A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
23 Av 5758/ August 14-15, 1998
This week's portion includes the verse upon which is based the obligation to recite the
Grace After Meals.
The text reads "and you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God upon
the land which is good." (Deuteronomy 8:10) The Talmud understands the
first words "and you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord your God" as
the obligation to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God after eating. The phrase
"upon the land" instructs us to add a blessing of thanksgiving to God for giving
us the land of Israel. And the words, "which is good" are taken to
mean that an additional blessing thanking God for Jerusalem, the goodly spiritual center
of the Land, is included as a third blessing. Here is the Biblical basis for the
first three blessings of the Grace: Hazan - the blessing for food, Al Ha-Aretz - the
blessing for the land, U'vnei Yerushalayim - the blessing for Jerusalem. (Berachot 48b)
The question arises: Thanking God for food is completely understandable, but why include
blessings for Israel and Jerusalem?
It can be suggested that not only are we thanking God for the food that we've eaten, but
we are also expressing confidence that food will be provided in the future. The
place where this confidence is highest is in Israel where we are governed by Jews, not in
the Diaspora where we are not. In the Diaspora, we can never be sure of the way we
will be treated in the future, hence we can never be certain where the next morsel will
Lest we think that the focus of Israel is only land,
the physical protection of Jews, we add the blessing of Jerusalem, symbolic of the
spirituality of Israel so necessary for its survival. A land without a spiritual
mission is the equivalent of a body without a soul.
The Talmud adds that the rabbis introduced a fourth blessing (Ha-Tov U'Mativ) in which we
recall that even after the destruction of the second Temple, a period of devastation, Jews
expressed thanks to God for allowing the bodies of those who fell in the rebellion against
Rome to be returned. Miraculously the remains were intact. To this we add a
sentences that deals with the hope that the Messiah soon come.
Extraordinary: In expressing gratitude to God for food we recount the basic themes that
have carved out Jewish destiny and our dreams for the future - Israel, Jerusalem, exile
and the hopes of ultimate redemption.
Taste of Torah
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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