It has actually happened, countless times. Someone called to the Torah has said the wrong b’rachah – not asher bachar banu but hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, borei p’ri hagafen or even al achilat maror.
Clearly, instinct – or what the Talmud calls girsa d’yankuta, the knowledge acquired as a child (Shab. 21b) – has been at work. Saying a b’rachah – even the wrong one – is second nature to a Jew. It’s good that b’rachot learned in childhood later come so naturally.
Who established the blessings? The Mishnah lays down which b’rachot to say and when; the words of the b’rachot are from a mosaic of sources; but the concept originates in this week’s sidra, where we read, “You shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:10).
Though this verse commands us to bless God after eating, the sages say, “If when a person is full he blesses God, how much more so should he say a blessing when he is hungry, has food in front of him and is about to eat!” (Ber. 48b).
Pinchas Peli offers a helpful analysis of the significance of the b’rachot. They express thanksgiving, he says, but they go much further. The b’rachah “is the ingenious rabbinic way of bestowing significance on day-to-day, moment-to-moment events of life…
“Eating, drinking, meeting a friend after a long separation, receiving good or bad news, watching a thunderstorm, seeing the ocean – these and many other events are transformed by the b’rachah that is recited over them into a reminder of who we are and what we are doing in relation to God. The b’rachah pulls us out of lingering apathy, makes us feel alive every minute of our life.”
Jeffrey M Cohen says, “Blessings are a blessing. Through the medium of its brief b’rachot formulae Judaism enables us to express a momentary flush of spiritual wonderment as a response to all the varied experiences of life.”
This is the Jewish concept of holiness – as Hertz says, “not so much an abstract or a mystic idea, as a regulative principle in the everyday lives of men and women…
“Holiness is attained not by flight from the world, nor by monk-like renunciation of human relationships of family or station, but by the spirit in which we fulfil the obligations of life in its simplest and commonest details: in this way is everyday life transfigured”.