Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Defines a Beracha?

The Gemara in Berachos 12a discusses a case where a guy has beer and starts to make a hagafen because he thinks it is wine. Then, mid-beracha he realizes it's beer and finishes the beracha properly with a shehakol. So, essentially he recites the right beracha but for the entire beginning for the beracha he intended on saying the wrong one. So do we follow what he said and say it is a good beracha? Or, do we follow the intent and say it is a bad beracha? The gemara ends in a safek.

There is a question on this gemara from a Rambam (Tefillah 10:6). The Rambam there paskens that if someone davens mincha and remembers that he actually already davened he should stop right there in the middle of shemoneh esrai, even right in the middle of the beracha. The question is why can't the guy just continue shemoneh esrai and switch his intent from davening mincha to davening a tefillas nedavah? Apparently, the reason is that tefillas chovah and tefillas nedava are two separate cheftzas of shemoneh esrai that are not mitstaref. And, apparently, the mere intent of davening a chovah makes it a chovah.

The question then is, why does the Rambam pasken that we clearly follow intent, when in the gemara it seemed to be a standing question.

Rabbi Schachter in Eretz HaTzvi Siman 1 addresses this question. He distinguishes betweent the two cases with the following rather simple distinction. In the case of the beer what was recited was unambiguous. It was clearly a shehakol. Thus, the intent cannot undo what was actually recited. However, in the case of shemoneh esrai, both tefillas chovah and tefillas nedavah are exactly identical in recitation. The only difference between them is the intent. In that case we certainly follow the intent to determine what kind of shemoneh esrai it is.

Rabbi Schachter then applies this distinction to a number of different rulings that he finds in the poskim. Here is a list of those rulings:

1. Rashba Berachos 26b - The Rashba paskens that if you missed a tefillah and recited the tashlumin before the main shemoneh esrai of the next tefillah so the fact that you intended the tashlumin to go first means that you actually did it out of order and the tefillah is no good (because the tashlumin should always go second). [Note: I am actually oversimplifying the case of the Rashba because he is actually dealing with a complex case of making up Shabbos Minchah at Motzei Shabbos Maariv, but for our purposes these details are not necessary.]

2. Pri Megadim O.C. 209 - The Pri Megadim deals with a strange case where a guy said two endings to one berachah. For example he ended with both zokef kefufuim and matir assurim. The psak is that we follow the intent because the wording is not clearly one way.

3. Magen Avraham O.C. 268:3 - In the third case Rabbi Schachter deals with a string of complicated cases on Shabbos where you started Atah Chonen instead of the Shabbos davening. The psak by Shacharis is different than by Mincha and Maariv because by Mincha and Maariv the nusach also begins with atah, so the nusach wasn't clearly for weekday, whereas by Shacharis there was not only a wrong intent but an actual nusach change.

To Summarize: We are trying to explain how come sometimes intent clearly plays a role in defining the nature of the beracha, whereas othertimes we find that it is a safek if the intent plays a role. The distinction being suggested is that if there are no other factors intent can be the determining factor. However, if there are actual nusach distinctions, the nusach factor may override the factor of intent.