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There are several blessings we say before eating, depending on the food (ha-motzi, ha-etz, ha-adamah, ha-gefen, mezonot), but we say she-ha-kol for foods not in these categories. Would there be anything wrong with saying she-ha-kol for everything to simplify life? Is this specific point discussed anywhere by the Sages? (I know "we don't do it that way", but I want to know if the matter is discussed anywhere.)

  • A good question about the principles of the Halachah. The point is the H. is not all-or-nothing, either you fulfill or not, there are 50 levels of performance and corresponding reward. So to your Q. - a reward for saying a more specified blessing is greater than saying a general one. Saying a blessing on a whole food is greater than on a piece of it, saying with a Kavvanah is still better etc. – Al Berko Sep 2 '18 at 20:29
  • In Hebrew search for "ברכה מבוררת יותר". – Al Berko Sep 2 '18 at 21:16
  • Saying "shehakol" over bread would only be fine b'dieved, as far as I understand – ezra Sep 2 '18 at 23:34
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The rule about using "shehakol" for all foods comes from a Mishnah in Masechet Berachot. In the Talmud it appears on 40a as follows:

בירך על פירות האילן בורא פרי האדמה יצא ועל פירות הארץ בורא פרי העץ לא יצא ועל כולם אם אמר שהכל נהיה בדברו יצא

IF ONE SAYS OVER FRUIT OF THE TREE THE BENEDICTION, ‘WHO CREATEST THE FRUIT OF THE GROUND, HE HAS PERFORMED HIS OBLIGATION. BUT IF HE SAID OVER PRODUCE OF THE GROUND, ‘WHO CREATEST THE FRUIT OF THE TREE’, HE HAS NOT PERFORMED HIS OBLIGATION. IF HE SAYS ‘BY WHOSE WORD ALL THINGS EXIST OVER ANY OF THEM, HE HAS PERFORMED HIS OBLIGATION. (Soncino translation; capitals in original, my emphasis)

This law is codified by all the major Codes:

Rambam Hilchot Berachot 8:10

בירך על פירות האילן בורא פרי האדמה יצא ועל פירות האדמה בורא פרי העץ לא יצא ועל כולם אם בירך שהכל יצא ואפי' על הפת ועל היין

A person who recited the blessing borey pri ha'adamah over fruits that grow on trees fulfills his obligation. Conversely, one who recited the blessing borey pri ha'etz over fruits that grow from the ground does not fulfill his obligation. One who recites the blessing shehakol over any food fulfills his obligation. [This applies even in regard] to bread and wine. (Touger translation; my emphasis)

Tur O.C. 206

בירך על פירות האילן בפה"א יצא ואם בירך על פרי האדמה בפה"ע לא יצא הלכך אם אדם מסופק בפרי אם הוא פרי העץ או פרי האדמה מברך בורא פרי האדמה ועל הכל אם אמר שהכל יצא

If one made the blessing of "borei peri ha'adama" on fruit of the tree, he has discharged his obligation. But if he made the blessing of "borei peri ha'etz" on fruit of the ground, he has not discharged his obligation. Therefore, if a man is unsure if a fruit is a fruit of the tree or a fruit of the ground he should make the blessing of "borei peri ha'adama". On everything if he said "shehakol" he has discharged his obligation.

Shulchan Aruch O.C. 206:1

בירך על פירות האילן בורא פרי האדמה יצא אבל אם בירך על פרי האדמה בורא פרי העץ לא יצא הלכך אם הוא מסופק בפרי אם הוא פרי עץ או פרי האדמה מברך בורא פרי האדמה ועל הכל אם אמר שהכל יצא ואפילו על פת ויין

If one made the blessing of "borei peri ha'adama" on fruit of the tree, he has discharged his obligation. But if he made the blessing of "borei peri ha'etz" on fruit of the ground, he has not discharged his obligation. Therefore, if one is unsure if a fruit is a fruit of the tree or a fruit of the ground he should make the blessing of "borei peri ha'adama". On everything if he said "shehakol" he has discharged his obligation, even on bread or wine.

Levush O.C. 206:1

בירך על פירות האילן בורא פרי האדמה יצא דהאדמה כוללת גם האילן שגם הוא יונק מן האדמה אבל אם בירך על פרי האדמה בורא פרי העץ לא יצא שאין פרי האדמה יונק מן האילן הילכך אם הוא מסופק בפרי אם הוא פרי עץ או פרי אדמה מברך בורא פרי האדמה דיוצא ממה נפשך ועל הכל שאמר שהכל יצא אפילו על פת ויין דהא הכל בכלל

If one made the blessing of "borei peri ha'adama" on fruit of the tree, he has discharged his obligation because the ground includes the tree, as the tree too is nourished from the ground. But if he made the blessing of "borei peri ha'etz" on fruit of the ground, he has not discharged his obligation because fruit of the ground is not nourished from the tree. Therefore, if he is unsure about a fruit whether it is a fruit of the tree or a fruit of the ground, he should make the blessing of "borei peri ha'adama" because he will have discharged his obligation either way. And if one says "shehakol" on anything he has discharged his obligation, even on bread and wine because everything is included [in "shehakol"].

Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 206:2

וכבר נתבאר דעל כולם אם אמר שהכל יצא אפילו על פת ויין וכ"ש שארי דברים

And it has already been explained that on everything if he said "shehakol" he has discharged his obligation, even on bread and wine and certainly other things.

However, the implication of this rule is that "shehakol" works once you have said it, but it should not deliberately be used instead of the correct blessing. R. Meir HaKohen in his gloss to Rambam's ruling cites rishonim who say that if one does not know the correct blessing for something then he should say "shehakol" even deliberately, and this is because even though the Mishnah implies that it's only good after the fact, here the uncertainty itself is equivalent to "after the fact":

כפי זה יברך שהכל בכל דבר שהוא מסופק עליו וכן פסק התוספות ומורי בשם ר"ח וה"ר יוסף ואפילו לכתחילה ואע"ג דתנן דוקא דיעבד הא נמי כיון שמסתפק בה כדיעבד דמי

However, this does not mention a situation where you are aware of the correct blessing. Both R. Yechiel Michel Epstein and R. Yisrael Meir Kagan write that even though "ha'adama" suffices for something which requires "ha'etz", and should be used in a case of uncertainty, one cannot deliberately use "ha'adama" for something that he knows is "ha'etz":

Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 206:2

שהרי לכתחלה אין לברך על העץ האדמה אלא שבדיעבד יצא

For behold, from the outset one cannot make the blessing of "ha'adama" on [something which is] "ha-etz"; it's just that after the fact [if he did so] he has fulfilled his obligation.

Mishnah Berurah 206:7

דוקא דיעבד אבל לכתחלה לכו"ע אין לכוין להוציא את פה"ע דטוב יותר לברך ברכה המיוחדת לו

This is only after the fact, but from the outset one should not intend to discharge his obligation for a fruit of the tree [with "borei peri ha'adama"] because it is better to make the blessing that is uniquely designated for it.

It stands to reason, then, that the same would apply to "shehakol" – while one can use it in a case of uncertainty, one should not use it if he does know the correct blessing.

In fact, R. Kagan explicitly says the same the same thing regarding "shehakol":

Mishnah Berurah 206:5

וכ"ז דיעבד אבל לכתחלה צריך לברך על כל דבר ברכתו המיוחדת לו

And all this is after the fact. But from the outset one needs to make the blessing on each thing the blessing that is uniquely designated for it.

  • Alex, thanks for a full and very comprehensive answer. However, one thing puzzles me: On what halachic grounds do the acharonim you cite say that you cannot deliberately use shehakol when you know the correct blessing? The Rambam concludes "One who recites the blessing shehakol over any food fulfills his obligation." That should be enough. Can't we simplify life? – Maurice Mizrahi Sep 2 '18 at 23:09
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    I think it's based on the implication from the Mishnah that it's only if you did it that it works (i.e. but you shouldn't deliberately do it) as well as the general principle of conforming to the specific blessings that the Sages formulated. If they formulated different blessings for different foods then we are expected to use the specified blessing for each food (unless it's a situation where we don't know which blessing to make). – Alex Sep 2 '18 at 23:12
  • @MauriceMizrahi "Can't we simplify life?" Sounds like the root of your question is related to this one: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/31831/… – Salmononius2 Sep 3 '18 at 0:36
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    @MauriceMizrahi if your wife prepares a nice dish, you can say "that was very good" or you can say "I loved the flavor, the presentation, it fit really well with the rest of the meal. You must have spent a lot of time thinking this through and I loved it". What do you think she will prefer? The more specific the better no? The same with brachot. It is better if we can make the right, specific, bracha to acknowledge the good that comes our way – mbloch Sep 3 '18 at 3:35
  • @mbloch, I take the position that halacha must be strictly defined, and the option to go beyond it, if at all, should be entirely up to the individual. That's what the concept of "hiddur mitzvah" (beautification of the mitzvah) is for. It's best to be told EXACTLY what your responsibilities are. – Maurice Mizrahi Sep 3 '18 at 5:34

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