1) "ARETZ" OR "ADAMAH"
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that the blessing for vegetables is "Borei Pri ha'Adamah." For bread, the blessing is "ha'Motzi Lechem Min ha'Aretz."
Why is the word "Adamah" used in the blessing for vegetables, and the word "Aretz" used in the blessing for bread? They both mean "ground" or "earth"!
ANSWER: The VILNA GA'ON (Shenos Eliyahu) answers that the word "Aretz" has a broader connotation than "Adamah." "Aretz" refers not only to the ground or earth, but also specifically to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. Eretz Yisrael is blessed with the Shiv'as ha'Minim, the seven species of produce. The only reason those species exist anywhere else in the world is because Hash-m granted them to the land of Israel. Therefore, when we recite a blessing for bread, we are thanking Hash-m for giving us bread (wheat) from the land (Aretz) -- of Eretz Yisrael. We recite this blessing for all bread, no matter where it comes from, because all bread in the world is ultimately a result of the blessing of wheat that Hash-m gave to Eretz Yisrael.
We may add that this also explains why -- in Birkas ha'Mazon and in Berachah me'Ein Shalosh ("Al ha'Michyah"), which we recite after eating any of the seven species of produce unique to Eretz Yisrael -- we make mention of the produce of Eretz Yisrael, regardless of where the produce we are eating was actually grown.
2) HALACHAH: WHICH BLESSINGS ARE MID'ORAISA?
OPINIONS: The Gemara discusses the source for blessings for food, and concludes that the obligation is based on logic and is not derived from a verse.
The Rishonim explain that if blessings are derived from logic, then they are only mid'Rabanan (see TOSFOS DH l'Fanav). Nevertheless, some blessings are certainly mid'Oraisa. There are three opinions regarding which blessings are mid'Oraisa.
(a) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Berachos 8:12) rules that the only blessing that is mid'Oraisa is Birkas ha'Mazon.
(b) Many other Rishonim maintain that the blessing recited after partaking of the seven species (Berachah me'Ein Shalosh) is also mid'Oraisa, because -- as the Gemara here seems to conclude -- the verse that says, "You shall eat, be satisfied, and bless Hash-m your G-d," is referring to all of the seven species and not only to bread. (SHE'ILTOS, Yisro #52; HILCHOS GEDOLOS; RASHBA; ROSH 6:16; TUR, end of OC 209; TOSFOS REBBI YEHUDAH HA'CHASID)
(c) REBBI YEHUDAH HA'CHASID quotes certain authorities who say that if we follow the opinion of Neta Revai (that the laws of fruits of the fourth year apply to all fruits and not just to the grapevine), then the blessing recited after eating all fruits is also mid'Oraisa.
(d) The MALBIM (Parshas Ki Tavo) suggests that even if blessings for fruit are normally mid'Rabanan, perhaps when one eats Neta Revai or Ma'aser Sheni (which are the subjects of the verse "Kodesh Hilulim"), he is obligated by the Torah to recite a Berachah (as the Gemara implies in Berachos 40b).
HALACHAH: There is a practical difference between the various opinions. If a Berachah is mid'Oraisa, then when one is in doubt whether or not he has already recited the Berachah, he must repeat it (Berachos 21a). The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 209:3) rules in accordance with the Rambam's opinion (a) that the only Berachah one must recite when in doubt is Birkas ha'Mazon.
However, the MISHNAH BERURAH adds that the Acharonim recommend that if a person is in doubt whether he recited the Berachah me'Ein Shalosh, he should satisfy the opinion of the Rishonim who require that the Berachah be repeated and eat more until he is once again obligated to recite the Berachah.
3) TORAH STUDY AND WORLDLY PURSUITS
QUESTION: Rebbi Yishmael teaches that one should not involve himself exclusively in Torah learning and ignore all worldly endeavors. Rather, one should "practice worldly endeavors in them" ("Hanheg ba'Hem Minhag Derech Eretz"). What does it mean to practice worldly endeavors "in them"?
ANSWER: The NEFESH HA'CHAYIM (1:8) explains that one's worldly pursuits should be done while one is still involved in and thinking about Torah.
Similarly, the MISHNAS AVOS (a commentary on Avos written by Rav Yosef ben Yehudah Ibn Eknin, a disciple of the Rambam) to Avos (4:10) asserts that even while a person finds himself involved in non-Torah matters, he should think Torah thoughts in the recesses of his mind.
The SEFER HAFLA'AH, in his introduction (para. 35; see also his introduction to Sefer ha'Mikneh, para. 32), elaborates further. How will a person ever succeed in business, asks the Hafla'ah, if his mind is always preoccupied with Torah? The answer is the verse, "Know Hash-m while you go about your ways, and He will make your paths straight" (Mishlei 3:6). If one thinks thoughts of Torah while he works, Hash-m will see to it that his business prospers. Similarly, the verse says, "Happy is the person... who desires Hash-m's Torah and ponders His Torah day and night... he will succeed in all that he does" (Tehillim 1:1-3). A person does not need to worry that his concentration on Torah thoughts will cause him to fail in worldly endeavors.
This is also the way the Nefesh ha'Chayim (in Ru'ach Chayim to Avos 2:2) explains the Mishnah's statement, "Torah is proper when accompanied by worldly activity." Even while one is involved in worldly activity, it is proper for him to think about Torah.
4) PERFORMING HASH-M'S WILL TO THE UTMOST
QUESTION: Rebbi Shimon teaches that the verse, "You will gather your grain" (Devarim 11:14), refers to people who are not fulfilling the will of Hash-m (to their utmost -- Tosfos DH Kan b'Zman). They must tend to their own grain, rather than wait for others to gather it for them.
Rebbi Shimon's interpretation of the verse is very difficult to reconcile with the context of the verse itself. The paragraph begins, "If you carefully obey My commandments that I command you today, to love Hash-m and serve Him with all your hearts...." How can the continuation of this paragraph be referring to people who are not properly fulfilling Hash-m's will? (MAHARSHA, AHAVAS EISAN in the Ein Yakov, and others)
(a) The MAHARSHA answers that in the paragraph in question, the Torah does not specify "b'Chol Me'odchem," as it does in the first paragraph of the Shema ("b'Chol me'Odecha"). These people are not serving Hash-m with all of their money, and that is why they are not considered to be serving Hash-m in the best possible manner.
(b) The MESHECH CHOCHMAH (Devarim 11:13) and others explain that the verse is discussing people who are following the Mitzvos religiously, but are not learning Torah. Since they are not studying the Torah, they must harvest their own food. Only those who study the Torah are blessed that others will do their work for them. (Support for this can be found in the Midrash Tanchuma, Noach #3, as cited by the AHAVAS EISAN.)
(c) A later verse in the same paragraph says, "Beware, lest your heart become tempted and you stray and worship other gods..." (Devarim 16-17). It seems that after we are taught the reward for following Hash-m's will, we are told of the punishment for not following His will. However, there may be another way to interpret the flow of the verses.
The Gemara tells us that "a full stomach is one of the worst sins" (Berachos 32a). Material success and complacency lead to arrogance, and arrogance leads to the worst of sins. Accordingly, the paragraph that the Gemara is discussing begins with a description of the rewards that Hash-m bestows upon the worthy, but then warns those who have merited such prosperity not to allow their success to lead them away from Hash-m. As support for this interpretation, it may be noted that the Torah does not introduce the second half of the paragraph with the words, "If you do not obey My commandments...," but rather it states, "Beware lest your heart become tempted...." The Sifri (ch. 43), in fact, states clearly that this is the intent of these verses.
Accordingly, there are three parts to this section. The first part is a description of the reward granted to those who observe the Mitzvos. The second part is a description of an improper reaction to that reward. The third part is a description of the punishment that will be brought upon one who misuses the reward in such a manner. Exactly where in the paragraph is the transition from the discussion of the reward to the description of the reaction to the reward? According to Rebbi Shimon, the description of the reward ends in the middle of verse 14, with the words, "I will grant you the rains of your land in its time, the early rain and the late rain." The continuation of that verse, "and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil," is already the beginning of the improper reaction to the blessing of prosperity. The verse says that if you react to the blessings of Hash-m by "gathering in your own grain," by devoting more and more time to harvesting your abundant grains rather than by putting your trust in Hash-m, through "eating and becoming satisfied," then you must beware lest you completely rebel against Hash-m!
In summary, it is true that this paragraph is dealing with the reward for those who do their utmost to follow the Mitzvos of Hash-m. Nevertheless, the verse that discusses "gathering in your grain" is not describing such people. It is describing the negative reaction that may follow Hash-m's bountiful blessings. (M. KORNFELD)