Concentrating on Birchas Hamazon and knowing the meaning of the words

Kavana in Birchas Hamazon:[1]

Understanding the meaning of the words: If one does not know the meaning of the words that he is saying in Birchas Hamazon, such as due to his lack of understanding of the language, then he does not fulfill his obligation. This applies even if one reads Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh.[2] This applies even if one knows [generally] that he is blessing Hashem through these words and he intends to do so while reciting them, nevertheless it is invalid.[3] However, some Poskim[4] rule that if one recites Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, in contrast to other languages, then he fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand the language. Practically, the custom is like this latter opinion to fulfill Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh even if one does not understand the language[5], even though it is proper to be stringent like the first opinion.[6] [Thus, initially, one must be very careful to study the language of the words of Birchas Hamazon.[7] However, Bedieved, if one recited Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, he fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand the words of the blessing.[8] However, if one recited it in another language which he does not understand, he must repeat Birchas Hamazon according to all opinions.[9]]

 

Paying attention: Even if one understand the language of the words of Birchas Hamazon, such as he understands Lashon Hakodesh, if his mind wanders and he thinks of other matters while reciting the blessing, he does not fulfill his obligation.[10] However, some Poskim[11] rule that if one recites Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, in contrast to other languages, then he fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand the language. Practically, initially one must be very careful to pay attention to the words of Birchas Hamazon [even in Lashon Hakodesh].[12] However, Bedieved, if one recited Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, he fulfills his obligation even if he did not pay attention to the words of the blessing.[13] [However, if one recited it in another language and did not pay attention to the words, he must repeat Birchas Hamazon according to all opinions.[14]]

 

The main words that require concentration:[15] The main words of Birchas Hamazon that require understanding and concentration are the words “Baruch Ata Hashem” and the conclusion of the sentence which states what one is blessing Hashem towards. This applies for both the opening and closing blessing of a long blessing [such as the first blessing in Birchas Hamazon which has an opening and closing blessing, however the 2nd-3rd blessing of Birchas Hamazon only has a closing blessing while the 4th blessing only has a beginning blessing]. However, the remaining words that are said in the middle of a long blessing, one fulfills his obligation by reciting them even if he does not know the meaning of the words or did not pay attention. This applies even towards words that invalidate the Birchas Hamaozn if they are not recited, such as Bris and Torah and Birchas Haretz and Malchus Beis David that is recited in Boneh Yerushalayim, as only their lack of recital invalidates and not their lack of understanding.[16]

 

Summary:

One must be very careful to understand the words of Birchas Hamazon and pay attention to the words while reciting it. If one did not do so, then if he recited Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh it is disputed if he fulfills his obligation, and Safek Brachos Lihakel. However, if he said in a different language that he does not understand or did not pay attention to, he must repeat Birchas Hamazon. This applies specifically if he did not understand or pay attention to the sentences of the blessing that begin with Baruch Ata Hashem, however the other words of the blessing do not invalidate the blessing if one recited it without understanding or paying attention.

Segulah to prevent Divine punishment and for Parnasa:[17]

The letter end Pei is the only letter in the Alphabet that is omitted from Birchas Hamazon. This is because it stands for “Charon Af”, wrath and anger, and whoever recites Birchas Hamazon with Kavana does not receive any wrath. Likewise, his food is found before him in plenty and with honor for his entire life.

 

Saying Birchas Hamazon within a Siddur:[18]

One is to recite Birchas Hamazon specifically within a Siddur and is not to say it by heart.

 

Story in Sefer Chassidim:[19]

Sefer Chassidim relates a story of a man who passed away and came in a dream to one of his relatives and related to him that every day he is judged on the fact that he did not have proper concentration in Birchas Hamazon.

 

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[1] 185/1

 

[2] Admur 185/1; brought also in Admur 62/2; Tosafus Brachos 45b; Rabbeinu Yona Brachos ibid; Rosh Brachos 7/6; Mordechai Remez 158; Michaber 193/1 regarding hearing Birchas Hamazon from another; Implication of Tur 690; Beis Yosef 690 in name of Maggid Mishneh Megillah 2/4; Ramban Megillah 171; Rashba Megillah ibid

 

The reason: As the verse states “And he shall bless Hashem your G-d” and if one does not understand the words of the blessing that he is verbalizing then he is not considered to be blessing Hashem. [Admur 185/1]

 

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one who reads Birchas Hamazon fulfills his obligation even if he does not know the meaning of the words, and only when hearing it from another is it required to understand the meaning of the words. [Levush 193/1; Olas Tamid 193/2; M”A 193/2; Soles Belula 193/1; Shaar Efraim 13; Kaf Hachaim 193/4] This seemingly applies to all languages. [Kaf Hachaim ibid] However some Poskim rule that this only applies to Lashon Hakodesh while other languages everyone agrees that one must understand the language. [P”M 193 A”A 2, brought in Kaf Hachaim ibid] Admur ibid negates this entire ruling and in the gloss on this Halacha [possibly written by Admur or the Maharil] he argues that based on Megillah 18a it is not possible to accept this differentiation between the verbalizer and listener and so is clearly written in Rosh ibid and Rabbeinu Yona ibid that one must always understand the language, even in Lashon Hakodesh. [See however Kaf Hachaim ibid that their intent is only Lechatchila]

 

[3] The reason: Regarding Bittul Chametz we find in the M”A 434/6 and Admur 434/8 that one fulfills his obligation even if he does not know the meaning of the words so long as he understands the intent of what he is saying; that he is nullifying the Chametz. Nevertheless, this is because by Bittul Chametz, the main aspect of the Mitzvah is not the verbalization, but the intent of the heart to nullify it, as brought in Chok Yaakov 434/1. However, Birchas Hamazon must be verbalized in order to fulfill the Mitzvah, and hence one must understand the words that he is verbalizing. [Admur ibid in parentheses]

 

[4] 2nd opinion in Admur 185/1; Rashi Sotah 32a brought in Taz 193/2, M”A 193/2, Beis Yosef 193, Rosh and Mordechai ibid; Tosafus and Rabbeinu Yona in name of Yeish Omrim

 

[5] Admur ibid; Rama 199/7; Darkei Moshe 193/1“So is the custom and I have never seen anyone protest it”; Bach 193; Taz 193/2; M”A 193/2; Elya Raba 193/2; Kneses Hagedola 293/2; Olas Tamid 193/2; Kaf Hachaim 193/2

 

[6] Admur 185/1; See Taz ibid that we rule like the first opinion and only when its either this or nothing that we say one should follow Rashi even initially,

 

[7] Admur 185/2 regarding paying attention to the words and the same would apply regarding learning the meaning of the words; Birchas Habayis 41/43; See Tehila Ledavid 193/1 that questions the Admur as to why in 185/1 he concludes that it is only “proper to be stringent like the first opinion” and here in 185/2 he concludes “one Must be very careful.” One can simply say that in 186/1 were discussing a case that one right now has a choice to Bentch either in English or Lashon Hakodesh which he does not understand, and on this Admur states the initial law and custom. However here in 185/2 Admur is discussing mainly paying attention to the words of the language that he already understands, and thus concludes one must be very careful, especially in Birchas Hamazon, even in Lashon Hakodesh, as some say he does not fulfill his obligation even initially. Accordingly, one is certainly to be “very careful” to make time to learn the words of Birchas Hamazon when saying in Lashon Hakodesh.  See Admur 101/5!

 

[8] Admur 185/1 and 2; Ketzos Hashulchan 44/4

 

[9] As the entire dispute in Admur 185/1 is only regarding Lashon Hakodesh; P”M 193 A”A 2 that so applies even according to M”A ibid; See however conclusion of Admur 185/2 and Tehila Ledavid 193/1 from which one can learn differently, however simply speaking Admur 185/2 is referring to Lashon Hakodesh; See also Kaf Hachaim 193/4

 

[10] Admur ibid; This follows all opinions brought in “understanding the language” who hold of the former opinion brought in Admur

 

[11] 2nd opinion in Admur 185/1; Rashi Sotah 32a brought in Taz 193/2, M”A 193/2, Beis Yosef 193, Rosh and Mordechai ibid; Tosafus and Rabbeinu Yona in name of Yeish Omrim

 

[12] Admur 185/2; Seder 9/3; Ketzos Hashulchan 44/4

 

The reason: As according to some opinion one does not fulfill his obligation even Bedieved. [Admur 185/2] See Tehila Ledavid 193/1 that questions the Admur as to why in 185/1 he concludes that it is only “proper to be stringent like the first opinion” and here in 185/2 he concludes “one must be very careful.” One can simply say that in 186/1 were discussing a case that one right now has a choice to Bentch either in English or Lashon Hakodesh which he does not understand, and on this Admur states the initial law and custom. However here in 185/2 Admur is discussing mainly paying attention to the words of the language that he already understands, and thus concludes one must be very careful, especially in Birchas Hamazon, even in Lashon Hakodesh, as some say he does not fulfill his obligation even initially. Accordingly, one is certainly to be “very careful” to make time to learn the words of Birchas Hamazon when saying in Lashon Hakodesh.  See Admur 101/5!

 

[13] Admur 185/1 that the custom is like the second opinion and 185/2 that Bedieved one is Yotzei, as Safek Brachos Lihakel; Ketzos Hashulchan 44/4

 

[14] As the entire dispute in Admur 185/1 is only regarding Lashon Hakodesh; P”M 193 A”A 2 that so applies even according to M”A ibid; See however conclusion of Admur 185/2 and Tehila Ledavid 193/1 from which one can learn differently, however simply speaking Admur 185/2 is referring to Lashon Hakodesh; See also Kaf Hachaim 193/4

 

[15] Admur 185/2 in parentheses

 

[16] The reason: As these words are not considered a blessing to which one can claim that if one does not understand the meaning he is not considered to be blessing Hashem. [Admur ibid]

 

[17] Beir Heiytiv 185/1; Ateres Zekeinim 185; Bach 185 [regarding the letter Pei]; Mateh Moshe 304, brought in Kaf Hachaim 180/15; Rokeiach 336; Tashbatz 315 or 366; Sefer Hachinuch Parshas Eikev [regarding Parnasa]; Kaf Hachaim 185/2; Ketzos Hashulchan 44/4

 

[18] Bach 185, brought in Beir Heiytiv ibid

 

[19] Sefer Chassidim 46, brought in Bach ibid; Beir Heiytiv ibid; Ateres Zekeinim ibid; Kaf Hachaim ibid

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