of the wilderness, which is what this meant: “in the morning there was a fall of dew,”[202] and afterwards, the manna fell on it [the dew], which is what is meant by “over the surface of the wilderness lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.”[203]  And it is written “when the fall of dew lifted” and not “when the fall of manna lifted,” so that “when the fall of dew lifted” teaches you that another layer of dew came down upon it [the manna].[204]  And so our rabbis z”l said, “Dew above and dew below and the manna in the middle, as if it were packed in a box.”[205]  Therefore here at the table one spreads cloth and recites the Kiddush – a cloth above, a cloth below, and the bread in the middle.  For this is a symbolic re-enactment of the descent of the manna.[206]

Birkat ha-mazon consists of three blessings from the Torah, and one blessing from the words of the scribes.  The oldest at the table leads the blessing, even if he came after the meal.[207]  A mnemonic acronym for the three blessings from the Torah comes from the verses “You shall make a table of acacia wood… and make around it a molding of gold – ZaHa”B:”[208] the blessing ha-Zan (“who feeds”), the blessing Ha-aretz (“for the land”) [p. 479] and the blessing Boneh Yerushalayim (“who builds Jerusalem”) – the initials of which are ZH”B, and zahav is numerically equivalent to DaVi”D,[209] and thus the table hints at malkhut – “kingdom.”[210]  The symbol of kingdom is the house of David son of Jesse, which includes the both the kingdom of the house of David below, and the kingdom above, which is the power of the frankincense: Dovid melekh Yisrael hay ve-kayam (“Long live David King of Israel!”) – this is what is meant by “We have no portion in David, No share in Jesse’s son!  Every man to his tent (leohalav), O Israel!”[211] not “le-ohalav – to his tent” but rather “le’lohav– to his God.”[212]  For you already knew that the table in the sanctuary corresponds to midat ha-din – God’s attribute of justice – which is the reason why it is located on the north, that is the left side,[213] the side of Gevurah – “Might.”  And on the table were two cloths, one made of crimson, the other blue.[214]  The crimson one corresponds to midat ha-din above, and the blue one corresponds to midat ha-din below, which is comprised of all the other attributes. And here the showbread was on the table itself, without anything in between, as it is said, “And the regular bread shall rest upon it [the table],”[215] and over the bread was spread the blue cloth. And on this cloth were put all the utensils for the table, and over the utensils was spread the crimson cloth; was the highest on top of everything else. The crimson cloth would be on top, and the blue cloth below, that’s just how the upper midat din emanates down into the lower one, and the point of this whole arrangement is that from the table in the sanctuary comes sustenance for the whole world.[216]  Corresponding to it is the midat din above that sustains the upper beings, the host on high, even as it does the lower beings, for it is the attribute “that supplies provisions for her household and, the daily fare of her maids.”[217]  From this you will understand the reason why the height of the table with all of the things arrayed on was ten handbreadths.  For even so, the table in the sanctuary with what was on top of it should instruct you about midat ha-din, and understand this!  For you need to be awakened to what our sages z”l said about this: “Ten tables King Solomon (peace be upon him) made, as it is explained in Scripture, and likewise ten lampstands, and ten washbasins.[218]

Birkat ha-mazon is from the Torah, as it is said, “When you have eaten your fill, you shall bless the Lord your God.”[219]  And they taught in a baraita:[220] “you shall bless”  – this is the blessing “ha-zan;” “the Lord your God” – this is birkat ha-zimmun (“the blessing of invitation”); “for the land” – this is the blessing “ha-aretz” (“for the land”); “good” [ha-tovah]– this is the blessing “boneh Yerushalayim.”  And therefore it says “the good hill country [ha-har ha-tov] and the Lebanon.”[221] I have only a blessing after the meal; from where do I get before it?  Scripture says “”which He has given you” – from the moment He has given it to you, you are obligated to bless Him.  Our rabbis z”l taught in a midrash: Moses instituted the blessing “ha-zan” for Israel when the manna fell down for them; Joshua instituted the blessing “ha-aretz” when he led them into to the land, and David and Solomon instituted “boneh Yerushalayim.”[222] And you will also find in the story of the manna a hint at the blessing “ha-zan” in the manna itself, as it is said, “In the morning you shall have your fill of bread,[223] and you shall know that I the Lord am you God” – this knowing will occur when remind yourselves of it when you say a blessing over eating the manna.  The fourth blessing, “ha-tov ve-ha-metiv,” was instituted at Yavneh.  Our rabbis z”l needed to make reference in the blessing “ha-aretz” the Torah, and also refer in it to the covenant (brit), and for them to mention brit before Torah,[224] so it would be said like this: “brit and Torah, life and food, for your brit [p. 480] which you sealed [upon us] and your Torah which you taught us.”[225]  And the reason that they needed to mention both in the blessing “ha-aretz” was to instruct us that it was because of the Torah that we merited the inheritance of the Land.[226]  And this is the reason for the setting up of the stones upon which “the whole Torah” is written, and this is what is meant by “to [le-ma’an] enter the land.”[227]  Le-ma’an – “for the sake of” this Torah “you will enter the Land.”  And in my opinion, in “to [le-ma’an] enter the land,” “le-ma’an” means “so that you are able to enter,” that is to say, “Insofar as I am commanding you to write on them the whole Torah, so you will have the power to enter the land, because the power of the Torah will cut out [yakhritu] [228]the enemies of the land, so that you will inherit it.

And the reason for mentioning brit before the Torah is because the Torah was given through three covenants, while brit milah – circumcision was given through thirteen covenants, and they are mentioned in the account of Abraham’s circumcision, and for the sake of all sixteen of these covenants, we are rescued from midat ha-din, the sword [herev]of the Holy One Blessed be He, which has sixteen mouths that say “smite the enemies!” Moses referred to this in his promise for the future, “When I whet My flashing sword [harbi] and My hand lays hold of justice.”[229]  He connected the yod ending harbi (“my sword”) with the initial vav of ve-tohez (“lays hold of”) in order to hint at “the sword of sixteen.”  Understand this verse: “Be in fear of the sword [herev], for fury is iniquity worthy of the sword [herev]; know there is a judgment [shedin].[230]  This means “be in fear of the sword from above,” for iniquity cause the “fury” and “sword” below, and so to this end you should know that there is justice and the world is not random, and with this sword the wicked are judged, and that righteous not only need not be afraid of it, but indeed it is put into their hands.  That is what is written “with paeans to God in their throat and two-edged swords [herev pipiyot] in their hand”[231] – read in it “sixteen mouths – piyot.” So understand this! For this is a deep matter linked to some of the letters on the Lord’s great Name itself, but it’s my intention to limit what I say about it.

The blessing ha-tov ve-ha-metiv needs two more mentions of melekh besides its own in its opening line.  And thus they said in the Jerusalem Talmud: [232] “three mentions of melekh, three mentions of being metiv, and three mentions of recompense (gemulot).  The three “melekh”’s(1) “melekh ha-olam,” (2) “ha-el avinu malkenu,” and (3) “ha-melekh ha-tov.”  The three “metiv”’s: (1) ha-melekh ha-tov, (2) “ve-ha-metiv,” and  (3) “hu he-tiv.”  The three gemulot: (1) “hu gomalnu,” (2) hu gamlenu, and (3) hu yigmalenu.

Birkat ha-mazon is recited with at least three adults, as it is said, “Exalt the Lord with me.[233] With three, one says in the zimmunnivarekh she-akhalnu mishelo” – “Let us bless Him from whose food we have eaten” without mentioning God’s name.  And with ten one does mention God’s name: nivarekh eloheynu– “Let us bless our God.”[234] And one does not say “Barekhu eloheynu” – “Bless our God,” in other words, one should not exclude himself from the group.  Thus I conclude that “nivarekh” is preferable, but if someone has said “barekhu,” one doesn’t hold it against him.[235] Regardless if the number of diners is eleven or 110,000, one says, “nivarekh [p.481] eloheynu she-akhalnu mishelo,” because ten is the number that includes everything and there is nothing after it,  unless it is doubled [?]. If one leading a zimmun of three says, “nivarekh she-akhalnu mishelo” – “Let us bless Him from whose food we have eaten,” the other two reply as if he were beginning with “Barukh she-akhalnu mishelo uv-tuvo hayinu” –“Blessed be the One from whose food we ate and by whose goodness we live.” If one leading a zimmun of ten says, “nivarekh eloheynu she-akhalnu mishelo” – “Let us bless our God from whose food we have eaten,” the rest reply with “Barukh eloheynu she-akhalnu mishelo uv-tuvo hayinu” –“Blessed be our God from whose food we ate and by whose goodness we live.”  Those outside of the table answer “Amen,” which is like the matter discussed in tractate Yoma:[236] “For the name of the Lord I proclaim; Give glory to our God!”[237] When “I proclaim the name ‘Lord,’ You give glory to ‘Eloheynu,’ namely, you should answer “Amen.”

A minor who knows Whom they are blessing is included in the zimmun, but if not, he is not included. However he does count to complete the minyan of ten, according to what they said,

R. Joshua ben Levi said that even though a child who is being rocked in a cradle is not counted in the zimmun, they consider him an addition to complete the minimum of ten.  And Rashi z”l explained, “not for a minyan of ten in general, only for a zimmun. Otherwise, how could we maintain that he’s not considered an addition to make ten for the amidah or for the zimmun until he’s grown two pubic hairs?  From what they said in the Jerusalem Talmud: a minor – at what point do we consider him an addition to make ten?  R. Abin says R. Huna and R. Judah disagree with one another, both in the name of Shmuel.  The one says when he knows the form of the blessing, the other, when he knows Whom he is blessing.  R. Yosi b. R. Halafta said, ‘How many times have you eaten with my father Halafta, and with R. Abina b. Kisi, and they didn’t make a zimmun for me until I grew two pubic hairs?!’  And this is how Rabbenu Tam reasoned, and thus it is the practice of the whole world.[238]

If nine who have eaten something made of grain, and one just greens, they include him for the purpose of saying “nivarekh.”  And precisely just for the sake of inclusion, but in order for him to enable the majority to fulfill their obligation, we need him to eat at least an “olive’s measure” of something made of grain.[239] And with three, it goes without saying that in order for him to enable the others to fulfill their obligation, even to be added in, we need him to eat at least an “olive’s measure” of something made of grain.  And thus it is our custom that when a person enters to be included, that he takes at least an olive’s measure of something made from grain and eats it.

And you need to know that because the sages z”l said, “a bat kol went out and said that a cup of blessing is equal to forty pieces of gold, it is clear from this that each blessing of the hundred blessing equals ten pieces of gold.”[240] And there’s support for this in the verse: “one ladle (kaf) of ten [shekels] of gold filled with incense,”[241] that is to say, every “one from Ka”F,[242] which are the one hundred blessings equal to “ten gold [pieces].” And you will also find in another place, “esreh zahav mishkalam” – “ten gold shekels in weight”[243] to which armbands Scripture follows with the phrase “Then I bowed low in homage to the Lord and blessed the Lord.”[244]  The reason why every blessing is equal to ten shekels of gold is to hint that it is possible to include the 10 sefirot in each and every blessing.  And the reason for 100 blessings every day is their correspondence to the 10 sefirot, ten blessings for each and every sefirah.  And this what is written, “And now, O Israel, what (mah) does the Lord your God demand of you.”[245]  And our sages z”l said, “Don’t read mah – “what,” but rather me’ah –“a hundred” [p. 482],”[246] that is to say, “A hundred the Lord your God demands of you.”  And there are 99 letters in this verse; adding the letter aleph makes it 100.[247]  And we found in King David (peace upon him), who said, “The utterance of the man set on high [‘al],”[248] because one hundred men of Israel a day used to die in that generation, and deeply moved by this, David instituted [tiken]100 blessings.[249] He didn’t institute them per se, but rather re-established them, since they had been forgotten, and David came along and re-established them.[250]  And thus is written, “So [ki khen] shall the man who fears the Lord be blessed [yivorakh].”[251]  The word yivorakh – “shall be blessed” is spelled without a vav, which means that by the numerical equivalent of K”I Khe”N – 100 – will the person who fears the Lord both bless and be blessed.[252] Therefore a person needs to recite 100 blessings and fulfill them each day. And on Shabbat, when it is not possible because the Amidah for Shabbat contains only seven blessings, as it is written, “I praise You seven times on the day,”[253] the day which is well-known and special, namely, Shabbat, our sages z”l already said, “one completes them with aromatic herbs and fancy fruits.”[254]  And now I shall explain to you the three meals of Shabbat.

Our rabbis said:[255] A person is required to eat three meals on Shabbat, as it is said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath of the Lord, you will not find it today on the plain.”[256]  And about the reward for this mitzvah they said:[257] Whoever fulfills the mitzvah of three meals on Shabbat is rescued from three tribulations: from the birth pangs of the Messiah, from the judgment of Gehenna, and from the wars of Gog and Magog, and for each of these three the Scripture mentions “day.”  For the birth pangs of the Messiah – “before the coming of the day of the Lord.”[258] From the judgment of Gehenna – “For lo! That day is at hand, burning like an oven” and it is written, “and the day that is coming shall burn them.” [259]  And from the wars of Gog and Magog: “Lo, a day of the Lord is coming.”[260]  The reason for the three meals of Shabbat corresponds to the three higher states that the soul will have in the eternal and true life that is called “the life of the world to come” (hayye ha-olam ha-ba) and “bundle of life” (tzror ha-hayim).

The first meal is the aspect of “shamor[261] – “Observe!” which is Malkhut, and “the Bride,” which is why Shabbat is called a “bride.” And this why it says, “Come bride, Come and let us go out to greet the Sabbath bride and queen,” and this is “Eat it today”[262] – [ikhlu-hu] the “day” for whom we make the Shabbat evening Kiddush over wine.[263]

The second meal is the aspect of “zakhor” – “Remember!”[264] which is Rahamim – Compassion, for whom we make the Kiddush of the Day, which is called Kiddusha Raba – “the Great Kiddush”[265] because at night  – shamor!, and in the day zakhor! which is Compassion, and the meaning of  “for today is the Sabbath of the Lord.”[266]

The third meal is the upper source, which is called Ayin – “Nothing” -from what is written, “And Wisdom you will find comes me-ayin –“from Nothing.”[267]  And this is the meaning of you will not find it today on the plain.”[268]

And from now on meditate on this and open the eyes of your heart to the high levels which someone who fulfills the three meals achieves, and the deep reward reserved in the future for him when he has this lofty focus in mind, and indeed he deserves to be rescued from the three tribulations, and understand this!

[p. 483] And it is up to you to know that the three Shabbat meals have alloted times: the first on Shabbat eve, the second at shahrit in the morning, and the third at minhah in the afternoon.  One does not make the third meal at shahrit right after the meal and birkat ha-mazon, by spreading a tablecloth and starting a new meal so that it seems that the meals divide Shabbat in half, without any acknowledgment here in the third meal of the upper miracle. But rather, the time of the third meal is at the hour of minhah, as they taught in the chapter “All the holy writings:”[269] “If a fire breaks out on Shabbat Eve, one rescues the food for three meals; if during shahrit, one rescues the food for two meals; if at minhah, one rescues the food for one meal.”  And they also taught in Pesahim: “If the 14th of Nisan occurs on Shabbat, one burns all the hametz before Shabbat, but leaves enough food for two meals. [270] All of this is proof that the time for the third meal is at minhah, since this time would already have arrived within the time of the prohibition from the Torah against eating hametz from six hours on until the seder. And they said in the Tosefta, “Anyone who wants to fulfill the obligation of three meals when the 14th of Nisan occurs on Shabbat, eats ‘rich matzah,’ which is made with oil and honey. For they did not say ‘Whoever eats matzah on the eve of Pesah…,’[271] but rather ‘the bread of affliction,’ which would permit ‘rich matzah,’ since the obligation to eat only the ‘bread of affliction’ does not go into effect until the evening.”[272]

One needs to base all three of these meals over wine, and to break two loaves of bread, whether it is for Shabbat or for the other holidays.  Some say that it is possible to serve fruit and not bread at the third meal, and bring for proof what is said in tractate Sukkah: “We say, ‘If one made up for a meal in the sukkah that he missed with kinds of desserts, he has fulfilled his obligation.”[273]  But this is not our view, for we hold that fruit does not need to be eaten in a sukkah, and if he made up his missed meal with fruits, he has not fulfilled his obligation, but rather, bread is certainly required at the third meal as it is for the first two.[274]

And when I explained to you the requirement for three meals on Shabbat and informed you of its reward, I revealed it to you only partially, leaving some of it secret.  Now I shall explain to you further the topic of panim hadashot –“a new face.” [275] This refers to the virtue particularly associated with Malkhut, about which Scripture remarked when it said, “Let us make human being in Our image and according to Our likeness,”[276] and when it is the great Shabbat, for indeed when Shabbat comes, a “new face” comes.  And for this reason you will find in the discussion of the Sheva Berakhot, which is connected to a “new face,” as we maintain in the Gemara, “On the first day [after the wedding] one says all seven blessings.  From then on, if there is a new face (panim hadashot), one recites them, but if not one doesn’t.”[277]  And Shabbat itself is like a new face.[278]  But all the words of our rabbis z”l are built upon the wisdom of kabbalah, and it is the great foundation upon which all of their words depend.  Happy is the one who meditates upon them and looks at their shining mirror. And at this point I do not need to expand upon the explanation of the topic of marriage in the lower formation of the world involving male and female, because of what I hinted at in my discussion of zakhor ve-shamor “remember and observe.”  From this little hint you should be able to understand much more.

[p. 484] Now that I have explained to you the topic of Kiddush, I will explain the topic of Havdalah, so that nothing will be missing from your table whether it is an ordinary day or Shabbat, for indeed Havdalah is a way of honoring Shabbat, to remember the day of Shabbat both when it comes and goes, as our rabbis z”l taught in a midrash, “’Remember the Sabbath day’[279] – remember it both at its entrance and its departure.”[280]


And know that Havdalah with its four blessings is hinted at in the first parshah of Genesis: the first blessing – borei pri ha-gafen – “who creates the fruit of the vine” – is hinted at in the first verse in the word ha-aretz – “the land”[281] – which is the garden and the vine in the garden, and this is the wine preserved in its grapes from the six days of creation.[282]The second blessing: “atzei besamim”– “spices from a tree”[283] is hinted in the expression, “a wind [ru’ah] from God sweeping over the water,”[284] because smell – re’ah – is sensed by means of the wind – ru’ah.  The third blessing: bore’ me’orei ha-esh – “who creates the lights of fire,” is what is written in “Yehi ‘or” – “Let there be light!”[285]  The fourth blessing – Ha-mavdil – “Who separates” is what is written in “and God separated [va-yavdel] the light.”[286] And just as we found the act of separation – Havdalah – in the Holy One Blessed be He at the beginning of His rule with the creation of the world and its renewal, so we found in Him the sanctification – kiddush[287] – of the day of Shabbat on which work is forbidden, which is written: “God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy [va-yikadeshoto].”[288]

He “blessed” it providing an extra portion of the manna for it and “declared it holy” by prohibiting the gathering of manna on it.  Another interpretation: He blessed it with light.  When the sun set on the evening of Shabbat, the Holy One Blessed be He sought to hide the light and gave honor to Shabbat, as it is written, “and God blessed it, etc.”[289]With what did He bless it? With light.  Everything began to praise the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written, “Everything under the heavens, He made it sing.”[290] Why?  “His light [spread] to the ends of the earth.”[291]

Rabbi Ishmael the son of Rabbi Yosi asked those who lived in Babylonia, by what did they earn the right to call their living there “life.”[292] They replied, “by right of the Torah.” And for those in the land of Israel, by right of the tithes.  And those outside of the Land, by what right?  Because they honor the Sabbaths and the holidays.  Rabbi Yohanan in the name of Rabbi Yosi b. Halafta said, “Abraham our father, about whom is not written that he observed the Sabbath, inherited the world within measurable limits, as it is said, ‘Up, walk about the land through its length and breadth.’[293]  But Jacob, about whom it is written that he observed Shabbat, as it is said, ‘and he encamped in the city,’ he entered at morning twilight, and fixed boundaries while it was still day,[294] inherited the world without measurable limits, as it is said, ‘You shall spread out to the west and to the east, etc.’[295] Another interpretation: “God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy,”[296] He blessed it by exempting it from being postponed. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said, ‘A festival is postponed; Shabbat is not postponed.[297]  Another interpretation: He blessed it with a partner.  They taught that R. Simon bar Yohai says,

Shabbat came before the Holy One Blessed be He and said, “Master of the Universe, everything has a partner, but I don’t have a partner.  I am astonished.” The Holy One Blessed be He replied, “The assembly of the people of Israel shall be your partner.”  And when they stood at Mt. [p. 485] Sinai, He said to them, “Remember what I said to Shabbat.  The assembly of Israel shall be your partner.  So I am saying, “Remember Shabbat and make it holy.”[298]


Also it says there:[299] “And He placed him [Adam] in the Garden of Eden,”[300] the Holy One Blessed be He gave Adam the commandments of Shabbat, since it is written in this verse va-yanhehu – “placed him” and in another verse “va-yanah – and He rested on the seventh day.[301] “To work it”[302] alludes to “six days shall you work”[303] and “to tend it” – li-shomrah – alludes to “Observe – shamor [the Sabbath day].”[304]

So ends the quotation from Genesis Rabba.  And you will find in the chapter “Arvei Pesahim” of the Talmud[305] that it said, “One can interrupt for Kiddush, but one does not interrupt for Havdalah.  The explanation: If a person interrupts his meal on the eve of Shabbat and says birkat ha-mazon for a regular day, and afterwards says the Kiddush for Shabbat, this is “making an interruption.”  But if he were eating on Shabbat and sundown came, he does not interrupt his meal, but rather, completes it.  And even though he says birkat ha-mazon for Shabbat when it has become an ordinary day, it doesn’t matter, and then afterwards he makes Havdalah, which is what is meant by “one does not interrupt for Havdalah.”  And the reason why is because it is proper for a person to interrupt his meal to honor the King when He enters in order to welcome Him, but on Shabbat one does not interrupt his meal for Havdalah, but rather keeps eating like a person who wants the King to stay and to delay Him from leaving his home.  For were he to interrupt the meal, it would seem like he was trying to get rid of the King.  And this is like what our rabbis z”l taught in a midrash in Mekhilta: “Remember and Keep!”  “Remember” Shabbat at its entrance, so as to welcome it before sunset so that everything is prepared for it.  “And Keep!”  Keep it as it leaves, like a person watching over the king or his dear friend who is with him, and he doesn’t want him to go; he does what he can the whole time to delay him.[306]

Whoever is given the cup of blessing for birkat ha-mazon to say the blessing should not refuse, and thus they said, “Three things shorten a person’s life: if he’s given a Torah scroll and doesn’t read from it, a cup of blessing to say birkat ha-mazon and he doesn’t say it, and someone who arrogates authority to himself.  And while birkat ha-mazon is from the Torah, it is an accepted view that the blessing does not require a cup, but to perform the mitzvah in the best way possible, one ought to say the blessing over a cup.[307]

Following the way of the old-timers and strict interpreters of the halakhah, one should be careful about doing the ten things[308] required for the cup of blessing.  And they are: (1) “rinsing”; (2) “washing away”; (3) “undiluted” wine; (4) that the cup be full; (5) “crowning;” (6) wrapping; (7) holding the cup in two hands; (8) grasping it with the right hand; (9) raising it a hands’ breadth; (10) setting one’s eyes upon it; and (11) passing it on to members of one’s household. The interpretation: rinsing” inside the cup, “washing away” the outside.[309] “Undiluted” – hay: the wine should be pure and undiluted until the blessing “ha-aretz” in birkat ha-mazon; at that point water is put in it. There are some who interpreted “undiluted” – hay – to mean that it came out of a vessel right next to the meal, as in the expression mayim hayyim, that is water drawn from a nearby spring.  And there are those who interpreted hay – as “live,” referring to cup that is whole, unbroken, because vessels that are broken are called “dead.”  One does not say the blessing of the cup of birkat ha-mazon until water is put in it, because we need the mitzvah to use only the finest, which would be mixed wine, since pure “undiluted” wine is harmful, and the point of the blessing is to be thankful for something that is not harmful. And thus they said, “the cup of blessing is not blessed until he puts water in it, especially the blessing of birkat ha-mazon. However one can say the blessing Boray pri ha-gafen over it, for making Kiddush is analogous to the wine libation, as it written, “a libation offering to the Lord of an intoxicating drink to be poured,”[310] – we need wine that intoxicates,[311] and like this they said,  “something like this required to say a blessing over it, or to say [p. 486] the Great Hallel.”[312]And you already knew that wine hints at midat din, whose number is seventy, for in the realm above seventy ruling angels are nourished by the sefirah of Gevurah, and all of them are drawn from Compassion in the form of Jacob, the third in the heavenly chariot, out of whom came seventy souls.[313]  For this reason they put a ban on the nazirite, to separate himself from wine and anything that came from the “grapevine of wine,”[314] because he is attached to Compassion, as it said, “if anyone explicitly utters a nazirite’s vow.”[315]  Therefore our sages z”l required that the cup for birkat ha-mazon, which is from the Torah, should not have the blessing said over it until water is put into it, because the intention of the blessing is basically for Compassion.  And “full”: R. Yohanan said, “Whoever blesses over a full cup of blessing is given a boundless inheritance, as it is said, ‘full of the Lord’s blessing, take possession west and south.’[316] R. Yosi bar Haninah says he earns and inherits two worlds: this world and the world to come, as it is said, “take possession west and south.”[317] R. Yohanan used to prove “boundless inheritance” from the expression: yam ve-darush yerashah, and R. Yosi concurred with him on this, adding, “from what is written, ‘let him take possession [yerashah] west and south;’ it did not say “rash” – “take possession” because the world to come was created by the letter Yod, and this world was created by the letter Hay.[318]  This is what the Book of Bahir was talking about when it said, “It should have said RaSh but instead it is written YeRaShaH – everything is given to you.  And provided that you keep His ways, this is an inward, hidden matter, for “west [lit., “sea”] and south” – yam ve-darom – are intended to hint at Peace and the Covenant, which are the sefirot Hokhmah – ‘Wisdom’ and Binah – ‘Understanding.’”  So understand this! “Crowning:” the cup is “crowned” by the disciples of the person saying the blessing. R. Hisda crowns it with other cups. Wrapping: R. Pappa said he wraps himself in his robe, [319]sits, and then says the blessing.  R. Ashi put a scarf on his head and take up the cup with two hands, as is it is said, “Lift up your hands in holiness and bless the Lord.”[320] And then he would grasp it in his right hand without any support from his other hand at all. And he would raise it a handbreadth from the ground, as Scripture said, “I will lift up the cup of salvation, etc.”[321] And he would set his eyes upon it, so his attention won’t be distracted from it.  And he hands it over to his wife, for thus his wife may be blessed.  So you see these are the ten things which were said about the cup of blessing.  But R. Yohanan said, “We have only four, and they are: undiluted, full, rinsing, and washing.  And here’s a acronym for them: HaMiShaH –“five”: Het – Hai – “undiluted;” Mem – male’ – “full;” Shin – Shetifah – “rinsing;” and Hay – hadahah – “washing.” Or if you’d prefer it, say SiMHa”H – “joy”, because it is written, “wine gladdens [yiSMaH] the human heart.”[322]

Birkat ha-mazon should be said only when one is sitting, and if one was eating and walking or standing, he sits in his place and says the blessing.  But if he forgot and did not say birkat ha-mazon, and started to walk and after that remembered that he did not [p. 487] say the blessing, he should not say the blessing where he remembered, but rather should return to the place where he ate and say the blessing, for we say: Bet Shamai said to Bet Hillel, “Do you really mean to say if one forgot a purse at the top of the Temple Mount, is he not to go up and get it? So if he will go up for his own sake and come back, surely he should do so all the more for the honor of Heaven!

One should not engage in conversation after the cup of blessing, and one should not say the blessing over a “cup of tribulations.”  What is a “cup of tribulations”? A second cup.  The reason for this is that pairs are bad luck.  As they taught in a baraita, “Whoever drinks double – that is, a pair of cups – should not say the blessing, because of the verse “Be proper to meet your God, O Israel.”[323] And the reason for prohibiting pairs is because of witchcraft and beings composed of two who rule over anyone who eats and drinking something in pairs.  And another reason to distance oneself from “twos” is that that are separated from the power of One, for pairs come from the power of “twos.”  So in order to fix one’s heart on unity and distance oneself from dualistic faith, like what is alluded to in Scripture, “Do not mix with shonim,[324] those who believe in twos or more.  Therefore they prohibited pairs even for things eaten and drunk, for it is appropriate for natural matters to be a sign and symbol of appropriate practices and beliefs,[325] in that you already knew that true beliefs thus require actions. And you see that in the story of Creation, it was not said, “that it was good” on the second day.[326]  For we follow what they said in Genesis Rabbah, that on it dissent and Gehennah were created, and without a doubt, with things like these created on it, it is a dangerous day, on which it is prohibited to begin any work, as our rabbis z”l said, “One does not begin things on the second day, because whoever adds something to one, there’s no good in him [or it], and thus it was called yom sheni – “day two,” which is from the expression shinui – “change.”  For in One there is no change, which is what is written: “For I am the Lord, I have not changed.”[327]  But the second day was the beginning of change, and from then on, change in what was created is desirable, and on the rest of the days after it we have found basis for an accusation against all of them, e.g., on the third day God said, “Let the earth bring forth fruit trees,” but it actually brought forth only “trees bearing fruit.”[328] Similarly on the fourth day the moon made an accusation saying, “It isn’t fair for two kings to use one crown.”[329]  And likewise on the fifth day, God killed the male Leviathan,[330] which can be interpreted as He hid the heavenly light.  And likewise on the sixth day, Adam sinned and changed the will of Ha-Shem, and about this it is said, “altering his face, you sent him out.”[331] See how the second day is the cause behind all of this, because all of these things come from its power and follow it.  To the extent it said “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel,”[332] who is one, and it added “O Israel,” who is the one singular nation of the one God, as it is said, “And who is like Your people, one nation on earth,”[333] you should prepare and direct yourself to meet the One.  So you should not eat or drink things in pairs, so that you will not think dualistic things in your heart.

So you see that there are seven blessings a person is required to say over the table, and they are netilat yada’im, ha-motzi’, bore pri ha-gafen, and birkat ha-mazon, (which counts as four blessings).  And these are found and practiced all the time, and if you count mayim ahronim, you have eight blessings.  And if one drank a fourth of wine from the cup of birkat ha-mazon, he says [p. 488] over it the blessing Al ha-gefen ve-al pri ha-gafen­ “For the vine and the fruit of the vine;” and with this blessing we have nine.  And if there is about be a change of wine, one says the blessing Ha-tov veha-metiv; now we have ten.  And if different kinds of fruit are about to be served, whose blessings are not equivalent,[334] one says the blessing over the one kind of fruit, and then repeats it over another kind of fruit;[335] and now we have twelve, though it doesn’t matter which of these two you do first.[336]  But if the blessings are equivalent, even though one of them is from one of the Seven Species, one goes with the preferred and more desirable kind first.[337] And whoever sets the priority of fruits on the basis of the verse, follows the same sequence of priority for blessing:[338] “a land of wheat and barley, etc.”[339] Wheat and barley refer to bread, which if it comes as part of dessert, one says the blessing She-ha-kol over it, and does not precede it with Boray pri ha-etz.  If one is served dates and pomegranates, one says a blessing over the dates first, and then one over the pomegranates, because dates are two words from “the Land,” while pomegranates are five words from “the Land.”[340]

It is forbidden for a person to enjoy something from this world without saying a blessing.[341] And the reason behind this saying is because everyone who says a blessing over something, which he has enjoyed bears witness to the Divine providence that has caused food to come into being for the lower beings in order that they live, and thanks to them, produce and fruit are increased and blessed. And whoever enjoys something and does not say a blessing steals this Divine providence from it, and hands over the direction of the lower beings to the stars and planets.  This is what is meant by: “Everyone who enjoys something from this world without saying a blessing, it is as if he robs from the Holy One Blessed be He and from the assembly of Israel, as it is said, ‘He robs his father and mother and says…,”[342] that is to say, he robs the Holy One Blessed be He of His providence, and the assembly of Israel of their fruit.  For because of this crime, the fruits are diminished for Israel because of him, for the whole world is judged according to the majority,[343] and each and every individual is judged according to the majority, and therefore one has to view oneself as if the whole depended on him. So you see in this way blessings are not because the One Above needs them, but rather the ordinary individual needs them, for while the Exalted One is the source of blessing, and all the blessings flow down from Him, everything in existence which blesses Him their blessings are not worthy of Him, because He who exists first brings into existence all else that exists, and their existence is nothing but His existence, and His existence is sufficient in and of itself without needing anything else.  And if they would bless Him “always, every day and every night they would take no rest,”[344] He wouldn’t get any greater; what could they give Him, or what could He take from their hand? There is not benefit or increase except on our side.

However, you could be roused and open the eyes of your heart to the way of the wisdom of Kabbalah, that blessings are not just the private individual’s need alone, that something in them meets a “need” of the One Above, as Scripture says,  “And you shall eat and be full, [p.489] and you shall bless the LORD your God.” This verse permits the heart to understand the secret of blessings, and you will not find in the whole Torah anywhere that the Holy One Blessed be He commands us to bless His name unless it is with “Amen.”  And because of this David said, “I will bless Your name”[345]and likewise he said, “Thank Him, and bless His name,”[346] and many other sayings like this.  Accordingly you need to comprehend that blessings aren’t for the private individual’s needs at all, and that they are not only an expression of thanks, but they are an expression of addition and increase, as in the connotation of “He will bless your bread and water.”[347] And understand this statement of the sages z”l, when that said at the end of the chapter “The one who receives” on the topic of the creditor:[348] “that he may sleep in his cloth and bless you,”[349] someone who needs a blessing, namely, a private individual, but if it is hekdesh, it doesn’t need a blessing,[350] “it would be an act of righteousness,” to the One to whom all acts of righteousness already belong. The sages z”l explained this with the interpretation that hekdesh requires a blessing, but does not require tzedakah.  And they made this even clearer in tractate Berakhot, “R. Ishmael said to him, ‘Bless me, my son,’”[351] and in tractate Shabbat, “The Holy One Blessed be He said to Moses, ‘You could have helped Me,’”[352] – this deals with the matter of blessings.[353]  And they also said that the Holy One Blessed be He desires the prayer of the righteous who are much smaller in number than the rest of the large nations, even though they are not “a numerous people, the glory of a king.”[354] But rather, certainly the expression “you shall bless” is an expression of addition and increase, and it connotes a brekhah – a “pool” gushing from its source, and thus we mention in our prayer titromam and titbarakh – “you shall be exalted and be blessed,”[355] and in the language of the Kaddish – yitbarakh va-yishtabah, va-yitpa’ar, va-yitromam, vayitnasay. And it also has the connotation of berekhah – “kneeling” and bowing down, to He to whom every knee (berekh) must bend.  And so you will find in the Book of Bahir, “What is the meaning of berakhah? It is the “tongue” of the “knee” –  berekh,  as it said, ‘and to You every knee must bend and every tongue give homage’[356] –  the One to whom every knee bows down.”[357] Behold, this is among the mysteries of the Torah, and the whole issue of kavvanah – “intention”- in prayer follows it, but it is not right to explain and expand upon this further in writing.

And know from what our sages z”l said: “It is forbidden to enjoy something from this world without a blessing, they were speaking about all pleasures in general, whether from something one tastes, from something one smells, or from something one sees and hears – for all four of these senses they fixed a blessing.  The sense of taste: from what is written, “set aside [kidesh – lit., “make holy”] for jubilation [hilulim] before the Lord,”[358] it comes to teach you that every edible thing is forbidden to you as if it were hekdesh – “holy” food set aside to the priests and Temple – until one sings praises [yi-hallel], that is, says a blessing to the Holy One Blessed be He before and after over the same food, and this is why hilulim is plural, not the singular form hilul. For the sense of smell one has to say a blessing as well, and there is support for this in the verse, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of the fields that the Lord has blessed.”[359] From here we get that the sense of smell is blessed.  And it is also written, “’Let every soul praise [tehallel] the Lord!’[360]  Which thing is it that gives joy to the soul but not to the body?  You must say that this is smell!”[361]  For the sense of sight there are many blessings such as one sees the sun at the summer solstice should say this blessing: “Blessed is He who makes [p. 490] Creation,”[362] and similarly the blessing for moon in each month.[363] And they said in the chapter Ha-Ro-eh – “He who sees”: [364] “He who sees the sun at its turning point,the moon in its purity, the planets in their courses, and the signs of the zodiac in their season, should say: ‘Blessed is He who makes the work of creation.’” And this is what you will find in the story of the making of Creation: “They shall serve as signs for the set times – the days and the years,” because the lights, besides giving light, also are signs by which the future is hinted at, what our rabbis z”l meant by saying:[365] “When the lights are in eclipse, it is a bad sign for “the nations of the world.”[366]  And they are also a sign for Israel when to recite the Shma in the morning, because the mitzvah is to recite it at sunrise,[367] and when to recite the Shma in the evening, because the mitzvah is to recite it “when the stars come out.”[368]  And this is the meaning of what is written in: “Lift high your eyes and see Who created these,”[369] because through looking at this, a person is roused to see that the are creations, and to praise his Creator for them by either a blessing or some other expression of praise.  And in the chapter Ha-Ro-eh, it also says, “Whoever goes out in the days of Nisan and sees the trees sprouting, he should say, ‘Blessed is He who has not left His world lacking in anything and has created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees for the enjoyment of humanity.”[370]  And likewise whoever sees their friend after not seeing them for twelve months, one says, “Blessed is He Who revives the dead,”[371] and after thirty days he says a Shehekheyanu blessing, [372] and likewise whoever sees a rainbow says, “Blessed is He Who remembers the covenant,[373] and so with all the rest of the things for which they fixed a blessing for seeing them. And so that’s what the chapter Ha-Ro-eh talks about.[374] For the sense of hearing they also fixed blessings.  For good news, one recites the blessing Ha-Tov ve-Ha-Metiv; for bad news, “Barukh dayan ha-emet”- “Blessed is the true Judge.”[375] However, they did not fix a blessing for when someone hears a sound [kol] of a lyre or pipe so sweet that it make their soul happy and it enjoys it, as it is written, “for your voice [kol] is sweet.”[376] The reason why is because sound isn’t actually a thing.  Now if you would say the same is true of smell, there is actually something in fruits that give off their smell. And if you would say that there is something in the instrument or singer that produces the sound, the smell that comes from fruits is not like the sound that comes from a person’s body or a musical instrument.  For the smell of a fruit or a spice is from their body and essence, but the sound of a human being or musical instrument is not from their body and essence, but rather the result of air blowing through it.  Nor did they fix a blessing for the sense of touch, because it is included in the sense of taste.  And this is the reason why the Torah mentions these four senses explicitly. When it is written, “that cannot see or hear or eat or smell,”[377] it does not mention the sense of touch, because it is included in “that cannot eat,” which is the sense of taste.  And you must understand that it is among the wonders of the formation of the human body that these five senses in it are implanted in the five organs that are the tools and gateways of the intellectual soul, which derives its nobility from the Holy Spirit in it, and human being’s high rank and greatness is their result, because they are the basis for his activity in doing mitzvot, and likewise for committing sins, for by means of them he will be rewarded, and by means of them he will be punished, according to how he chooses to use them.  Therefore Scripture faults avodah zarah for its lack of these senses in order to instruct us about their importance. Because idols are lacking in their ability to sense and are generally incomplete, they have no power to save. And if so, how could those who worship these other gods in times of distress call out, “Rise up and save us!?”[378]

[p. 491] And of these five senses, two are physical, three are spiritual.  We have found them in the Holy One Blessed be He: “And the Lord saw;” “and the Lord heard;” and “the Lord smelled;”[379]but not so the other two.  We were given five senses to correspond to the five books of the Torah, and to the five references to “light” in the first chapter of Genesis,[380] and the five names of the soul.[381] Indeed they are the body’s perfection because they are the palace of the soul, and the soul reveals its actions through them.  And the natural scientists said that it was from the wisdom of the design of nature that human beings were created with five fingers on each hand to serve the five senses.  Each and every finger has its own sense to serve. The biggest (the thumb) is for wiping the mouth, the index finger for the nostrils, the middle finger for the sense of touch to feel all the parts of the body because it is the longest of all (and can reach everywhere), the ring finger to wipe the eye, and the pinky, which is the smallest of all, to clean the ear. So it is from the wisdom of nature that each and every finger goes to its proper sense organ instinctively and unconsciously. About the order of the fingers our sages z”l said:[382]”This pinky [is for…], this ring finger [is for…], this middle finger [is for…], this pointer [is for…], this thumb [is for…].”  And they already explained at the beginning of tractate Ketubot that each of these five fingers had their own mitzvah: This pinky for measuring the hoshen – the High Priest’s breastplate; this ring finger for the priest’s meal-offering, this index finger [amah –‘the cubit measure’] for building and tools; this index finger [ha-‘etzba’] for sprinkling (the blood of the sin offering)– “he shall sprinkle it with his finger [be-‘etzba’o],”[383]and this ‘biggest’ which is the widest of all of them, namely, the thumb of Aaron’s hand for purifying someone stricken with skin rot.[384]  So you find yourself learning that the five fingers on the human body meet the needs of both the individual and of God.  And you will find among the wonders of human being’s design that the ability to feel is extended throughout the whole body, and the sense of smell is extended outside the body, and that the sense of hearing is extended even further than smell to the extent that humans need it more, and that the sense of sight is extended even further than hearing because humans need it more.  So behold how great a matter this is to all who look into it, for it instructs us about the perfection of human beings with their five senses, for “these are the work of God!”[385]


[1] Ex 30:34, following the Jewish Study Bible’s translation.

[2] Ez 3:12.

[3] Is 63:9.

[4] Ps 119:48.

[5] Or “ought to perform the ritual of al netilat yada’im raising his hands upward …;” the Hebrew can mean either, or most likely, both.

[6] Ps 134:2

[7] R. Bahya is referring to b. Berakhot 51a:

Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rabbi Abahu – others say it is taught in a beraita: “Ten things were said to have been required for of a cup of blessing: (1) washing and (2) rinsing it before use, (3) undiluted, (4) a full cup (5) closing it [itur] (6) covering with a cloth [ituf], (7) lifting it up with two hands and putting it in the right, and (8) elevating it at least a handbreadth from the ground, (9) looking at it; and some say, (10) sending it as a gift to household members.” Rabbi Yohanan said, “we know of only four: Washing, rinsing, undiluted, and full.”

Though R. Yohanan’s view became the accepted practice, R. Bahya is suggesting that there nevertheless was an ancient custom that did associate the rituals concerned with blessing a cup of wine with the ten sefirot.  That is why Rabbi Zeira et al. specified ten, according to R. Bahya’s interpretation of his rationale. So Chavel in his notes explains R. Bahya’s reference to “the custom of those in the past.” See below, where R. Bahya discusses in more detail the ten things connected with the cup of blessing. See also the Zohar 2:157b.

[8] In other words, the connection between our 10 toes and fingers with our body in the middle is analogous to the connection between our 10 fingers lifted up in netilat yada’im down here on earth and the 10 sefirot in the upper world. This is the “imprint” of the cosmos in the human body to which R. Bahya just referred. Perhaps R. Bahya’s particular wording here to introduce this analogy, “Know the truth [ha-emet],” is an allusion to Ps. 85:11: “Truth [emet] will spring up from the ground.”

[9] Ex 30:21.

[10] B.Sotah 4b.

[11] B.Hullin 106a. Chavel explains this somewhat elliptical saying in his notes by bringing two stories.  First, there was a Jewish shopkeeper who would sell kosher meat that he would cook and feed to a Jew, but when a gentile came into the store, he’d feed him trayf. But if a Jew came to eat and didn’t wash his hands, thinking he was a gentile, the storekeeper would feed him pig meat.  As for the danger of not washing afterwards, Chavel retells the story of the man who entrusted his wife with purse of money, and then went out to the market without washing his hands after the meal. A wicked man came along who saw the husband give his wife the purse.  He came to the woman and said to her, “Give me the purse that your husband gave you.”  She replied to him, “Give me a sign” (i.e., that proved he know her husband and that he sent him). He told that he knew her husband just ate lentils (since he had seen them on her husband’s unwashed hands). So she gave him the purse. When her husband came home, she told him what happened, and he killed her!

[12] B.Shabbat 62b.

[13] Dt 15:10: “The Lord your God will bless you in all you do, and in all that you extend your hand to.”

[14] Deut. 14:22.

[15] B.Ta’anit 9a, which interprets the Biblical Hebrew emphatic infinitive absolute construction: ‘iser te-‘aser (“you shall surely set aside a tenth”) as ‘eser te’asher (“ten will make you rich”), punning on the similar spelling and sound of ‘eser, “ten” and ‘osher, “wealth.”

[16] The point of the midrash is that ‘eser (ten) and ‘osher (wealth) are more or less equivalent, even though one is pronounced with an /s/, the other with a /sh/ sound.  Of course this an allusion to the story in Judges 12 where the Gileadites used the word shibboleth as a password to distinguish their people from the Ephraimites, who could only pronounce it “sibboleth.”  Though R. Bahya on the one hand seems to stress the interchangeability of shibboleth and sibboleth to make his point, I would not put it past him to be also hinting that knowing the equivalence of ‘eser, ‘osher, and the mystical secret of the connection between the ten sefirot and acquiring blessing is itself a sort of “shibboleth,” as it were. Having the wisdom to make these connections distinguishes the Torah scholars from those who don’t know or appreciate the secrets of the Torah and their benefits.

[17] I.e., to draw down the blessings from the ten sefirot through their ten fingers.  R. Bahya in effect implicitly associates the lifting of the ten fingers when to draw down blessing when one washes before eating at the table, to the blessings drawn down by the hereditary priests.

[18] Ps 89:53.

[19] M. Tanhuma 96:7.

[20] B. Berakhot 63a. The numerical equivalents for the names of God ADoNaY (65) and YHWH (26) when added together equal AMeN (91).

[21] I.e., like saying “Adonai” instead of pronouncing YHWH.

[22] Job 10:22.

[23] Jer 2:13.

[24] R. Bahya is picking up on the repetition of the word “cisterns” (be’erot) to hook his midrash.

[25] B.Berakhot 52b, which actually says, “right after washing hands, the meal.”

[26] Lev. 15:11. In other words, this verse assumes that there was a requirement for the one with a discharge to wash his hands, but he didn’t do it.

[27] B. Hullin 106a-b, as understood by R. Bahya’s teacher, R. Shlomo ben Adret (according to Chavel). Chavel says he’s also following the R”IF (R. Yitzhak al-Fasi).

[28] Ibid., 106b.

[29] Ibid., 106b-107a.

[30] E.g., Rabbenu Hananael,  cited in R. Shlomo ben Adret in Torat Ha-Bayit  6.4 near the end.

[31] E.g., Maimonides and R. Shlomo ben Adret himself, ibid.

[32] Ez. 4:13; b.Sotah 4b.

[33] I.e., “hands wet with water.”  Ozar Geonim on b.Sotah 4b.

[34] B. Sotah 4b.  Chavel says that this also means that one should only raise one’s hands after he’s dried them, so that the water above his wrists doesn’t drip back down afterwards and make his hands unclean again.

[35] The point of the mayim rishonim is to purify one’s hands in order to eat with pure hands.  If one doesn’t dry them, they can become unclean again (see the previous note), defeating the purpose of netilat yada’im before the meal. The point of the mayim ahronim however is merely to get the dirt off one’s hands after finishing eating, so it doesn’t really matter if they become ritually unclean once the meal is over.

[36] Chavel: if one rubs his hands under the water, the water may have missed a spot, leaving it unclean.

[37] As opposed to “al netilat yada’im” – literally, “taking up the hands [to wash them].”

[38] Halakhah, Chavel notes, following Orah Hayim 122:2, actually requires three distinct pourings of the mayim rishonim, pausing between each: the first pouring to remove dirt or anything else separating the surface of one’s hands from the water, and then a second pouring to wash off the dirty water; but the water for both of these pourings remains impure.  Only after one pours yet a third time does the water purify the water that was on one’s hands.

[39] Ex 30:19:  “Let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet [in water drawn] from it.” (JSB). Chavel points out that the commentators explain “from it” (mi-meno) to specify that they were to wash in water poured from it, not in it, and that the Torah’s rules about the Temple priests’ washing apply to netilat yada’im as well.

[40] About the size of 1½ eggs.

[41] In other words, one can say, “The washing I’m doing now before this meal applies to all the meals I’m going to eat today,” that is, “I’m as ritually clean as a priest to eat this and all my subsequent meals today.”  However, since the washing after is to remove actual, visible food from one’s hands, obviously simply stating the condition that “my first hand-washing after a meal will remove any food I get on my hands at subsequent meals during the day” is not going to remove the food stuck to one’s hands after later meals.  It seems that R. Bahya and the source he quotes virtually verbatim for all these differences between mayim rishonim and mayim ahronim (R. Abraham ibn Daud, Kol Bo 23: Din Netilat Yadayim) recognize a distinction between what some today might call “ritual” vs. “actual” washing, but what I would prefer to call “theurgic” vs. “pragmatic” washing.  After all, they are both rituals.  But the former seems explicitly intended to change one’s subjective, spiritual status (“now I’m as pure as priest”); the latter primarily merely one’s observable physical status (no more food scraps on the hands). The ruling that one can verbally condition the “validity” of the mayim rishonim as opposed to the ahronim supports my view that R. Bahya appreciates the difference between rituals whose primary intent is to affect one’s subjective status, vs. those which primarily affect one physically.  However, R. Bahya would not say that the former type of ritual was somehow more “spiritual” or important than the latter. On the contrary, one of the main points of Shulhan Shel Arba is to show that even those rituals that primarily affect one physically are designed implicitly to reinforce one’s awareness that eating meals is a way to worship God.

[42] The original Hebrew is much more elliptical: “be-lashon nigleh ve-nistar.” These are technical grammatical terms. See note 46.

[43] Ex 15:18, ordinarily translated “The Lord will reign forever and ever” (JSB).

[44] That is, the usual communal liturgical response to the call to worship: “Barekhu et YHWH ha-mevorakh.” Clearly, R. Bahya is interpreting it midrashically, not in its ordinary sense.

[45] Here too, the title melekh (King) is associated with “the World,” that is, “the heavens…and earth” which He spread out and established.

[46] Asher kidashtanu bi-mitzvotekha vetzvitanu as opposed to asher kidshanu bi-mitzvotav ve-tzivavanu.

[47] Nigleh ve-nistar, which are also the grammatical terms R. Bahya uses at the beginning of this paragraph. See note 41.

[48] Ex 33:13.

[49] Ibid., 33:19.

[50] Ibid., 33:18.

[51] Ibid., 33:20.

[52] R. Bahya’s Hebrew wordplay here “she-ha-shemesh she-hu ehad mi-shamsav” is lost in translation.

[53] Ps. 19:7 (JSB); “his” refers to the sun.

[54] Ps. 145:10.

[55] Ibid., 145:11.

[56] Actually, in the Hebrew the verb is in the imperfect tense.

[57] Ibid., 145:12.

[58] B. Berakhot 35a.

[59] That is, the offering required for someone who has “stolen” the sacred food set aside for the priests.

[60] Ps. 104:14: “to get food out of the earth.”  Though ‘adamah and ‘eretz can both mean “earth,” ‘adamah is the term more commonly used when speaking about harvesting food grown in a field.

[61] Daniel 5:1 (JSB) translating the Aramaic “’avad lehem rav.”

[62] Ex. 16:4.

[63] Nu. 11:8.

[64] Ps 104:14 in Hebrew is ten words: Matzmi’ah hatzir le-behemah va-esev le-avodat ha-adam le-hotzi’ lehem min ha-aretz.

[65] Dt. 22:10; Dt 25:4.

[66] Lev. 22:23.

[67] Ps 72:16, pisat bar is usually translated “abundant grain,” but the midrash here from b.Ketuboth 111b interprets pisah hyper-literally as a “slice of grain,” i.e., a piece of a ready-made baked good from the land.

[68] Gen 3:17.

[69] Prov. 24:22, i.e., in that order. Granted, here the addressee “my son” comes before the king, which seems to contradict R. Bahya’s sequence.  However, he may be implying that one best looks out for one’s own interest by showing public deference to the king of flesh blood.

[70] Ps. 10:3.  R. Bahya is playing on the double meanings of the words botze’a’ – which means both “break bread” and “be greedy,” and barekh, which means both “bless” and “curse” in Biblical Hebrew.

[71] According to b. Berakhot 46a.

[72] Lev 6:14.  Modern commentators are uncertain about the meaning of the Hebrew word tofini, which I have translated here as “best baked,” based on R. Bahya’s interpretation.  See the following note.

[73] B.Menahot 50b.  I suspect the Talmud is treating the word tofini as if it were derived from both yafeh –  “nice” or “pretty,” and ‘afah –“baked,” a good example of the “creative philology” typical of midrash.

[74] Dt. 11:15.

[75] Tur and Orah Hayim 167:16, based on the discussion in b. Berakhot 47a.

[76] B. Berakhot 47a.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid., 51a, and Tur and Orah Hayim 167:8.

[79] An expression used by the Tosafot on b.Berakhot 44a.

[80] Chavel says this tradition appears in b.Hullin 102b, not in the Mishnah Bikkurim.

[81] Verbal analogy, one of the classic forms of Talmudic hermeneutics.

[82] Orlah is the term for fruit that grows from a tree in the first three years after it was planted; it is forbidden to eat or profit from it (Lev.19:23).

[83] Likewise Chavel found the source not here, but elsewhere in the Talmud.

[84] Judges 9:13.

[85] In other words, since God does not actually drink wine, this tradition says that songs inevitably accompany wine-drinking, and must be what gladdens God.

[86] 2 Chronicles 20:21.

[87] Judges 9:13.

[88] Chavel says he could not find the source for this midrash.

[89] Ps. 80:9.

[90] B.Berakhot 43a; Tur and Orah Hayim 174:8.

[91] Tur.

[92] The Aramaic equivalent to our “Gesundheit.”

[93] Y.Berakhot 6:6. That is, dangerous for the one saying “asuta,” since he might choke while eating and talking at the same time.

[94] B.Berakhot 59b; Tur and Orah Hayim 175:1.

[95] B. Shabbat 67a.

[96] Ps 126:2: Az yimalay s’hok pinu ulshonenu rinah az yomru ba-goyim. Higdil Adonai la’asot im eleh,” from  Shir Ha-ma’a lot that we recite on holidays and Shabbat before birkat ha-mazon.

[97] B.Berakhot 31a.

[98] Ps. 2:11

[99] Assisay ‘anavim, from Hos. 3:1– variously translated as “cups of the grapes” (JSB); “flagons of grapes (KJB); or even “cakes of raisins.” (RSV).

[100] Song of Songs 7:1. Mahana’im  (lit., “two camps”) is the dual form of the word for “camp” – mahaneh. When Israel “married God” as it were at Mt. Sinai,  the dancing at that “wedding,” that is the joy they expressed then, was like no other joy experienced on earth.  Even the angels came down from heaven to celebrate and dance with them! This is an allusion to a midrash that applies this verse to Ex. 19:17 (M. Tanhuma Titzaveh 11), which R. Bahya brings in his Commentary on the Torah to Ex. 19:17: “Moses led the people out of the camp [mahaneh] toward God.”  He says there

Our rabbis taught in a midrash, “600,000 ministering angels descended there corresponding to the 600,000 Israelites.  And about them Jacob hinted, “He named that place Mahana’im.” (Gen 32:3), for there were two camps, one next to the other.  And it is about this that King Solomon (peace be upon him) was talking when he said “like the Mahanai’m dance.” (S.S. 7:1).  It was because the Israelites have been enslaved to four empires, and each one of them says that the Israelites  should turn from their own faith and believe in them, which is why the verse in Song of Songs (7:1) repeats the imperative “turn” four times.  And we today are subject to the fourth empire, who says, “Turn and let us seek out from among you” [nehezeh bakh], that is, “Let us make some of you political authorities, and give you all kinds of ruling power,” with the expression “nehezeh bakh” [literally, “let us gaze upon you”] having the same connotation a similar phrase has in Ex. 18:21: “You shall seek out from among all the people – tehezeh mikol ha-‘am –  [all the capable men … to set them over the people as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, etc.”]. And  our rabbis also taught this midrash (Song of Songs Rabbah 7:1): “’The Shulammite’ –is ha-ummah she-shalom ha-olamim dar be-tokhah– the people within whom the peace of the world resides [i.e., the Israelites], and she replies, ‘What would you ‘seek out’ [for leaders] from the Shulammite? [Mah tehezah ba-Shulamit?], that is, “What ruling power, status, and glory could you give to the Shulammite that you could ever find comparable to the state of joy the Israelites experienced at Mt. Sinai.  This is “like the Mahanai’m dance:” two camps that would go out one before the other.  And they compared the pleasure of the experience they achieved at the revelation there to a dance.  To the same point our rabbis z”l taught, “In the future the Holy One Blessed be He will arrange a dance for the righteous in the Garden of Eden, so that I will never be able to turn to your [Gentile] faith, because I remember this dance – that is, like the one at Mt. Sinai. (Chavel, 2:173).

And yet, even at this peak of joy, there was the breaking of the tablets, like the breaking of the glass now to temper the pure joy at weddings.

[101] Dt. 4:32.

[102] Ps. 104:31.

[103] Gen 6:3. That is, humans are mortal.

[104] Ibid. 6:6.

[105] Sifra Shemini.

[106] Ex 24:9.  I.e., in that order was their “ascendence,” their status, relative to one another.

[107] Eccl 2:2.

[108] Prov 14:13.

[109] Prov 14:23.  “Grief” (‘etzev) here and “sorrow” (‘itzavon) in 14:13 come from the same Hebrew root.

[110] Eccl 1:14.

[111] An allusion to Ps 4:3.

[112] Is 28:1, referring specifically to the fleeting pleasures of the table: “Ah the proud crowns of the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is but wilted flowers on the heads of men bloated with rich food, who are overcome by wine!”

[113] B. Berakhot 48b.  The battle at Beitar was the Bar Kochba revolt’s unsuccessful “last stand” against the Romans in 135 CE.

[114] Ibid.

[115] B. Gittin 57a.

[116] Lev 19:2.

[117] Prov 23:20.

[118] B.Sukkah 49b.

[119] Nu 28:7. That is, wine, according to traditional interpretation, and so the JSB.  However, archaeological evidence has convinced some recent scholars that “fermented drink” (“shekhar”) means “beer.”

[120] B. Yoma 71a.

[121] Ex 29:41: “like its libation offering (kiniskah) you shall make it (lah), as a fragrant odor, a fire offering to the Lord.” However, by creative philology, it could be read “like a libation offering of Ha-Shem” – ke-nesekh Ha’ – you shall make it Lah, i.e., La-Shem, to the Lord.”

[122] B. Berakhot 41a, and so the Tur, and  Orah Hayim 177.

[123] Ibid.

[124] B. Yoma 30a.

[125] That is, he didn’t just relieve himself and come right back, but socialized for a bit while he was out.

[126] I.e., to confirm through eye contact that his fellow guests saw that he properly rewashed before rejoining them at the table.  Indeed, that’s precisely the intent of the sequence of most of these particular actions prescribed for a guest returning to the table after urinating, according to Chavel, p. 473.

[127] Because you can assume that everyone washes their hands after peeing before eating (with their hands) without having to see it, while you can’t assume this for drinking, since as long as it’s from a cup, some might not care how clean their hands are.

[128] B. Shabbat 9b, and so the Tur and Orah Hayim 232.

[129] B. Sukkot 38a, because one must wave the lulav during the day time.

[130] B. Berakhot 54b.

[131] Rashi’s commentary on B. Berakhot 54b.

[132] Prov 12:28: Be-oreh tzedakah hayyim – “the road of righteousness leads to life” (JSB).

[133] Ez 41:22.

[134] B. Berakhot 55a.

[135] An allusion to Ps 44:2.

[136] A paraphrase of Job 20:6.

[137] Eccl 1:3.

[138] Is 58:8.

[139] M. Avot 3:3, quoting Ez 41:22.

[140] Ez. 41:22.

[141] M. Avot 3:3, quoting Is 28:8.

[142] R. Bahya, following M. Avot’s midrashic interpretation, also creatively attributes the use of the later rabbinic term for God – Ha-Makom – “The Place” to Isaiah’s Biblical Hebrew “bli makom,” i.e., “without God.”

[143] Job 5:7.

[144] B. Sanhedrin 99b.

[145] Prov 16:26.

[146] In other words, R. Bahya has it both ways, since you use your mouth to “toil in Torah,” that is, by speaking words of Torah.

[147] Gen 1:27.

[148] Lev 11:9,4.

[149] Lev 12:2.

[150] Ibid. 12:3.

[151] Lev 12:2.

[152] In other words, even the syntax of the vv. 12:2-3 in Leviticus “sandwiches” the birth of a man between two commandments, one directed to his mother giving birth to him, the second, after he’s born, that he himself be circumcised.  In other words, the man’s birth is literally surrounded by Torah and commandments.  Circumscribed (and circumcised) by the Torah from his birth – of course that “proves” that’s what he was born for!

[153] Job 5:7.

[154] I.e., Sefer Yetzirah, 4:7.

[155] According to B. Hagigah 12b, “Resh Lakish said: There are seven heavens. Vilon, Raki’a, Shekhakim, Z’vul, Ma’on, Makchon, and Aravot.

[156] Ps 68:5.

[157] Ps 139:16.

[158] Ps 132:13.

[159] Gen 12:6.

[160] Prov 31:24. “Canaanite” can be a generic term for “merchant” in Biblical Hebrew, just as “gypsy” can generically refer to any wanderer in English, though this is not how R. Bahya reads “kana’ani” here.

[161] In other words, the Cana’anites were originally given the “girdle” – the land, that like a girdle, is in the “center” of all the other lands; its centrality is proof that God prefers it over other lands. Chavel suggests that R. Bahya alludes to a mystical interpretation found also in his contemporary R. Menahem Recanati’s comment on Gen 12:6. Recanati says that “The Canaanites were then in the land” hints that even before God handed the land of the Canaanites over to the Israelites, it was his “chosen” land. For Prov 31:24 says to the Canaanites was given the “girdle” – the center of all the lands. This was when God assigned to each nation a piece of the earth, and an angel above to rule over it.  However, no nation below falls from power until its ruling angel above falls – hence “the Canaanites were then in the land.” Eventually this does occur, and so the Israelites get the “girdle” that had originally been assigned to the Canaanites and their ruling angel.

[162] Ps 19:2.

[163] Is 43:21.

[164] Is 43:7.

[165] Ex 15:21, i.e., led the women in a song of praise after God saved them at the Red Sea.  R. Bahya interprets le-ma’anehu and va-ta’an midrashically as if they came from the same verb.

[166] B. Hullin 105a.  An obligation – hovah – is a stronger requirement than a mitzvah.

[167] Ibid., 105b.

[168] Ibid., 105a.

[169] So the Tur and Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 89.

[170] B. Hullin 105a.

[171] Nu 11:33, a reference to the quail meat God over-fed the Israelites in response to their complaining in the desert.

[172] An so also the Tur and Shulhan Arukh Y.D. 89:1.

[173] B. Hullin 104b, which Rashi explains to mean “without any qualms,” as libertines eat.

[174] Sefer Ha-Arukh, the Dictionary of R. Natan ben Yehiel of Rome (11th century).

[175] Sodomite salt – salt from the Dead Sea. Potent stuff. Even in a mixture of one grain to a kor (about 530 liters) of regular salt would blind you !  It was customary to eat a little salt for “dessert,” presumably to “kill” anything potentially harmful in the food one has just eaten.  See Rabbi Levi Cooper, “World of Our Sages: Salty Hands,” <>.

[176] B. Berakhot 42a.

[177] Ps 19:15 (last verse) and Ps 20:2 (first verse after the ascription).

[178] Lev 1:4, 5.

[179] Ps 134:2.

[180] Y. Berakhot 1:1.

[181] B. Sanhedrin 92a.

[182] Job 20:21.

[183] B. Yoma 39a. R. Bahya seems to allude to double portion of manna in the manna miracle as well as to the two loaves offered to the priests in Lev. 23:17.

[184] Dan 1:4.

[185] An allusion to Is 8:2.

[186] I Kg 17:12: “kad ha-kemah,” which R. Bahya used as the title for his famous encyclopedic collection of sermons.

[187] Gen 2:3.

[188] B. Nidah 31a.

[189] Lev 24:7. R. Bahya seems to allude to the miracle of the manna here in the language he uses about the showbread drawing miracles and blessings down to the earth, and of the priests being “doubly happy” See note 183 above .  And later he explicitly associates the covering of bread on the table with cloths above and below with the miracle of the manna.

[190] Ibid.

[191] B. Menahot 27a.

[192] Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 4.

[193] Lev 24:5. Each loaf – hallah – was made of two tenth-measures – ‘esronim – of choice flour, i.e., 24 = 2 x 12.

[194] Ex 20:22.

[195] Ex 25:3.

[196] I Kings 6:7.

[197] Gen 27:40.

[198] Mal 1:3.

[199] The pun ha-herev hu ha-mahriv is lost in the translation.

[200] Mekhilta Yitro (end).

[201] B. Pesah 100a.

[202] Ex 16:13.

[203] Ex 16:14.

[204] Ibid.  In other words, R. Bahya interprets the miracle of the manna to include two separate dewfalls, in between which the manna was sandwiched.

[205] Mekhilta Va-Yisa 3, which R. Bahya also brings in his Torah Commentary on to Ex 16:13. In other words, it was even more miraculous than other miracles, because the manna didn’t just fall, but rather God wrapped it in dew as he were a parent lovingly sending a “care package” to the Israelites.

[206] Likewise the Tosafot to b. Pesahim 100b explain this practice.

[207] So the Tur and Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 201.

[208] Ex 25:23,24.

[209] I.e., both = 14.

[210] According to b. Yoma 72, “there were three rims in the sanctuary, one on the altar, one on the ark, and on the table…David earned the rim on the table, and he took it.”  In other words, King David and his kingdom are associated with “the table.”

[211] 2 Sam 20:1.

[212] In other words, the Torah is using “his tent” (ohalav) as a euphemism for “his God” (elohav), because it is quoting a wicked person, Sheba the son of Bichri, and it would have been disrespectful to God to quote Sheba’s call to rebellion that invoked God.  I think what R. Bahya has in mind in all this is that “house of David,” “malkhut,” and “elohim” are all symbolic synonyms for the tenth sefirah  – Malkhut, or Shekhinah.

[213] That is, if one is standing facing the east.

[214] Nu 4:7-8.

[215] Nu 4:7.

[216] Zohar 153b: “This table stands inside the Mishkan, and from it goes out food for the whole world.”

[217] Prv 31:15.

[218] 2 Chr 4:6-8.  Clearly, R. Bahya is alluding to the ten sefirot, for whose array the arrangement of cloths, utensils, and shewbread on the table in the sanctuary is a microcosm.

[219] Deut 8:10. The complete verse is “When you have eaten your fill, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you.”

[220] B. Berakhot 48b.

[221] Deut 3:25.

[222] B. Berakhot 48b.

[223] Ex 16:12.

[224] In B. Berakhot 48b-49a it says that Torah was given through three covenants, while the covenant of circumcision was given through thirteen covenants. R. Bahya explains the point of this allusion in what follows.

[225] A quotation from a version of birkat ha-mazon used by R. Bahya and his contemporaries, but slightly different from the version we use now.

[226] And so the Tur, and Rashi’s commentary on b. Berakhot 48b.

[227] Dt 27:3.  Le-ma’an means literally “for the sake of” R. Bahya alludes to stones Moses instructed the Israelites to set up in Dt 27:2-3: “As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones.  Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Torah when you cross over in order, to enter the land that the Lord you God is giving you.”

[228] R. Bahya’s word choice here is rich in relevant connotations. “Cut out”  – yakhrit­ – is from the root of the same verb “karat” used in the Biblical expression “to cut a covenant”- likrot brit – that is, to make a covenant, and also used for the punishment of someone who violates the covenant, e.g., as in Ex 12:15: “Whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day [of Passover], that person shall be cut off [nikhreta] from Israel.”

[229] Dt 32:41.  In other words, here God’s sword is associated with His hand that exercises justice – His left hand, midat ha-din.

[230] Job 19:29.

[231] Ps 149:6.

[232] Not in our versions of the Jerusalem Talmud, but in Tosafot to b.Berakhot 46b, d.h. “ha-tov ve-ha-metiv” Chavel).

[233] Ps 34:4: Gadlu la-Shem iti. Gadlu is a plural imperative, so it includes at least two; iti – “with me” adds one more, making it at least three.

[234] B. Berakhot 49b, and so the Tur and Orah Hayim 192.

[235] B. Berakhot 50a.  In other words, it is acceptable to say “barekhu.”

[236] B. Yoma 37a.

[237] Dt 32:3.

[238] Tosafot to b. Berakhot 48a, d.h., “ve-layt hilkhata she-mevi’ shitat Rabbenu Tam.”

[239] B. Berakhot 48a, and so the Tur and O.H. 197.

[240] B. Hullin 87a.  Since there are four blessings in birkat ha-mazon said over the cup of blessing – you do the math. This is also an allusion to the tradition that one said say at least a hundred blessings per day.

[241] Nu 7:14.

[242] Ka”F is numerically equivalent to 100.

[243] Gen 24:22, the value of the gold armbands Eliezer gave Rebekah as a present after she gave his camels water at the well.

[244] Gen 24:48, immediately preceded in 24:27 with “And I put the ring on her nose, and the bands on her arms,” i.e., the ten shekel gold bands, which are equal to one blessing.

[245] Dt 10:12.

[246] B. Menahot 43b.

[247] That is, adding an aleph to the word mah, making it me’ah, give the verse 100 letters. In his commentary to the Torah R. Bahya brings this interpretation as the sod – “the mystical interpretation” of Dt. 10:12.

[248] 2 Sam 23:1. The Hebrew word ‘al is numerically equivalent to 100.

[249] Midrash Tanhuma Korah 12. Tiken – “instituted” of course also has the connotation of tikkun – “repair,” as in the sense of a cosmic repair through blessings of a world diminished by the loss of 100 lives.

[250] Ibid. According to this midrash, Moses originally established the blessings, and afterwards, whne they had been forgotten, David came along and re-established them, and after David’s era they were forgotten again until the sages of the Talmud re-established them (Chavel).

[251] Ps 128:4.

[252] Lacking the vav, the Hebrew word can be read either actively as yivarekh – “he will bless,” or passively as yivorakh – “he will be blessed.”

[253] Ps 119:164.

[254] B. Menahot 43b, i.e., one enjoys lots of extra snacks and aromas that require blessings to make up for the shortage of blessings.

[255] B. Shabbat 119b.

[256] Ex 16:25, referring to the manna.  There are three mentions of “today,” each corresponding to one of the three meals on Shabbat.

[257] B Shabbat 118a.

[258] Mal 3:23: “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.”

[259] Mal 3:19: “For lo! That day is at hand, burning like an oven. All the arrogant and doers of evil shall be straw, and the day that is coming – said the Lord of Hosts – shall burn them to ashes and leave of them neither stalk nor boughs.”

[260] Zech 14:1, referring to the apocalyptic wars at the end of time.

[261] From the commandment in the 10 commandments to observe Shabbat in Dt 5:12.

[262] Ex 16:25.

[263] Midrashic creative philology reads ikhlu-hu “eat it” as something like “I shall make her a bride” – playing  upon the similarities between kalah – “bride “and akhal – “eat.”

[264] From the commandment in the 10 commandments to remember the  Shabbat in Ex 20:8.

[265] B. Pesahim 106a.

[266] Ex 16:25.

[267] Job 28:12, which JSB translates “And wisdom, from where [me-ayin] can it be found?”  R. Bahya creatively “misreads” the verse to reveal its kabbalistic meaning.

[268] Ex 16:25.

[269] B. Shabbat 117b.

[270] B. Pesahim 13a: “all,” that is, regardless whether it is ordinary food or food reserved for the priests, except for what is needed for Shabbat, according to Rashi on this passage.  But one leaves enough only for two meals on Shabbat, since on the day before Pesah, one is forbidden to eat anything from minhah on, until the seder meal itself.

[271]Tosafot on b. Pesahim 99b, citing the Jerusalem Talmud. The whole quotation is, “Whoever eats the bread of affliction on the eve of Pesah is like a man who has sex with his betrothed at his in-laws’ house.”

[272]This may be a manuscript error, since this ruling is not in the Tosefta, but in the Tosafot to B.Pesahim 99b (Chavel).

[273] B. Sukkah 27a.  One is required to eat fourteen meals in the sukkah, two on each of the seven days of Sukkot. But according to this opinion, you can “make up” a missed meal just by adding dessert to another meal in the sukkah, rather than having another whole meal.

[274] Hence R. Bahya rejects the argument that this saying from b. Sukkot proves one doesn’t need to eat bread at the third Shabbat meal. R. Bahya does not accept the view that dessert can count as a “make-up” meal, because if the dessert is just fruit, which the halakhah permits one to eat as a snack outside the sukkah, it is not sufficient to meet one’s obligation to eat 14 meals in the sukkah. Only an additional course that includes something that halakhah requires being eaten in the sukkah, like bread or other grain products can count as a meal “make-up.”  The analogy between the sukkah meal and the third Shabbat meal proves the opposite of what those who brought it contended. Thus R. Bahya infers that for something to count as a meal per se, whether in the sukkah or the third Shabbat meal, it must include bread.

[275] Hadashot panim – a “new face,” a term taken from the marriage custom of the Sheva’ Berakhot, when friends of the bride and groom host them for seven meals on the seven days following their wedding.  At these meals they recite a special birkat ha-mazon containing the traditional Seven Wedding Blessings – the Sheva Berakhot. But they only recite this special birkat ha-mazon with the seven blessings on the second through seventh days following the wedding if there are at least 10 adults, and at least one “new face” – panim hadashot – a person who wasn’t there on the previous day. This custom and the words for the sheva Berakhot are introduced in b. Ketubah 7b-8a.

[276] Gen 1:26.

[277] B. Ketubot 8a.

[278] In other words, even if there is not a new guest, if it is Shabbat, one can still recite the Sheva Berakhot in birkat ha-mazon. So Tosafot to b. Ketubot 7b.  By analogy, this principle was also applied to other holidays which occur uring the week of Sheva Berakhot.

[279] Ex 20:8.

[280] Maimonides, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, M”A 155, and in Hilkhot Shabbat 29a.

[281] Gen 1:1.

[282] B. Berakhot 34b.  The wine that will be served at the messianic banquet at the end of time comes has been preserved in the grapes of the first vine God created in the six days of creation.

[283] Technically, one needs to specify in the blessing the type of spice: atzei besamim – “spices from a tree,” such as cinnamon or nutmeg; esvei besamim, “spices from grasses,” such as mint or tarragon.  However, taking into account that not everybody knows how to tell the difference between types of spices, the more inclusive formulation minei besamim – “different kinds of spices” was instituted, to avoid having people say the wrong blessing (Chavel).

[284] Gen 1:1.

[285] Gen 1:3: “’Or” and “me’orei” are from the same Hebrew root that means “light.”

[286] Gen 1:4.

[287] Its root, kadosh, in its adjectival and verbal forms means literally to “be set apart” or “to set apart.”

[288] Gen 2:3.  What follows is more or less a quotation from Genesis Rabbah Parshah 11, with some omissions.

[289] Gen 2:3.

[290] Job 37:3: Literally, “He lets it loose [yishrehu] beneath the entire heavens; His lightning [oro] to the ends of the earth.” The midrash treats yishrehu as if it were from the word “shirah” – “song.”

[291] Genesis Rabbah 11:2.

[292] I.e., a successful life, since a life of sorrow cannot really be called “life.”

[293] Gen 13:17.

[294] Gen 33:18. In other words, according to the midrash, Jacob made an eruv that allowed him to carry things in the city on Shabbat.

[295] Gen 28:14.

[296] Gen 2:3.

[297] That is, unlike other holidays, which occasionally may be postponed a day, such as the first day of Rosh Hashanah so that it won’t fall on a Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday, which would create problems later on in the calendar.  Shabbat always falls on the seventh day of the week (Chavel).

[298] Ex 20:8: “make it holy” – likadshehu also has the connotation of marriage, as in the expression kiddushin. So in effect God is saying, “Remember Shabbat, that you’re married to him!”

[299] In Genesis Rabbah 16:8.

[300] Gen 2:15.

[301] Gen 2:15: va-yanhehu  – literally, “caused him to rest;” Ex 20:11.  In other words, the similar diction suggests, by midrashic logic, that Gen 2:15 is in fact an allusion to the rules for Shabbat in Ex 20:8-11 – part of the 10 Commandments.

[302] Gen 2:15.

[303] Ex 20:9.

[304] Dt 5:12, i.e., Deuteronomy’s Shabbat commandment in its version of the 10 commandments.

[305] B. Pesahim 105b.

[306] Mekhilta of R. Simon Bar Yohai, Yitro 20:8.

[307] Tur O.H. 182.

[308] See B. Berakhot 51a. R. Bahya says ten, but then lists eleven.  Chavel says that the last is not really part of the ten, and notes that R. Bahya in Kad Ha-Kemah lists the ten things mentioned here in a different order. R. Bahya more or less paraphrase this discussion of the ten things required for the cup of blessing from b. Berakhot 51a-b, though he adds some kabbalistic interpretations, such as the tradition from the Book of Bahir, that are not from the original Talmud passage.

[309] The Hebrew words hadahah –“rinsing” and shetifah “washing away” are in this context virtually synonymous, thus the need to make the distinction.

[310] Nu 28:7.

[311] B. Sukkah 49b.

[312] B. Pesahim 107a.

[313] A mystical interpretation of Ex 1:5.  Din and Gevurah are more or less synonymous terms for the Divine aspect of Judgment. Rahamim – “Compassion” and “Jacob” are other names for the sefirah Tiferet – “Beauty” which is connected directly to the sefirah Gevurah.

[314] Nu 6:2-4: “If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a nazirite’s vow to set himself apart for the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant; he shall not drink vinegar of wine or of any other intoxicant, neither shall he drink anything in which grapes have been steeped, nor eat grapes fresh or dried. Throughout his term as a nazirite, he may not eat anything that is obtained from the grapevine of wine, even seeds or skin.”

[315] Ibid. 6:2.

[316] Dt. 33:23.

[317] Dt. 33:23.

[318] Hence, the letters Yod and Hay have been “added” to the word “rash,” to hint at this.

[319] The verb for wrapping ‘ataf may connote wrapping oneself in a tallit, since it is the root of the verb in the expression le-hitatef ba-tzizit “to wrap oneself in the fringed garment – i.e., a tallit.

[320] Ps 134:2.

[321] Ps. 116:13.

[322] Ps 104:15.  The letters of hamishah can be rearranged to spell simhah.

[323] Am 4:12: “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (JSB), but this midrashic use of the verse picks up on the connotation of nakhon – being proper or correct – from the root of the imperative verb hikon “prepare.”

[324] Pr 24:21: “Do not mix with dissenters” (JSB). However, R. Bahya is clearly playing on the connection between “shonim” – literally, “those who differ” and shnayim – “two.  In other words, he reads the verse as, “Do not mix with dualists.”  The Talmudic prohibitions on pairs probably had something to do with their Babylonian cultural context, i.e., the dualistic Zoroastrianism of the Sassanid Persian empire.

[325] Literally, “appropriate matters.” But some mss. of R. Bahya’s text read “intellectual and spiritual matters,” making his point clearer.

[326] That expression ki tov, which appears after the descriptions of what was created on the other five days in Genesis 1, is conspicuously absent at the end of the account of day two.

[327] Mal 3:6.

[328] Gen 1:11,12.  R. Bahya picks up on the slightly different phrasing: “fruit tree bearing fruit” (1:11) vs. “tree bearing, to imply that the earth did not do exactly as God commanded.

[329] B. Hullin 60b.  This is the midrash told there:

And God made the two great lights? but later it says: “the great light and the small light”! The moon said before the Holy One: Master of the world, is it possible for two kings to use one crown? God said to her: Go and diminish yourself! She said before God: Because I asked a good question, I should diminish myself? God said: Go and rule both in day and in night. She said: What advantage is that? A candle in the daylight is useless. God said: Go and let Israel count their days and years by you. She said: They use the daylight [of the sun] to count seasonal cycles as well…Seeing that she was not appeased, the Holy One said: Bring a (sacrificial) atonement for me that I diminished the moon! This is what R. Shimon ben Lakish said: What is different about the ram of the new moon that it is offered “for God” (And one ram of the flock for a sin offering for God…Numbers 28:14). Said the Holy One: This ram shall be an atonement for me that I diminished the moon.

[330] Though in his commentary to the Torah on Gen 1:4, R. Bahya uses the version of this midrash found in b. Bava Batra 74b: God castrated the male Leviathan and killed the female Leviathan. For had they mated with one another, they would have destroyed the world.

[331] Job 14:20, which R. Bahya interprets as “you (Adam)– changed God’s face, and so ‘made” Him (God) send you out of the Garden of Eden.”

[332] Am 4:12.

[333] I Chr 17:21.

[334] I.e., if saying one doesn’t exempt one from saying the blessing for another kind of fruit that requires its own blessing.

[335] As is the practice in Tu Bishvat seders, a later early modern development in Jewish table rituals. I describe this briefly in “The Original Tu B’Shvat Seder: Pri Etz Hadar” in the blog The Jew and the Carrot.

[336] In other words, this rule applies to a situation only where one fruit does not have precedence over another, but rather simply each requires a blessing of its own.

[337] According to Maimonides, as brought in O.H. 211:2, if one kind is more desirable than another, regardless whether their blessings are equivalent or not, regardless whether they are from the Seven Species or not, one blesses the more desirable kind first (Chavel).

[338] B. Berakhot 41a.

[339] Dt 8:8: “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and date honey,” the classic source for “the Seven Species” for which the land of Israel is renown and praiseworthy.

[340] In other words, even though pomegranates precede date honey in the list of fruits in Dt. 8:8, the word “land” – referring to the Land of Israel- is mentioned twice, once at the beginning of Dt 8:8, the second time interrupting the list.  Since the second “land” interrupted the topic, whatever after it is closest to it, is more important than something further from the first mention of land, i.e, pomegranates. (Chavel). And since the point of the verse is the connection of the fruits to the Land, because “date honey” is syntactically closer in this regard to the word “land” than “pomegranate,” which is five words distant from the first “the land,” dates take precedence over pomegranates.  Hence one says the blessing over dates first.

[341] B. Berakhot 35a.

[342] Prv 28:24: “He who robs his father or his mother and says,  ‘That is no offense,’ is the companion of a man who destroys.”

[343] B. Kiddushin 40b.

[344] Is 62:6.

[345] Ps 145:1.

[346] Ps 100:4.

[347] Ex 23:25.

[348] B. Bava Metzia 114a:

Scripture says (Dt 24:13) “that he may sleep in his cloth and bless you,” thus excluding hekdesh, which needs no blessing. Does it not? But it is written, And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God.” (Dt 8:10)  But Scripture says, “And it shall be accounted to you as righteousness [i.e., charity].” (Dt 24:13)  Hence it [the law of returning] holds good only for him [the creditor] for whom the act of righteousness is necessary, thus excluding hekdesh [as a creditor], which does not require righteousness.

[349] Dt 24:13.  If you’ve taken a pledge of clothing from a poor person for a loan, you must not keep it overnight, but rather, “when the sun goes down, you shall restore to him the pledge that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; it will be an act of righteousness – tzedakah – before the Lord your God.”

[350]That is, if the person pledges something that is hekdesh – property consecrated for use in the Temple for which no blessing is required, hence it must be an exception to Dt. 24:13, which specifies a blessing.

[351] B. Berakhot 7a.

[352] B. Shabbat 89a.

[353] In each of the these examples, someone like “the man who has everything” asks for something from someone clearly his inferior, with a lot less of his own to give.

[354] Pr 14:28.

[355] In the blessing Yotzer Or in Shahrit.

[356] Is 45:23.

[357] Sefer Ha-Bahir, Ot 9.

[358] Lev 19:24.

[359] Gen 27:27.

[360] Ps 150:6.

[361] B. Berakhot 43b.

[362] Current practice is to recite this Birkat Ha-Hamah – “the Blessing of the Sun” – every 28 years at tekufat Nisan –the beginning of spring, rather than tekufat Tammuz – the beginning of summer, to which R. Bahya refers here.  See b. Berachot 59b:  “He who sees the sun at its turning point should say, ‘Blessed is He who makes the works of Creation.’ And when is this? Abaya said: every 28th year.”

[363] B. Sanhedrin 42a.

[364] B. Berakhot 59b. R. Bahya’s quotation differs slightly from its source in the Talmud.

[365] B. Sukkah 29a.

[366] “The lights” – the moon and the stars; “the nations of the world” – a euphemism for Israel!

[367] B. Berakhot 9b.

[368] B. Berakhot 2a.

[369] Is 40:26.

[370] B. Berakhot 43b.

[371] Ibid., 58b.

[372] Ibid.

[373] Ibid., 59a.

[374] Ibid., 54a.

[375] Ibid.

[376] S.S. 2:14.

[377] Dt 4:28: “There you will serve man-made gods of wood and stone, that cannot see or hear or eat or smell,” is the whole verse.  The original context, where this refers to the idolatry that the Israelites will eventually fall into, is certainly thought-provoking in light of R. Bahya’s discussion here of the significance of the senses.

[378] R. Bahya is referring back to Dt. 4:28 in its original context. See note above.

[379] Gen 5:5, Nu 11:1; Gen 8:21, respectively.

[380] Gen 1:3 (2x), 4 (2x), 5.

[381] According to Bereshit Rabbah 14:11, they are nefesh, ruah, neshamah, yehidah (“unity”), and hayah (“animal”).

[382] B. Ketubot 5b.

[383] Lev 16:14.

[384] These explanations of the purpose of each finger are not the ones the Gemara brings, but are brought by Rashi in his commentary to this passage in b. Ketubot (Chavel).

[385] An allusion to Ex 32:16, referring there to the tablets of the covenant, and hence hinting at R. Bahya’s previous association of the five senses with the five books of the Torah.

One Response to Shulhan Shel Arba: The First Gate

  1. The beauty of ritual is to make sacred from the profane. Thank you for such an in depth article!

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