Wednesday, May 18, 2016

theft of a good word -- the mechanism of brachos

Apologies for posting on last week’s parsha so late in the week.  I've just been really pressed for time.

The Torah writes that Hashem will punish the person who worhsips Molech “l’ma’an tamei es mikdashi u’lchalel es shem kodshi.” (20:3)  There is an obvious difficulty: the person might be miles and miles away from the makom mikdash when he is worshipping Molech. How does his actions cause the mikdash to become tamei?  Rashi answers that “mikdash” in this context doesn't mean the “beis hamikdash,” but rather means “knesses Yisrael.” We, the nation, become defiled when even one individual does wrong.

Ramban brings proof from Rashi from a famous gemara in Brachos that most people know, but probably read a little differently than Ramban. Chazal tell us that someone who eats food without making a bracha is a thief, as he/she has stolen from Hashem and from Knesses Yisrael. If you’re like me, you probably understood the gemara to mean that what the thief stole is  the food. Not so says Ramban. [Does the food belong to the collective community of Knesses Yisrael?] What the thief stole is the presence of the Shechina from Klal Yisrael. Hashem wants us to say brachos – that helps sustain the world and brings us close to Him. If you don’t say a bracha, you have robbed Klal Yisrael of hashra’as haShechina. So too, explains Ramban, someone who worships Molech drives Hashem’s presence away, and therefore harms the community as a whole.

Rashi agrees with Ramban that it’s not the food we are robbing by not saying a bracha, but he gives in two words a different explanation of what is being stolen.  What you are stealing, says Rashi (Brachos 35b) is “es birchaso.” You owe Hashem a bracha and you stole it away from him!  Sometimes you can be a thief even if you don’t owe any money – you can owe a thank you as well, and be a thief for not giving it.  I don't think this new definition of gezel only applies bein adam laMakom.  You can steal the thank you you owe your spouse, the bracha of mazal tov you owe your friend, the good morning you owe your neighbor.  My daughter did some math problem well and she complained to me that I didn’t tell her “good job.” Es chata’ai ani mazkor – I was a gazlan! I stole the praise I owed her. We have to be careful to pay not just our monetary debts, but also the debt of words of praise we owe to Hashem and others. 

Maharal in Gur Aryeh on this pasuk disagrees with the Rishonim and learns the gemara k'peshuto that it is in fact the food which you are stealing.  Everything in the world is like hekdesh – “l'Hashem ha’aretz u’melo’ah.” The way we release the food from the ba’alus of hekdesh is to transform Hashem from owner to giver, and the way to do that is by saying a bracha. When we describe Hashem as “Baruch…” what we are saying is that Hashem overflows with generosity and gives to us.  We are no longing stealing -- we are accepting a gift.

Maharal in Nesiv ha’Avodah (ch 14) says yet another hesber of how a bracha removes the status of hekdesh. The way something normally is removed from the domain of hekdesh is through pidyon – substituting something else of value in its place. Bracha, explains the Maharal, works through the same mechanism.  When you recite a bracha on that delicious food that is hekdesh, you are giving hekdesh a valuable substitute in its place -- yourself.  You become the thing that is holy in place of the food, and therefore the food can be eaten.


  1. Berachot [not coincidentally] 6b, last line

    R' Yisroel Salanter: "Miktzas Shevacho le'fanav is a chiyuv, not an upper limit."

  2. I'm just copying the whole thing and pasting it into the post I put up last week on Kedoshim.

    pellehDin, that is a great tzushtell.