> Judaism 101 > Jewish Law > Laws of Blessings (Adv.)

24. Honor for Brachot

October 14, 2015 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

How to ensure that brachot are said with the correct spiritual intent.

We saw in class #1 how important and uplifting it is to say a bracha. It is our frequent opportunity to connect with God, and to recognize the vast goodness in our lives. As such, every utterance of God's name, and every bracha we say, should be done with concentration and attention.1

In this class, we will explore some of the guidelines for how to ensure that our brachot are said with the correct spiritual intent.

Proper Concentration

(1) Stop and Focus

It is axiomatic that when speaking to the Creator of the world, you should give your full attention. Therefore:

  • You should avoid saying a bracha while involved in another activity.2 For example, if you are sweeping the floor and want to enjoy a delicious green apple, you should momentarily stop the cleaning, pause and then recite the bracha. (Don't worry, the house will still end up spick and span.)

  • Once you have begun saying a bracha, do not become distracted in the middle. For example, if your friend walks into the room while you are saying a bracha, don't gesture toward him. Rather, stay focused on the bracha from beginning to end.3 (Similarly, when others are is in the middle of saying a bracha, we should be careful not to speak to them.)

Roger sits down to a heaping plate of French fries, and is in the middle of his bracha Ha'adama, when the phone rings. He should not snap his fingers to indicate that his brother should answer the phone.4

(2) On the Move

What if you are not involved in a particular activity, but are simply walking around – e.g. in a park or in your house? Here again, it is best to stop and focus before reciting the bracha. In descending order of preference, you should:

  • sit down while saying the bracha5
  • stand in one place6
  • say the bracha while walking7

(3) Designated Food

Before saying a bracha, you should already know what specific bracha you are going to say.8

Esther sat down to eat a snack of pretzels and almonds. She uttered the words, "Baruch Ata Ado-noy, Eloheinu Melech Ha'olam..." and then – deciding to first eat the pretzels – concluded with "borei minei mezonot."

Not only is this improper, but it can easily lead to mistakes – i.e. if a person absent-mindedly begins a bracha, it might happen that he says "borei pri ha'adama" before realizing that he's holding a glass of water.

What should one do in the event of such a mistake? Upon completing the bracha, you have basically three seconds to correct it – i.e. to say the proper suffix, in this case "she'hakol nih'yeh bid'varo."9

Beyond this, before beginning to say a bracha, you should know which particular piece of food you are going to eat. For example, if you have a bowl of apples in front of you, you should already have picked out the (first) apple you want to eat, before starting to say the bracha.10

(4) In Your Hand

Another aspect of "honoring a bracha" is that before saying the bracha, you should already have the item in your hand11 – i.e. the drink should already be poured, or the orange already peeled.12 This will enable you to concentrate more fully on the bracha you are about to say.13

At the very least, the food must be in front of you (or immediately accessible) when the bracha is made. If not, the bracha is invalid and must be repeated.14

Now let's take this one step further: When saying a bracha, the food should be held in your right hand,15 which is considered the "more important" hand.16 When saying Hamotzee, all 10 fingers should be holding the bread, corresponding to the 10 mitzvot involved in producing bread.17

(5) No Interruption

Upon saying the bracha, you should immediately swallow18 some of the food without any interruption. This includes refraining from answering "amen" to someone else's bracha, or to any other communal prayer.19 If even one word is spoken between the bracha and the eating, then the bracha is invalidated and must be repeated.20

Furthermore, one should preferably not pause more than three seconds between the bracha and the eating.21 This is another good reason why before saying the bracha, you should already have the item in your hand.

Let's say you want to eat an apple by cutting off slices with a knife. On one hand, waiting till after the bracha to slice a piece will involve a delay. On the other hand, we learned in class #16 that there is a special priority to saying a bracha on a whole food (shalem). What should you do?

The answer is that it depends: In the case of the apple, you could say the bracha first and then cut off a slice, because the delay is part and parcel of the act of eating.22 However, if you are eating something like a date or apricot, which may need to be checked for bugs before eating, you should slice it open and check before saying the bracha. (After checking, you could then stick the two halves together to create a semblance of shalem while saying the bracha.)

The Divine Names

In class #2, we spoke extensively about the need to focus on the meaning and pronunciation of any bracha. It is worth repeating here the important guidelines for saying the Divine Names:

  • Adonoy refers to God as the Master and Owner of all creation. The last syllable is pronounced like the 'oy' in boy; one should not pronounce it as Ado-niye (long 'i'), which means "my master" (lowercase) and is not a name of God.23

  • Eloheinu refers to God as the source and embodiment of all power.

  • YHVH refers to God's transcendence of any limitations, including time and space.24 Due to the holiness of this name, it is forbidden to read it.25 Therefore, it is pronounced as "Adonoy," and when reciting this name, one should have in mind the meaning of both YHVH and "Adonoy" (Name #1 above).26

Now let's discuss more particulars of how a bracha is to be said.

(1) Aloud

A bracha should be recited loud enough that you are able to hear the words you are saying.27 If you cannot hear yourself, the bracha is still valid providing it was actually enunciated.28

This can be a challenge for people who may feel self-conscious when eating in a public area. But this is so essential that if a bracha is only mouthed or recited mentally, it is not valid.29

Although it is sufficient to recite a bracha in a whisper (as long as you can hear yourself), it is better to say it aloud, as this is extremely helpful in focusing one's concentration.30

(2) Pronunciation

Not only is it important to hear the words of your bracha, it is also imperative that each word be pronounced properly. Unfortunately, you may have seen people grabbing an apple on the way out the door and muttering: "Boruchata dnohemechlam bo-pretz." Yet as we learned in class #2, if key words of a bracha are missing, it is invalid. When words are mumbled, slurred or mispronounced, it is the same as leaving them out. Additionally, pronouncing a bracha (and certainly God's name) in such a careless way shows disrespect to Whom the bracha is addressed.31

A bracha is a special opportunity to connect with God and to show our appreciation for all He does. When we say the words slowly, aloud, and with concentration on their meaning, the bracha will do its job of uplifting us in a truly meaningful way.

So in summary:

Best way say the bracha slowly and out loud
Good way whisper it
Valid post facto enunciate it
Not fully valid think it

(3) Empty Mouth

In Psalms 71:8, King David said to God: "May my mouth be filled with Your praise." We see from here that when saying any bracha, one's mouth should be "filled only with praise of God" – i.e. it should be completely empty of anything else.32

Rachel is chewing on a cracker, and now wants to take a drink. She should first swallow what's in her mouth before saying Shehakol.

This concludes class #24. In our next class, we'll continue the topic of "honor for brachot" by discussing the requirement to say brachot in a clean environment.

  1. Orach Chaim 5:1, with Mishnah Berurah 1
  2. Orach Chaim 183:12 and 191:3; Mishnah Berurah 191:5
  3. Sh’vilei David 63:4. Still, if you neglected to stop all other activities, the bracha is still valid post facto (Biur Halacha 191 – s.v be’odo mevarech).
  4. Halachos of Brochos, p. 37
  5. Kaf HaChaim (OC 183:51). However, when it comes to saying blessings over mitzvot, such as reading the Megillah or blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, it is best to say the blessing while standing (see Pri Megadim, Introduction to Hilchot Brachot 18)
  6. Orach Chaim 183:11, with Mishnah Berurah 36 and Sha’ar HaTziyun 40
  7. If you are walking outside toward a fixed destination, and stopping will make you too anxious to focus on the bracha (i.e. stopping will actually decrease your level of concentration), then you could say the bracha while walking. (Orach Chaim 183:11, with Mishnah Berurah 36)
  8. Chayei Adam 5:14
  9. Orach Chaim 209:2
  10. Orach Chaim 206:4; Sefer Birkat HaBayit 1:29
  11. Orach Chaim 206:4, with Mishnah Berurah 17
  12. There is an extensive discussion in the commentators regarding this; see Sha’arey Teshuva 202:1, Aruch HaShulchan (OC 202:12), Sha’arey HaBracha 13:41.
  13. Levush (OC 206:4)
  14. Mishnah Berurah 206:19
  15. Orach Chaim 206:4, 296:6. A left-handed person should hold the food in his left hand (Mishnah Berurah 206:18).
  16. In fact, Judaism teaches that when engaging in any activity, we always “lead with the right.” One kabbalistic reason is that the right side is associated with “mercy,” while the left side is associated with strict judgment. Throughout life, we seek to emphasize the attribute of mercy over judgment. Similarly, when God asked Rabbi Yishmael for a blessing, he said, “May it be that You behave toward Your children with mercy, and go beyond the bounds of judgment" (Talmud – Brachot 7a).
  17. Tur (OC 167:8)
  18. Mishnah Berurah 167:35, who adds that one should preferably eat a full kezayit volume of the food before speaking.
  19. Mishnah Berurah 167:35, 206:12
  20. Orach Chaim 167:6, with Mishnah Berurah 36; Mishnah Berurah 206:12
  21. Orach Chaim 206:3, with Mishnah Berurah 12, Sha’ar Hatziyun 13
  22. Mishnah Berurah 167:10; Shulchan Aruch HaRav (OC 206:3); Kaf HaChaim (OC 206:21)
  23. This pronunciation is used by Ashkenazi Jews. Sefardim do pronounce it as Ado-niye. For a discussion of this, see Chayei Adam 5:27.
  24. This name contains the letters of the three words "Haya" (always was), "Hoveh" (presently is), and "Yihyeh" (always will be). It is therefore referred to as the "Shem Havayah," which means "the name that connotes [eternal] existence.”
  25. Talmud – Sanhedrin 90a
  26. Orach Chaim 5
  27. Orach Chaim 185:2
  28. Orach Chaim 185:2
  29. Mishnah Berurah 185:2, who adds that if for some reason one is unable to say a bracha out loud (e.g. he is ill and cannot speak), he should nevertheless recite the bracha mentally (Orach Chaim 62:4). Although this is not considered a valid bracha, God rewards us for doing the best we can.
  30. Mishnah Berurah 185:3, 643:5
  31. see Halachos of Brochos, pg. 35 with footnote 18
  32. Talmud – Brachot 50-51


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