The Mishna in Berachot 54a discusses the blessing of "ha-tov v'ha-meitiv," whereby we praise Hashem for being good and for doing good. According to the mishna, this blessing is recited upon hearing good news. The gemara on 59b elaborates a bit on when exactly this blessing is to be said. The overall principle is that one says recites this blessing in a situation where they benefit and someone else benefits as well, thus interpreting the blessing as meaning that "Hashem is good to me and does good to others as well." By way of example, the gemara states that this blessing should be said by a farmer when rain falls after it had not fallen for a while (whereby both he and those who rely on his crops benefit), by a man whose wife gives birth to a son (whereby both partners in the marriage benefit), and by a person who has just been informed that he stands to receive an inheritance (the assumption being that he has brothers who will gain as well).

The last case mentioned in the gemara is that a person makes this blessing when he is eating a meal and is brought a second type of wine to drink. We know from Tehillim 104 that "wine makes the hearts of men happy," and thus the law is that when a person has the good fortune to enjoy various wines in one meal, provided that he is sharing this meal with others who can be happy with him, he praises Hashem for his good lot. Our focus this week will be on the particulars of this blessing - why do we say it specifically on wine, and what are the details of the law?

The main question is why this law applies only to wine. While there are those (most notable Ra'avad) that suggest that perhaps it should be said on bread as well, the majority of opinions, and the rulings of all decisors in this matter, state that only wine engenders an obligation to make this blessing. Why is this so? Tosafot bring one answer to this question. They claim that wine has two things going for it ("tartei l'tivuta"). The first is that it can have the halachic status of a meal, i.e. one can be koveiah se'udah (establish their meal) through wine (see Chabura on Kiddush B'makom Se'udah). While this is true for bread as well, wine has the added feature that it makes one happy, as per the verse that we cited above. Rosh cites several further possibilities as to why wine is special. First, he refers to an earlier gemara in Berachot (35a), which states that wine is special because it is the only food on which "shira," song is recited. This refers to the fact that the only time that the Levites in the Temple sang while a sacrifice was being offered was when wine was being poured on the altar. The second reason given by Rosh is that wine is special since, alone among all drinks, it has its own set of blessings (Borei Pri Hagefen and Me-eyn Shalosh). Finally, he refers back to the original institution of ha-tov v'ha-meitiv. Approximately sixty years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the last Jewish forces in Israel were massacred in the city of Beitar. The Jews who survived this catastrophe were not permitted to bury the bodies for seven years. When they were finally allowed to do so, they found that the bodies had been preserved and had not decomposed a bit. Thus, the sages in Yavneh instituted this blessing, praising Hashem for allowing the bodies to come to burial and for preventing them from decomposing. According to Rav Yitzchak HaLevi, the people in the area were able to fertilize their vineyards with the blood of those murdered for all seven years, thus providing one connection between this blessing and wine. Aside from that, the mere resemblance of blood to wine provides us with a reason to connect the two based on this incident. Finally, Rav Akiva Eiger quotes Rabbeinu Bechaye, who claims that since the destruction of the Temple we are supposed to minimize our amount of joy. By drinking wine, we break out of that state of decreased happiness, and thus this action deserves a blessing to praise Hashem for granting us this extra bit of happiness despite the darkness of exile.

That said, we now discuss the particulars of this law. This first issue is exactly when one says ha-tov v'ha-meitiv. This question leads to major debate amongst the Rishonim. Rashi, Rashbam (Pesachim 101a) and the Yerushalmi claim that this blessing is only recited when the second wine that is brought is of a better quality than the first, but not if they are equal or of the second one is worse. Rabbeinu Tam grants a little more leeway, claiming that as long as the second wine is at least as good as the first, this blessing can be made. Ritva explains the view of Rabbeinu Tam as being motivated by the fact that the blessing is made as a result of the multitude of good that has befallen the individual, and thus as long as the wine is good, the blessing should be said. In a similar vein, Tosafot quote a view that states that this blessing is said for every new barrel of wine that is opened, seemingly without regard to the relative qualities of the wines. Rambam (Hil. Berachot 4:9) expands this even further, stating that one recites this blessing over any change in wine from one type to another during the course of a meal (Shulchan Aruch states that two wines are considered to be of different types if they were fermented separately within the first forty days after pressing. However, if wine in a barrel was split into separate barrels after forty days, they are considered to be the same type of wine for our purposes here). As broad as this statement is, the Kesef Mishna qualifies it a bit by writing that while Rambam would allow one to make this blessing even if the second wine were of an inferior quality to the first, if it was drastically inferior, then one would not say this blessing.

Following this issue through the Poskim, the Tur merely rules that one says this blessing when brought new wine during the course of a meal (this includes opening a new bottle that had been on the table from the beginning). The Beit Yoseif, consistent with his statement in the Kesef Mishna, rules that as the long as the second is not significantly worse that the first, the blessing may be recited. He also notes that it appears that Rambam rules not to make the blessing even if the second wine is better, so long as they are of the same type of wine. In the end, he rules that the blessing may be said as long as one does not know for sure that the second wine is worse (and such is his ruling in the Shulchan Aruch and the ruling of Bach). The Beit Yoseif also quotes a statement by the Mordechai that if the second wine is a white wine, one should always say this blessing, even if it is of inferior quality, since white wine is healthier for a person and thus there is a certain inherent degree of divine goodness contained within it.

The second main issue concerns saying the blessing in a group. As we noted at the beginning of this Chabura, ha-tov v'ha-meitiv is a blessing that is said only when more than one person is benefiting, and thus it is only said when one is eating with others. The main question is how many people actually have to say the blessing - can one person say it for all of the others, and they will fulfill their obligation by saying Amen (as by other blessings) or does each person have to say it for themselves? A strong case is made for the first position, the logic being that if each person says the blessing to themselves, then they are as if they drank separately, and thus they are no longer obligated to recite this blessing. Conversely, those in favor of each person saying it for themselves argue that so long as everyone drank together the communal aspect of the blessing is still there. Furthermore, if one person says it for everyone else, there is the worry that he may say it while others are drinking or eating, and they will place themselves in danger by trying to say Amen while swallowing (a situation that does not exist if each person says it for themselves, since they can take care to clear their mouths before saying anything). Rav Yechiel MiParis also notes the universal nature of the blessing, saying that each person can say it for himself since the main point is that the blessing refers to something that several people derived enjoyment from, which is in fact the case. Both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch allow each person to make the blessing for themselves, although the Tur notes that if the parties had gathered together only to drink (and not to eat), then one should make the blessing for the others. Aruch HaShulchan claims that this is due to the principle of "b'rov am hadrat melech" - that things done with a multitude of people constitute a greater honor for the King (Hashem). As a side point, the Be'er Heitev cites the Ginat Veradim, who claims that if two people are eating together and only one had wine, and then a second wine is brought and they both drink from it, no blessing is made since only one of them has an obligation to recite it. However, if the non-drinker decided to have both wines once both were out on the table then the blessing can be said.

Stemming from this issue is an interesting debate concerning an alleged statement of Rif. Mordechai claims that Rif holds that a guest or a person staying at an inn do not make this blessing, since they do not have a share in the wine (in the sense of being partners in its ownership). However, this statement is not found in older versions of the Mordechai, and the Beit Yoseif claims that Rif never wrote such a thing. Bach rails against the Beit Yoseif, claiming that the intention of Rif is to say that a guest cannot say the blessing, since he cannot say that Hashem did him good (since he does not own the wine), but that the owner of the house can say the blessing and the guest must answer Amen to it. The Be'er Heitev resolves by advising the owner of the house to inform the guest that he now has a share in the wine, thus making everyone at the table obligated to recite the blessing.

A few minor concluding points. First, Beit Yoseif quotes a Rabbeinu Klonimus who claims that since this blessing is a "birchat ha-shevach," a blessing of praise, it can be recited even after one drinks, unlike by blessings said on eating or on mitzvot, which are said before the fact. Beit Yoseif disagrees with this position, but both the Darchei Moshe and the Perisha claim that it may be said after drinking, with the Perisha reasoning that one will be even more inclined to praise Hashem after having drunk.

Magen Avraham notes that Ra'avad and Mahari Weil say that one should not make this blessing if one has finished the first wine that he had. The author of the Netivot is doubtful as to the law in this case, but the Radvaz explains that if there is no more of the first wine remaining, that means that the second wine is being brought out due to thirst and thus would not require a blessing. However, if the first wine is still around, then the second wine is being brought out for the purpose of having more wine and thus one would say ha-tov v'ha-meitiv. Ramo claims that one can say this blessing on the second wine even if the first had been removed from the table, although if both were present from the beginning then there is no need to say it.

The Sha'arei Teshuva cites the Mahari Molcho who claims that if one pours the second wine into a cup containing some of the first wine then the blessing may be said as long as the second wine is the majority. The Sha'arei Teshuva argues and states that everything goes by taste and thus as long as the second wine provides the taste to the mixture ha-tov v'ha-meitiv may be said.

Finally, we come to the case where ha-tov v'ha-meitiv is overruled. If a person is presented with two wines, a superior wine and an inferior wine, at the start of the meal, Mordechai rules that he should not drink the inferior wine first just so that he can then say ha-tov v'ha-meitiv. Rather, the concept of "chaviv" is invoked. This is a general concept in the laws of blessings that states that the first criteria in making blessings is that one begins with that which he prefers. Thus in this case, the superior wine comes first and ha-tov v'ha-meitiv is not said.

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