26. Terminating a Bracha's Effectiveness
Certain actions can signal your intention to stop eating.
How long does a bracha last? If you say Mezonot at breakfast and you want to eat a piece of cake later in the day, is your original bracha still in effect? When does a bracha "run out"?
Essentially, a bracha has no specific time limit. Theoretically, you could start out the day saying Shehakol on water and continue eating "shehakol" foods all day without reciting another bracha.1 Practically, however, this is almost never feasible. The reason is because as soon as you "decide you are finished" eating (or drinking), your bracha loses its effect. As we learned previously in class #18, just as a bracha is only effective for those foods which you intend on eating, similarly a bracha only lasts as long as you intend to continue eating. Once you are "finished" eating or drinking, you may not eat or drink any more without saying a new bracha.
The decision to stop eating is called hesech hada'at (lit. "removing your thoughts"). Although making a conscious decision to stop eating is hesech hada'at, that is not the only way to do so. There are certain actions and interruptions that generate an automatic hesech hada'at, terminating the effectiveness of your bracha. We will now discuss exactly what constitutes hesech hada'at.
The most obvious form of terminating the effectiveness of a bracha is by reciting a bracha achrona (lit: after-bracha).2 As we will learn in class #31, not only must you say a bracha before putting food in your mouth (bracha rishona; lit: bracha before eating), but a bracha is required after eating as well (bracha achrona). Once this bracha is recited, you have made a clear statement that your eating session has ended; if you want to continue eating or drinking, a new bracha is required.
Intent to End the Meal
Beyond this, hesech hada'at occurs as soon as you perform a step that precedes a bracha achrona. For example, once you wash Mayim Achronim, the ritual hand-washing that immediately precedes Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), this indicates that you have decided to end the meal.3
Mayim Achronim is a definitive action that ends the meal. But consider the following cases:
- You announce, "Let's recite Birkat Hamazon,"4 effectively signaling your intent to end the meal.
- You say, "I'm full, or "Because I'm on a diet, that's all I can eat."5
Since you have basically decided to stop eating,6 is that considered a hesech hada'at? If you then change your mind and decide to eat a little more, is a new bracha required?
In some of these situations, where you've signaled the end of the meal and then change your mind, you could technically resume eating by saying a new bracha. But since the rabbinic authorities differ over the nuances of these halachot, it is best to complete the after-bracha, and then say a new bracha rishona if you wish to eat more.7
Some authorities are of the opinion that even a mental decision is considered a hesech hada'at.8 Even though you have not yet begun the bracha achrona or even announced your intent to do so, the very decision that you no longer want to eat terminates the effectiveness of your bracha rishona. Although this opinion is not unanimous, in practice, once you have decided not to continue eating, it is best not to eat any more until after saying a bracha achrona9 (and then, of course, a new bracha rishona).
What if you doze off to sleep while eating? This is not considered hesech hada'at, and you may continue eating without a bracha.10
If, however, you consciously decide to take a nap, it is considered hesech hada'at and a new bracha is required before eating again.11 Of course, you really shouldn't be in this situation in the first place – you should have said a bracha achrona before going to sleep!
Note that the halacha here is different than our previous cases of hesech hada'at. In the other cases (e.g. making the decision to stop eating), you'll need to say a bracha achrona and then a bracha rishona before eating again. In the case of a nap, however, you only need to say a new bracha rishona to continue eating.
What if you head over to the sofa during a meal and sleep for 20 minutes – is that considered a doze or a nap? The halacha defines "dozing off" as done in a sitting position, while "napping" is done in a lying position.12
We learned in class #19 about Da'at Ba'al Habayit – the idea that since a guest does not know what foods are going to be served, his brachot automatically cover any other foods requiring that bracha.
Similarly, when a guest thinks he is finished eating, or announces, "Let's say a bracha achrona," it is not considered a hesech hada'at, since he would continue eating if the host offered him more food.13
This same criteria applies, for example, to a husband: If his wife offers more food and he feels uncomfortable refusing, then he could continue eating, even though he had already decided to stop.14
This halacha cuts both ways, however. If you are a guest and the host announces, "Let's bentch," then you are required to stop eating15 – no matter how much you're hoping for the last bite of chocolate cake.
Actually, there is one option: If you had specific intention to continue eating, you may continue as long as you avoid any misunderstanding and announce to the others presents that you have no hesech hada'at and want to continue eating.16 While it's not the most comfortable thing for a guest to do, it will get you that last bite of chocolate cake (or sip of water, as the case may be).
This concludes class #26 on Hilchot Brachot. In the next lesson, we'll learn about another kind of hesech hada'at, called shinuy makom ("change of place").
- Mishnah Berurah 184:17
- Mishnah Berurah 190:1
- Orach Chaim 179:1, with Mishnah Berurah 2
- Orach Chaim 179:3
- Orach Chaim 179:1, with Mishnah Berurah 3
- Mishnah Berurah 179:3
- Orach Chaim 179:1, with Biur Halacha – s.v. Ain Tzarich
- Mishnah Berurah 179:6
- Biur Halacha 179 – s.v. Ain Tzarich
- Orach Chaim 178:7
- Mishnah Berurah 178:48 who notes that if you are eating bread, you should do a new netilat Yadayim (hand washing), but without a bracha.
- Kaf HaChaim 178:39
- Orach Chaim 179:2. If, however, the guest would refuse to eat more despite his host's request, then his decision to stop eating does have the status of hesech hada'at as defined above, even if he changed his mind later (Mishnah Berurah 179:10).
- Halachos of Brachos, pg. 132, citing Rabbi Y. S. Elyashiv and Rabbi Ch. P. Scheinberg. However, Da’at Torah 179:2 (citing Pri Megadim) disagrees, and maintains that it would be considered a hesech hada’at by the husband.
- Orach Chaim 179:2
- Mishnah Berurah 179:11. Of course, if the host himself specifies that the guests may continue eating – i.e. his “announcement” doesn’t apply to you – then you may continue freely.