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I didn't grow up on "b'racha bees" and I know there's a lot I don't know, so I sometimes find myself in a situation where either I know there's a b'racha for something but I don't know it, or I don't know if there's a b'racha but it feels like there ought to be. Let's assume that I need to answer the question "in the moment" and can't wait to go consult a source first (thus, I'm not asking about food, which I can wait to eat, but about other kinds of b'rachot).

In that case, per the halacha should I:

  • Improvise something and use the b'racha formula, because it's better to thank HKBH properly than improperly?

  • Improvise something but not use the b'racha formula, to avoid a b'racha l'vateilah?

  • Say nothing but think thankful thoughts?

  • Something else?

And are the two cases different -- knowing the situation calls for a b'racha (but I don't know what it is), versus not knowing if the situation calls for a b'racha?

I will benefit most from sources I can read in English.

This question was prompted by this one.

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are you asking about food, or everything? –  avi Dec 25 '13 at 16:36
    
Everything -- natural occurrences (like hail or waterfalls or eclipses), sensory experiences (like fragrences), encounters with important people, etc. I'm looking for a principle or strategy more than answers to specific cases (which, if I know in advance, I can look up). –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '13 at 16:44
    
don't eat?...... –  Shmuel Brin Dec 25 '13 at 21:37
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@ShmuelBrin I'm not asking about food, or for that matter anything where it's practical to hold off and go find out. I'm standing outside and suddenly hail starts falling; there's a b'racha for that I think but maybe I don't know it -- what should I do? –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '13 at 21:45
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Rambam Laws of Brachot 1:5

The text of all the blessings was ordained by Ezra and his court. It is not fit to alter it, to add to it, or to detract from it. Whoever alters the text of a blessing from that ordained by the Sages is making an error.

So "Improvise something and use the b'racha formula" seems to be out.

If you know the situation mandates a bracha and you know the proper text of the bracha but you don't know if in this particular situation you should make a bracha (i.e. you bump into the Prince of Liechtenstein and you don't know if you should say the bracha of seeing a king over him, so you know there is a bracha on seeing kings you just don't know if it applies to a prince) there seems to be a wide range of opinions with the suggested opinion being to say the bracha outloud but say the shemos mentally (warning machlokes alert !) Laws of Brachos - Binyamin Furst

If you don't know if a bracha should be made at all i.e (you are aboout o give charity and you don't know if there is a bracha to make - hint there's not !) I cant see why you can't thank hashem mentally or say words of praise.

In terms of your last question:

Mishna Brurah 202:84 quoting Gemara Brachot 35a writes that if one hasn't learned the halachot of Brachot one shouldn't just make Shehakol on a food one doesn't know the bracha for. Similarly, the Kitzur S"A 50:2 writes that it is appropriate to make Shehakol if one can't figure out what type of food it is or if it is a food about which there is an unresolved dispute in the poskim.

The laws of Brachot are very complex and it's not always possible to answer every nuance of the question so I suggest you read Rabbi Furst's book linked above.

I can't say I am 100% satisfied with the thoroughness of this answer so if you ask constructive questions I will try to get them answered or if you think the post should be removed I would also understand that.

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That Rambam is not universally accepted, nor does it imply the conclusion you try and draw from it. (not that the conclusion is wrong) –  Double AA Dec 25 '13 at 20:12
    
I definitely do not understand that rambam, since the Talmud mentions amoraim who created or altered berachot. –  avi Dec 26 '13 at 8:02
    
@avi Forget Amoraim. We have rishonim and achronim who altered brachot! –  Double AA Jan 7 at 2:59
    
@DoubleAA Yes, but Rambam didn't know about those rishonim or Achronim :D –  avi Jan 7 at 13:47
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If you don't know a brochah for a specific situation, the dictum of safek brochas lihakel would apply, and you wouldn't say anything for fear of saying the wrong brochah and using Hashem's name in vain. Now, that's ok for experiential brochas like thunder or a rainbow.

However, if you want to eat, not so simple - to eat you need a brochah. A good, in-depth rundown is Chapter 16 "Doubts and Alternatives" of R' Yisroel Pinchas Bodner's book "The Halachos of Brochos". Bringing down the Beis Yosef quoting the Hagahos Maimonios, R' Bodner says you can rely on shehakol in a pinch.

An alternative that R' Bodner writes is that if the choices are between, say mezonos or shehakol, get two foods that you know for certain, make the brochos on them (and eat them!), and then eat the food about which you are unsure. That way you don't need to rely on the shehakol leniency.

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Source for your first paragraph? –  Double AA Dec 26 '13 at 1:27
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What's the difference between rainbows and food? How do you know you can look at a rainbow if you don't know the bracha? –  Double AA Dec 26 '13 at 4:18
    
@DoubleAA It's pretty clear from the Gemorah that the concept only applies to food. halakhah.com/berakoth/berakoth_35.html –  avi Dec 26 '13 at 7:31
    
Experiential brochas such as brochas hari'iah, are different from brochas hanehenin, because the latter are prerequisites to benefit from Hashem's creations. While a rainbow may make you happy, its not hanaah, its praise, so if you don't know the brochah, taking Hashem's name in vain by saying the wrong brochah seems like it would fall under safek brochas lihakel. –  atrain Jan 1 at 1:43
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In general the a more detailed bracha is always preferable over a generic bracha. This is why we have so many different berachot, to be as specific as we possibly can. However, if you do not know what the correct bracha to make is, you can make a more generic bracha.

The most generic bracha for food is "Shehakol" (from which all things are created). For other situations, the best practice is to say a pasuk from tehilim which generically praises Gd, such as "Hallelyuah"

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Can you please enhance your answer by providing sources ? TY. –  eramm Dec 26 '13 at 14:16
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