August 17, 2022
Sanctification of food and eating is an important part of Jewish practice. Of course there are blessings we say prior to eating. We also recite a longer blessing, Birkat HaMazon, at the end of meals. Mazon is the Hebrew word for food or sustenance.
A section of the Birkat HaMazon comes from this week’s Torah portion, Eikev.
כַּכָּתוּב, וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ, וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ עַל הָאָֽרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָֽתַן לָךְ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, עָל הָאָֽרֶץ וְעַל הַמָּזוֹן.
“As it is written: When you have eaten and are satisfied, give praise to your God who has given you this good earth. We praise You, O God, for the earth and for its sustenance.” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
The order of actions here is instructive, pointing to an important spiritual principle. After we have eaten, when our belly is full, and we are satisfied (meaning there is no more hunger and desire), that is when we give praise. Further we are not praising God for the food itself, but for the land–the foundational source from which the food comes.
When we are in a state of longing, we are much more aware of our need for God. Conversely, when we are comfortable, we are vulnerable to “forgetting” the source from which our very comfort and security comes. It is easy to mistake this kind of comfort as arising from our own agency. We may think to ourselves, “I bought the food (or grew it). I prepared it. I nourished myself by eating it.” But the truth is, without the continuous flow of blessings from the Holy One, the experience of being sated would not be possible.
Our sages also teach that when we are hungry it is difficult to give our full attention to the longer blessings which make up the Birkat HaMazon. As such we recite a very short blessing prior to eating. Then, when we are content and no longer craving, we are able to settle into ourselves. From this place we give gratitude for all we have. We elevate the Holy One with blessing and praise.
There is another element which can add to our sense of contentment when we eat–sharing food together in community. Not only are we fulfilled physically through nutrition and hydration, we are also fulfilled emotionally and spiritually when we break bread together.
We will have a wonderful opportunity to eat and be satisfied, on many levels at our upcoming Back to Shul celebration on August 28th. The Kosher Deli Luncheon is back. We’ll have the opportunity to nosh, to schmooze, and to visit with many people we have not seen in a long time.
Let us eat together, in person. Let us gather together, in person. In community, we will be satisfied and we will share this beautiful blessing.