The Mishnah (7:2) records a debate regarding the minimum amount of bread one must eat that obligates them to be part of a zimun. To explain, when at least three people eat bread together they are obligated to form a zimun; one must invite the others to bless Hashem with him. R’ Meir maintains that the amount is a kezayit (size of an olive), while R’ Yehuda understands that it is the larger size of a ke’beitzah (egg).
In the Gemara (49b), Abaye explains that the debate is based on the passuk from which we learn the obligation to recite birkat hamazon (bench) – “ve’achalta ve’savata u’verachta” (and you will eat, and you will be satisfied and you will bless). Both opinions understand the term “ve’achalta” would obligate one that ate a kezayit – the minimum measure of “eating”. The impact of the additional work “ve’savata” however is debated. R’ Meir understands that it refers to drinking (this requires further explanation). R’ Yehuda however understands that it expands on the measure indicated by “ve’achalta”. In other words, it refers to eating that is satisfying thereby increasing it to a ke’beitza.
The Tosfot explains that the debate is really on a rabbinic level. In truth, on a biblical level the obligation is only when one is satisfied from the meal.1 Even though the debate here appears to be based on the pasuk, it is an asmachta. This means that they point to the pasuk to associate their rabbinic level positions with the words of the pasuk, but not that the pasuk is truly a biblical source. While the Rambam also agree with this position, the Raavad (Berachot 5:16) understands that this debate is on a biblical level.2
How are we to understand the opinion of R’ Meir that the word “ve’savata” refers to drinking?
The Ramban explains that R’ Meir understands this pasuk relates to those that precede it. Two pesukim earlier, the pasuk mentions the shivat ha’minim (seven species). Consequently, we learn that the beracha that follows those foods is also required on a biblical level. Since however the pasuk between these two pesukim discusses bread, we learn that the beracha that follows bread and beracha that follows the shivat ha’minim are different. Consequently, according to the Ramban’s understanding of R’ Meir, the beracha me’ein shalosh is required on a biblical level. A practical implication would be if one was unsure whether they recited that beracha. In the case of a doubt, only berachot required on a biblical level must be said. The Ramban cites the Behag that rules according to this understanding.
The Beit Yosef cites the Yereim who understand that according to R’ Meir, the obligation to bench on a biblical level is only when one was also thirsty and drank. If one was thirsty, but did not, it would not meet the biblical requirement. Consequently, he would not be able to recite birkat hamazon for someone that both ate and drank, because the former is obligated only on a rabbinic level while the latter is obligated on biblical one. The Beit Yosef dismisses this position. Firstly, we can consider the position of the Tosfot that the debate is only a rabbinic level. Alternatively, even if it is on a biblical level, he questions this understanding of the implication of “ve’savata” for perhaps it is referring to drinking alone.
The Bach however argues. Firstly, most Rishonim understand that the debate is on a biblical level. Secondly, since we do not require one to bench on drinking alone, ve’savata needs to be understood alongside ve’achalta. Consequently, he adopts the position of the Yereim.3 The Rama rules that ideally, one that ate and drank should be motzi those that only ate.4
1 The Tosfot directs us to the earlier Gemara (20b). There the Gemara cites the Beraita that is disparaging of one whose minor child is motzi him for birkat ha’mazon. For one to be motzi another they must have an equal level of obligation. The Gemara therefore explains that we are dealing with a case where the father only ate a kezayit, which would obligate him on a rabbinic level (since he was not satisfied). The child, also obligated on a rabbinic level for educational reasons, is therefore able to be motzi him.
The Gemara continues with a further account where the malchei ha’sharet question Hashem granting favour to Am Yisrael. Hashem responds that the Torah only requires one to bench after they are satisfied, yet Am Yisrael do so even if they only ate a kezayit (according to R’ Meir) or a ke’beiztah (according to R’ Yehuda).
2 The Raavad explains that the sources quoted in the previous footnote are the opinion of R’ Avira which is in conflict with our Gemara. See also the Ramban and Shita Mekubtzet which are other Rishonim that understand that it is de’oraita.
3 According to the Mishnah Berurah we are dealing with one being motzi another, i.e. one is benching for the other person. If everyone is benching we are not as strict with respected to who can lead the zimun.
4 The Mishnah Berurah cites the Magen Avraham that given the choice between one that ate, was not satisfied but also drank and another that was satisfied but did not drink, that latter should lead. This is because of the opinion that eating and being satisfied alone would obligate one on a biblical level.
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