We noted the following in our conclusion then:
‘As regards what you observed at the simcha you attended, the individual you mentioned lost out on a great kibbud: At any meal where a minimum of ten men participate, the invitation to join in the Grace After Meals is recited with Hashem’s Name, Nevarech Elokeinu. Imagine the feeling of the host if out of the large crowd of invitees fewer than ten had bothered to wash!’
But let us now turn to the discussion.
Indeed, the proper manner to begin a meal is to wash the hands (netilat yadayim) in order to say the blessing of Hamotzi, which then serves as the blessing for all foods eaten at the meal – except wine, for which the beracha of Borei pri hagafen is to be recited – for bread is the foundation of the meal. If one does not recite the blessing over bread, one is required to say a separate blessing for each food that is served.
The following passage in Tractate Berachot (42a) might help us understand the principle involved:
R. Huna ate thirteen rolls (cakes) of three to a kab (a very small measure) without saying a blessing [Grace After Meals]. R. Nahman remarked: This is [a sufficient quantity] to satisfy hunger! (It is not just dessert, and therefore requires Grace After Meals. R. Nahman is consistent with his own view, for he said:) Anything which others make the mainstay of a meal requires Birkat Hamazon afterwards.
The Gemara then relates that R. Yehuda gave a wedding feast for his son in the house of R. Yehuda b. Habiba. They (the waiters) set before the guests “pat haba’ah be[k]isanin,” bread such as is served for dessert. (R. Chananel describes them as pockets of dough filled with sugar, almonds and nuts.) When R. Yehuda arrived, he heard the guests recite Hamotzi. He remarked [derisively, because he did not consider it the proper blessing]: What is this “tzitzi” that I hear? Are you perhaps saying the blessing of Hamotzi? They replied: Indeed, such is the case, for we have been taught in a baraita that R. Muna said in the name of R. Yehuda that “bread served with dessert” requires the blessing of Hamotzi, and R. Shmuel said that the halacha is as stated by R. Muna. R. Yehuda said: [It has been stated that] the halacha is not as stated by R. Muna. They retorted: Is it not the Master himself who has said in the name of Shmuel that bread wafers may be used for an eruv (meaning, they are considered substantial food) and the blessing recited over them is Hamotzi? [To which R. Yehuda replied:] In that instance the case was different, for they had based the meal on it (kava se’uda], whereas here
it does not apply because it was not the mainstay of the meal.
This Gemara is the basis for our halacha, and so rules R. Yosef Caro (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 168:6): For cake we say the blessing of Borei minei mezonot and conclude with the beracha [acharona] of Me’ein shalosh. However, if one ate a quantity that would usually serve as the mainstay of a meal for other people, he blesses Hamotzi and recites Birkat Hamazon even if he was not satiated. (This applies if he intended to eat such a quantity – whether or not it is sufficient for him.) However, if a person intended to eat a small quantity and [therefore] recited Borei minei mezonot, but ended up eating a larger quantity (the norm that usually serves as a meal), he recites the Grace After Meals even though he did not bless Hamotzi. Consequently, if he ate less than the quantity upon which others base a meal, he blesses “Borei minei mezonot” and concludes with “Me’ein shalosh” even if he considered it a meal for himself, since we follow the norm established by the population at large.
When asked a question on this matter, my uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, quoted the Gemara in Tractate Shabbos (62b) where R. Abahu states that three things bring man to poverty (aniyut) – one of which is eating without washing the hands.
My uncle remarked that there is an easy way to remember it with the acronym “ani” (poor) formed by the words “al netilat yadayim.”
He then quoted the Gemara in Sotah (4b), which is apparently more severe in its description of the punishment for violating this mitzva: R. Zerika said in the name of R. Eleazar, Whoever makes light of washing the hands will be uprooted from the world (i.e., death). Tosafot ad loc. (s.v. Ne’ekar min ha’olam) point out the inconsistency between these two statements and reconcile them by noting that poverty can be worse than [a swift] death.
Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayyim 168:18) decries what had become a practice in his days (and that is much more so the case in our days):
Many of our Gedolim are angry at the custom that has spread on festive occasions to set up tables laden with fish dishes and meat dishes (namely, smorgasbords) and “pat haba’ah be[k]isanin.” People eat without washing the hands, and without the blessing of Hamotzi or Birkat Hamazon. Instead, they recite “Borei minei mezonot” and conclude with “Al hamichya.” They consume a large quantity of these cake-like bread items and there is no doubt that it requires washing the hands, as well as Hamotzi and Grace After Meals … And even if they do not eat these, but eat several courses of the other dishes, they are required to wash the hands …
Indeed, recently I was at the bar mitzva kiddush of my nephew, Michael Davidson, which was held in the Ave. N Jewish Center in Brooklyn, NY, where they have a fine rule. They set out on the table challot so that all may wash, thus avoiding this problem.