Birkot ha-nehenin (blessings recited over enjoyment) determines the moral value of gratitude a person has, and from this, learns to appreciate those around him, and to thank the Creator of the world * A person full of gratitude is a happy person whose gaze is focused on the good in his life; on contrary to him, one who is ungrateful is never happy because he always feels he has not been served properly * Our Sages enacted a separate blessing for fruits of the tree and fruits of the ground in order to increase the praise of God * The determining factor regarding the blessing of the fruit of a tree or a vegetable, is the withering of the stem from year to year
The Value of Gratitude between a Person and His Friend
Above all, brachot (blessings) express the important moral value of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). To understand this value properly, we will first express the importance of hakarat ha-tov between a person and his friend. A person who knows how to be thankful is one who is able to exit his egoistic bubble and connect to his surrounding world, and see it positively. As a result, he is able to relate to those around him with humility, and appreciate them for all the good they grant him. He does not think that everyone must serve him, and therefore, recognizes the value of all the favors and gifts his family members and friends provide him.
However, it is not enough for one to be grateful in his heart; he must also express it with words of thanks, thereby making those around him happy. The love between them will strengthen, the desire of both to perform good deeds will intensify, and kindness will spread from them to all those around them.
On the other hand, one who is ungrateful sins in pride, thinking that everyone else must serve him, and therefore, does not feel the need to thank anyone for the good they have done for him. He will not be happy either, because he will always feel that he was not served properly, and was not treated adequately. He is also harmful to those around him, by causing his family members and friends to be disappointed in their good deeds.
Gratitude to God, and the Gifts It Contains
The greatest thanks is due to the Creator of the world, who created the entire world with His goodness, grace, kindness and mercy. ‘Praise the LORD; for He is good, His steadfast love is eternal’. Indeed, God, blessed be He, does not need our praises. Rather, the Almighty wanted to bestow good upon us, and gave us the opportunity to thank Him, and bless Him, as it is written: “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10). By way of this, the natural emunah (faith) that exists in the hearts of man is expressed, and from this, a person becomes accustomed to seeing the Divine grace that accompanies him at all times, and to rejoice in it. How many special gifts are hidden in this!
The first gift: a deep joy of life. One of man’s difficult problems is that he tends to take all the good things in his life for granted. His thoughts are focused on what he lacks, and thus, his life is full of sorrow and frustration. However, if one pays attention to all the good things in his life, he will merit to enjoy and rejoice in it. The brachot focus a person’s gaze on the goodness and joy in his life. Even when one does not have the proper kavana (intention) while saying the blessings, in a gradual process, the brachot deepen the view of all the good in life, and the more kavana one has – the stronger one’s ability to see the good becomes, and with it, the joy of life.
The second gift: spiritual value. By means of the brachot we merit perceiving the Divine spark that invigorates each and every food, and thus, our enjoyment of the food gains depth and meaning. “To teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In other words, the food itself nourishes the body, and paying attention to God who created the world and invigorates the food, nourishes the mind, spirit, and soul. In this way, eating also takes on a meaning of value, by which man merits to connect with his Creator, and give thanks to Him.
The third gift: out of observing and thanking God for the goodness He has given man, he strengthens his desire to cleave to God and follow His ways, and obtains from the food he eats strength and vitality to add good and blessing to the world, and to work for its perfection, with righteousness and justice, kindness and mercy.
It is likely that saying blessings with kavana will also benefit those who wish to diet but find it difficult. The more kavana one has in saying the blessing, the deeper the pleasure he will get from his eating, thus tempering his desire to overeat.
The Divine Blessing that is drawn by the Brachot
Moreover, by way of the blessings life is added to the world, because life depends on the world’s connection to the Creator, the Source of life. Accordingly, with every bracha we recite, a conduit of abundance is created through which ‘dews of blessing’ and life, descend into the world. This is the meaning of the word ‘bracha‘ – to increase, and multiplicity, as written: “You shall serve your God, who will bless your bread and your water” (Exodus 23:25) – i.e., God will increase and multiply bread and water. Similarly, it is written: “God will favor you and bless you and multiply you—blessing your issue from the womb and your produce from the soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock, in the land sworn to your fathers to be assigned to you” (Deuteronomy 7:13), and the meaning is that God will multiply and add to the fruit of our womb and our land. God Himself is complete and infinite, and does not need any addition. The bracha is that by our acknowledgment of the good that He has showered upon us, God will multiply and add more abundance, so that we will be able to adhere to His ways, and add more good and blessing to the world.
Everything Good Requires Effort
In order to acquire anything that has real value, one must make an effort and be diligent, as Rabbi Yitzchak said: “If a person says to you: I have labored and not found success, do not believe him. Similarly, if he says to you: I have not labored but nevertheless I have found success, do not believe him. If, however, he says to you: I have labored and I have found success, believe him” (Megillah 6b).
The same goes for becoming accustomed to seeing the good in the world and the ability to be thankful for it, and as a result, experiencing a feeling of deep satisfaction that motivates a person to add good and blessings to all those around him. For this purpose, one must study thoroughly the subject of brachot and their halachot, become accustomed fulfilling them, and thus, merit all the goodness and blessing in them.
Because of the great value of saying brachot, our Sages said that one who wishes to be a hasid (a pious person), should be diligent in matters of brachot (Baba Kamma 30a), because by way of his brachot, he adds kindness and blessing to the world.
Good toward Heaven, and Good toward People
By becoming accustomed to thanking God for all the good things He has given us, a person learns to pay attention to all the good things in his life. He does not take them for granted, and as a result, is able to thank people from whom he benefits in a deeper way.
And so throughout the Torah – the mitzvot between man and God, and the interpersonal mitzvot are connected to each other, and reinforce one another. The better it is towards Heaven, the better it is for humanity; and the better it is for humanity, the better it will be for Heaven. Thus our Sages said, that a good righteous man is “good for Heaven, and mankind” (Kiddushin 40a).
Between Fruits of the Ground and Fruits of Trees
Q: Why did the Sages make a distinction between a bracha for fruits of the ground and for fruits of the tree, and not determine one blessing for both?
A: In general, it is preferable to say a special blessing for each type of food, because each type of food gives a person a unique benefit and pleasure, and if he were to bless all types uniformly and indifferently, he would not give expression to the abundance of the blessing that God has given to the world. On the other hand, if he were to recite his own blessing on a peach, and his own blessing on an orange, and so forth on each and every species, he would not comprehend the overall objective of God in His world, but would sink into the minute details of the cumbersome world. By way of fixing blessings for the different types of foods, on the one hand, there is an expression of the classification of the Divine blessing, and on the other hand, an expression of the overall objective.
Therefore, the division is between the fruits of the ground, and the fruits of the tree. Pri ha-adamah (fruits of the ground) grow rapidly. Within a few months from the time of its sowing or planting, it bears fruit, and the simple power of the ground is more evident in it. In contrast, pri ha-etz (fruit of the tree) goes through a complex process: in the first years, the tree needs to grow and take shape, and afterwards, in a relatively long process, it absorbs food from the soil, digests it, and gives off its fruits. It can be said that pri adamah expresses centrality and simplicity, while pri ha-etz expresses refinement and complexity, and usually also has a deeper and richer taste.
Banana – A Fruit of the Ground without the Prohibition of Orlah
The definition of a tree is also important for the mitzvah of orlah, according to which the fruits are forbidden to eat or receive enjoyment for the first three years, because the law of orlah exists only in the fruits of the tree.
The main difference between a tree and an annual vegetable is that the trunk of an annual plant withers every year, and grows back the next year from its roots, while the trunk of a tree, with its roots, remains and strengthens year after year, from which branches and fruits continue to grow each year. According to this, the bracha for eating the fruit, “etz” or “adamah” is also determined. That’s why the bracha made on a banana is “adamah” – even though it grows to a height of about four meters and looks like a tree, since every year its trunk and roots wither and it returns and grows from its pseudostem, it is considered a vegetable (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 8:2; Kashrut 2:8).
A question arose about eggplants, since their root remains from year to year. The author of the Chida (Birkei Yosef, YD 294: 4) in the name of his grandfather, Mahara Azulai, wrote that there were tzaddikim who were customary to act stringently and not to eat it, lest there be a prohibition of orlah. However, in practice, eggplants do not have the law of orlah, because they are completely different from a tree, for they bear fruit already in the first year, and in the second year their fruits decrease in quantity and quality, and they do not bear fruit for more than three years. And as we have learned in the Torah, a tree bears fruit for at least five years, and its fruit multiplies and improves in the fifth year (Leviticus 19:23-25). Furthermore, if we say that eggplants are considered a fruit of a tree, there will forever be a prohibition of orlah on them, since after three years they no longer bear fruit, and it is impossible for the Torah to prohibit a certain fruit entirely (Penei Moshe YD 294, 4; Igrot Haraya 468).
Papaya and Passion Fruit
According to this, there is also no law of orlah in papaya and passion fruit, since they bear fruit already in the first year, and by the fifth year their fruits dwindle, and many of them do not even last five years. True, some poskim are machmir (rule stringently) about this, but the primary opinion goes according to the opinion of the matirim (poskim who rule leniently) (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 2, 8).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.