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Shabbat Parashat Tazria 5782

Ask the Rabbi: Weak Prohibition Vs. Beracha Lvatala

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: If someone makes a beracha on a milchig food and then realizes that he is fleishig, should he eat a little of it to avoid a beracha l’vatala?


Answer: The dilemma of choosing the lesser of two evils arises in many cases.

The gemara (Shabbat 4a) rules that one who sticks dough to a hot oven’s wall on Shabbat should scrape it off (usually a Rabbinic prohibition) to save himself from the bigger aveira of chillul Shabbat, whether he placed it there purposely or by mistake (Mishna Berura 254:39). Thus, if beracha l’vatala is a bigger aveira than not waiting six hours between meat and milk, perhaps one should eat a little of the milchig food. (In Shabbat 4a, the baking is continuing during inaction.) The Rama (Orach Chayim 271:5) indeed rules that if one made a beracha on food before Havdala, he should eat.

On the other hand, if a kohen puts teruma into his mouth and finds out it is forbidden food, he must spit it out (Rambam, Terumot 10:13, based on mishna, Terumot 8:2). Some say it is referring even to cases in which the teruma is only Rabbinically forbidden and even when he made a beracha and did not eat yet (see Michtav L’chizkiyahu I:5, regarding one who accepted upon himself not to eat before learning and made a beracha). After all, it is difficult to mandate positively doing a forbidden action to fix a problematic action already done accidentally (Michtav L’chizkiyahu ibid.). We could then learn that one may not eat even a little of Rabbinically forbidden food to avoid a beracha l’vatala (ibid.).

How serious is a beracha l’vatala? The Rambam (Berachot 1:15, cited by the Shulchan Aruch, OC 215:4) describes it as a Torah prohibition of saying Hashem’s Name in vain. Tosafot (Rosh Hashana 33a) posits that it is Rabbinic (praising Hashem any time, any way, is not in vain), and many concur. It is not, then, clear that beracha l’vatala is worse than the forbidden eating. Also, the Rama relates to a case where the food is permitted, just one must wait until after Kiddush or Havdala, which may make it more lenient (see Tosafot, Pesachim 106b). Milk after meat is tricky to define. On the one hand, the milchig food is permitted. On the other hand, the prohibition is based on treating it like eating milk and meat mixed together i.e., a forbidden food, (Yechaveh Da’at IV:41).

For another reason, eating some of the food might not help. One may not make a beracha on forbidden food (Shulchan Aruch, OC 196:1), so even if one ate the food, it may still be a beracha l’vatala. While the Rama felt it helped regarding eating before Havdala, the above distinction is relevant. Perhaps the beracha is not l’vatala on a permitted food before Havdala, but is l’vatala for Rabbinic meat-milk (Yechaveh Da’at ibid.). Even regarding a time-based minhag like fleishig food in the Nine Days, some opinions forbid eating even after the beracha was made (Yechaveh Da’at ibid.).

However, our case has mitigating factors. It is far from a Torah-level prohibition since the foods are not cooked together and especially if the fleishig is poultry. Even Rabbinically, eating milchig after fleishig is forbidden explicitly only at the same meal (Chulin 105a). The strongest reason to be lenient (see Yechaveh Da’at ibid.) is that after an hour has passed, we are not even sure eating milchig is forbidden at all (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 89:1). Note that while one may not feed forbidden food to small children, the consensus is that waiting an hour after meat is enough.

We found no one recommending using the beracha for a permitted food. Many rule that if one made a beracha on a food and it got lost before eating, he can use the beracha for another food, but only if it is the same type of food and it was before them during the beracha (Rama, OC 206:6; Mishna Berura 206:26). It is interesting that leniency on broadening the efficacy of the beracha is not the best alternative.

In conclusion, we recommend that if an hour passed from eating meat, one should eat a little of the milchig food; within an hour, one should just recite “Baruch shem …”

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