Birkat Hamazon: “Harachaman”

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Birkat Hamazon consists of four blessings, each one having been added at different periods of history.[1] Following the conclusion of the fourth blessing, there are a series of requests that are customarily recited, each beginning with the word “Harachaman”, (“the Merciful One”). In fact, from this point onwards it is actually permitted to insert any prayer or request that one would like.[2] We are taught that when we recite the Birkat Hamazon it is an ‘Eit Ratzon’, an auspicious moment before God, when prayers and requests are more readily accepted.[3]

Among the familiar “Harachaman” recitations is one that is dependant on one’s circumstance. For example, in the event that one has eaten in one’s own home, one requests that God bless “Me, my wife, and all that is mine”. If one is eating at their parents’ home, one requests that God bless “My father, my teacher,[4] master of this house, and my mother, my teacher, master of this house.” Finally, when one is a guest having eaten in the home of another, one is to recite a prayer that God bless “The master of this house and his wife and all that is his.”[5] It is appropriate to answer “Amen” to the “Harachaman” insertions of others.[6] 

There are those who have the custom to recite the Harachaman prayer for their parents at all times, even when having eaten in their own home, and even when at the home of another.[7] What is even more significant however, is that there also exists a custom to recite the Harachaman for one’s parents even when they are no longer alive![8] 

Among the rationalizations for this seemingly odd custom – to pray that God bless one’s parents even when they are no longer alive – is that doing so actually serves as an expression of kibbud av v’em, a mitzva which continues to apply even after the passing[9] of one’s parents.[10] Indeed, we are taught that even the deceased welcome any and all blessings recited for their souls.[11] 

Others point to the Chassidic teaching that the liturgical arrangement of these “Harachamans” is actually a mystically designed formula whereby each of these brief prayers corresponds to one of the Ten Sefirot, the ten mystical attributes of God.[12] According to this approach, although the prayer for one’s parents is meant to be understood as it is written, namely, that God indeed bless our parents, there is an esoteric meaning to this prayer, as well. The terms “mother” and “father” also serve to refer to the kabbalistic concepts of “Chochma” and “Bina” and hence, according to this approach, should never be omitted from the Birkat Hamazon.

It is interesting to note that there are authorities who suggest that the practice of reciting “Harachaman” for one’s parents even after their passing is a foolish custom that originated for no reason other than out of ignorance and an inability to change one’s routine.[13] Those who do not recite the “Harachaman” insertions in Birkat Hamazon[14] should still recite one for one’s host,[15] as well as the verse “Oseh Shalom”.[16]

 


[1] The first blessing was instituted by Moshe as an appreciation for the Manna. The second was instituted by Yehoshua upon entry to the Land of Israel. The third blessing was instituted by David and Shlomo. The fourth blessing was instituted by Rabbi Gamliel when the martyrs of Beitar were finally brought for burial and their bodies had not decayed.

[2] Piskei Teshuvot 189:2

[3] Chafetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Ki Tavo, Rabbeinu Bechaye Shemot 19:3

[4] It is interesting to note that there are those who are opposed to inserting titles and accolades when mentioning others in prayer. Sefer Chassidim 800, Birkei Yosef Y.D. 240:4 cited in

[5] Though see O.C. 201:1 for a more elaborate blessing a guest should consider reciting for his host.

[6] Mishna Berura 189:5

[7] Sefer Minhagim Chabad p.22

[8] Ibid.

[9] Kiddushin 31b

[10] Darkei Chaim V’shalom 308 cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah 240:18

[11] Beit Yosef Y.D. 376, cited in Chokrei Minhagim by Rabbi Yochanan Gourari

[12] Igrot Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz Vol. 1 p.202

[13] Kitzur Shela on Birkat Hamazon, and Beit Shlomo 100, both cited in Minhag Yisrael Torah 240:18

[14] There are communities today that conclude the Birkat Hamazon after the fourth blessing, as was the reported practice of the Vilna Gaon. This custom is of questionable authenticity. While there is documentation to support the theory that the Vilna Gaon did not recite the Harachamans on Shabbat, there does not seem to be anything to suggest that he omitted them during the week, as well.

[15] Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:122

[16] Piskei Teshuvot 189:2

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

19 comments

  1. “There are those who have the custom to recite the Harachaman prayer for their parents at all times, even when having eaten in their own home, and even when at the home of another.[7] What is even more significant however, is that there also exists a custom to recite the Harachaman for one’s parents even when they are no longer alive![8]”

    While your at it you might as well add the custom of those same fools to bless their messiah. You might add “What is even more significant however, is that there also exists a custom to recite the Harachaman for the dead rebbe! This is to signify that he isn’t really dead.” You might ponder in a footnote what this blessing means since the rebbe in his meta-living state has no benefit from blessings.

  2. It’s ironic that you cite the Kitzur Shlah, whose author was a Sabbatean (not the Shlah, of course), and sifrei Chabad… well, I’ll leave readers to complete the thought.

  3. Listen folks,

    Say what you want, but the idea of mentioning a parent even after their passing long predates today’s “Yechi Hamelech” practicies.

    Ari Enkin

  4. Note that there is a blessing for the host/hostess apart from the harachaman, described by the Gemara. The Shulchan Aruch already wonders why it isn’t said, but a lot of siddurim have it now. Its language makes it a particular favorite of my wife and I- a friend even made it (in a plural version) into a plaque for us as a gift.

    I think one problem is that most siddurim, etc., print the three formulas listed here, without mentioning that one can mix n’ match as much as one likes. So people get locked into what it says.

    I’ve seen MO benchers with harachamans for Israel and the like.

    “it is actually permitted to insert any prayer or request that one would like”

    And, contrary to note 14, perfectly permitted to skip them all. I learned a lot from my brother, who says what he has to. I don’t skip the harachamans, but it’s good to know what’s required. Another thing I learned from him: Sunday night, it was too cloudy to see the moon. Walking down the street later, I saw it again, and so just said the bracha. The rest I filled in later (he wouldn’t have).

    Perhaps the fact that many old siddurim print the harachamans without a space before them and after bracha four led to confusion that these were required.

  5. The point about Harachamon for deceased parents is well taken
    Since the misfortune of losing my wife some months ago, I have been unable in spite of great efforts,to shake the habit of a lifetime of
    including her in the blessing.

  6. Note that there is a blessing for the host/hostess apart from the harachaman, described by the Gemara. … Its language makes it a particular favorite of my wife and I

    “May our property be close to the city”? Given how many of us choose to live in suburbs or yishuvim, this line is a favorite of mine just for its humor value in modern circumstances.

    I guess 100 years ago “may our property be close to the railroad line” would have been meaningful.

  7. Nachum:

    “I’ve seen MO benchers with harachamans for Israel and the like.”

    i just saw one for the medina yesterday in a conservative (usy) bencher. i’ve seen for the medina and tzahal in a bnei akiva bencher. right now i can’t think of other examples. it’s very, very, very rarely recited in america and almost never appears in benchers.

  8. There are communities today that conclude the Birkat Hamazon after the fourth blessing, as was the reported practice of the Vilna Gaon. This custom is of questionable authenticity. While there is documentation to support the theory that the Vilna Gaon did not recite the Harachamans on Shabbat, there does not seem to be anything to suggest that he omitted them during the week, as well.

    I have heard that R’ Chaim Soloveichik did not say the Harachamans – not for any inherent reason, but because he wanted to counter a prevalent misconception that the harachamans were an integral part of birkat hamazon. (It was apparently common for R’ Chaim to perform halacha simply for the purpose of dispelling misconceptions among the masses. For example he would go out of his way to make havdala on electric lights to show that electric was considered 100% aish. Also, he would reportedly just recite the bracha of hagafen and leave out the “kidusha rabba” on shabbat morning because people thought it was an actual part of the kiddush).

    Though I heard this practice of R’ Chaim re: the harachamans anecdotally, I never actually saw it in writing, so I am curious if anyone can corroborate this.

  9. It was in the bencher of Edah and those who reprinted it. I think Koren has it as well.

  10. It has been reported that the Rav omitted “ukrovim La’ir.”

  11. Steve:

    Can you (or anyone) source that?

  12. The earliest origin that I know of for the “harachaman” prayers is the Tur. Their origin certainly isn’t in the gemara. (At least some) people have been NOT saying them from long before the days of the GRA.

  13. Shmuel:
    The “horachaman”s appear in the Machzor Vitri, which predates the Tur. Also, there is a much longer version there.

  14. Yemenites have some (very different than those of other Edot), but they may have been added later, of course.

  15. I’ve always wondered how flexible the wording of the Harachaman for one’s host is – for example, if one has multiple hosts (e.g., a potluck supper), would one say “bateihem” instead of “beisam?” (I would.)

  16. ….very flexible.

    ….”adjust to taste”

    Ari Enkin

  17. The earliest origin that I know of for the “harachaman” prayers is the Tur.

    Shmuel:

    The Rambam has Harachamans.

  18. AA-I ate lunch one Shabbos about 30 years ago with Rav Ilson (then I think still in the kollel) who benched. To my recollection, he did not say “krovim la’ir” and he said the Rav didn’t say it. This is all hazy, but I believe my memory is correct.

  19. For those interested, the mareh makom in Machzor Vitri is: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=33694&st=&pgnum=117

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