Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetzei| 5766
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Question: We have developed a diagnostic tool that works as follows. After a full fast of several hours, one drinks a tasteless powder dissolved in a cup of water. A few minutes later, he breathes into a special machine that detects if various organs are working healthily. Does one make a beracha before and/or after drinking the water? Can he drink a little, regular water first to remove the doubt regarding the beracha?
Answer: The gemara (Berachot 35a) says that we must make a beracha before eating, because one may not benefit from the world before thanking Hashem. However, Chazal,who instituted the specific rules and texts of berachot, did so regarding specific types of benefit. For the type of benefits that one receives from food, there are berachot. For medicinal benefits, no berachot were instituted (Berachot 36a).
The main benefit of food responsible for its berachot is its taste (the poskim call it hana’at hacheich, benefit of the palate). Because of the beracha-related importance of taste, if one eats a food for medicinal reasons but also has taste enjoyment from it, he recites the food’s regular beracha (ibid.). Water is an exception to the rule in this regard, because it is assumed to lack a positive taste. So why do we ever make a beracha on water?
The mishna (ibid. 44a) says that one recites a beracha on water when he drinks it to quench his thirst. The gemara (ibid. 44b) says that this is as opposed to a case where one drinks to rinse down something that is caught in his throat. The gemara does not say what happens if one drinks water not because of thirst and not to get something out of his throat but for another reason. However, the poskim’s consensus is that only if the water acts to quench thirst does one make a beracha (Biur Halacha on Orach Chayim 204:7)HaHH. Therefore, if one drinks water to swallow a pill he does not make a beracha before or after drinking (Pitchei Halacha, Berachot p. 135). (We cannot get into all the cases where poskim discuss whether the need to drink water fits into the category of thirst or not.)
Generally, quenching thirst regarding water is parallel to providing taste for food. Therefore, it is logical that if one drinks water for medicinal purposes but also is thirsty, then he does make a beracha, as the Mishna Berura (204:41) confirms. However, the difference between water and a tasty food or drink is as follows. When a tasty food is taken for medicinal purposes, our standard assumption is that he will have taste benefit as well. However, the standard assumption is that if one is not aware of being thirsty, the medicinal drinking of water will not provide the type of thirst benefit that warrants a beracha (see Mishna Berura ibid.:40).
In your case, the water with powder is drunk for medicinal purposes (it makes no difference whether it is therapeutic or diagnostic). However, since the people being tested fast for several hours before drinking, one can assume that they are thirsty as well. Thus, unless one notes that he is not thirsty, he should make a beracha before and after drinking the water. If one is not sure about the matter, he cannot solve the problem by your suggestion of drinking water before. This is because water drunk in order to solve a halachic problem is not water for thirst and does not get a beracha (Biur Halacha, ibid.). This is, in general, important to remember. Often, a person does not know what beracha to make on a food and wants to solve the problem by making Shehakol on water and covering the food in question. Based on what we have seen, if he is not thirsty, that beracha on the water is itself a beracha l’vatala (a valueless beracha,which is forbidden to make). If those being tested are allowed to eat a small amount of something else, that would be a way of removing doubt. After the test, one can drink as much as he wants to remove doubt about a beracha afterward. However, in most cases, one can confidently make the berachot.
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