In his commentary on the Mishnah, Rambam explains that the Mishnayot are ordered logically. In this vein, after discussing Berachot Rishona (blessings before eating food) the next topic is Birkat Ha’mazon (the blessing after eating bread).
The first Mishnah of the seventh chapter begins:
Three people that ate (together) as one are obligated to ‘lezamen’…
The Gemara (Berachot, 45a) asks (and answers) the following question:
Where does this come from (Rashi: That three people are suited to bless together)? Rav Assi says because of the verse “Declare the greatness of Hashem with me, let us exalt his name together (Tehillim 34:4)”. Rabi Avahu says it’s from here “When I call out the name of Hashem, ascribe greatness to our God (Devarim 32:3).”
Rashi explains how the first verse teaches that a zimun requires three people:
This is three. One calls out ‘Declare the greatness’ to two others
There must be at least two others because the verb ‘declare’ is written in plural form.
The word ‘lezamen’ comes from the root zaman which means to invite (i.e. to invite others to bless Hashem), and the second Mishnah of Perek Shvi’i details how this is done. Even though today the text of the zimun is well defined, the Gemara (Berachot, 46a) asks where the actual zimun goes until:
Until where is the blessing of the zimun? Rav Nachman says until “nevarech” (i.e. the end of what we know today as the precursor of zimun to Birkat Ha’mazon) and Rav Sheshet says until “hazan” (i.e. the end of the first blessing)
Rabbeinu Asher discusses this Gemarah at length trying to understand the case being considered:
…And it is difficult to understand like Rav Sheshet because everyone says the Bracha of Hazan…consequently Hazan is not part of the Zimun, and it seems that the question “until where” is asking until where does one have to wait before resuming eating if he has stopped in order to answer the zimun…
Two scenarios must be clarified – firstly until when does one have to pause his eating to answer to a zimun, and secondly, until where does the ‘Mezamen’ have to continue out loud.
On the first question the Shulchan Aruch writes (Orach Chayim 200:2):
One only has to pause until “Baruch Sheachalnu Mishelo” (i.e. the end of what we know today as the precursor of zimun to Birkat Ha’mazon) and then he should return and finish his meal without saying another blessing before.
On this, the Rama comments:
There are those that say (he should wait) until the Mezamen says “Hazan Et Hakol”, and this is what we are accustomed to doing.”
The Mishnah Berurah explains that the Rama’s position is based on Rabbeinu Asher’s opinion cited above.
With regards to the second question as to where should the Mezamen continue out loud the Rambam (Hilchot Berachot, 5:3) writes:
And after (the blessing of the zimun is finished) he (the Mezamen says “Baruch Ata Hashem…Hazan Et Haolam Kulo Betuvo…” until he finishes all four blessings and they (the other people that made up the zimun) answer Amen after each blessing.”
According to the Rambam, the Mezamen should be able to say all the blessings out aloud, and when everyone else answers amen they would have fulfilled their obligation through him. Nevertheless, today it is considered too difficult for the Mezamen to have the correct intentions to fulfil everyone else’s obligation, and for everyone else to concentrate on having their obligation fulfilled through the Mezamen for such a long time. With this in mind it is suggested the Mezamen still continues aloud until the end of the fourth blessing, but that everyone else says the blessings along with him quietly and makes an attempt to finish each of the blessings before the Mezamen so they can then answer Amen at the end of each of his blessings (Shulchan Aruch, 183:7 & Mishnah Berurah ibid, 27-28). At the very least, the Mishnah Berurah writes that the first bracha should be recited aloud by the Mezamen as everyone reads along with him silently.
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