In this week’s parasha, we read the underpinnings of the prayer we know as birkat hamazon, the blessing for food recited after the meal. The profound logic of the rabbis is unmistakable – they truly understood human nature – that we are more apt to pray when hungry than when sated. We recite short blessings before we consume food, but it is after we eat that we bless G”d as the Torah instructs in this parasha:
וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ--וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ.
V’akhalta, v’savata-u’v’rakhta et Ad”nai El”hekha,
You shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Ad”nai, your G”d for the good land which was given to you.
The actual Birkat HaMazon that was constructed based on these verse is an extensive blessing that covers a wide range of things for which should give thanks to G”d. (While most Reform Jews generally recite a condensed version of the full Birkat HaMazon, it’s still a much longer blessing than those recited before eating. As an aside, that’s been one of my pet peeves at camp this summer. I can recall, the last time I worked at camp, that, at least once on Shabbat, the full Birkat HaMazon was recited. Seems even that tradition is gone and we’re left with only the “Birkat HaMazon Reformi” as I have come to call it. Sure, there’s troubling text in the full Birkat, yet, just as “m’khayei hameitim” has been restored as an option in the new Reform Mishkan T’filah siddur, surely our children need to know the full text before they can mindfully choose what to include and what to exclude.)
In recent years, there have been attempts to reduce the Birkat HaMazon to its essence of “v’alkhata, v’savata-u’v’rakhta.” (There already exists an abridged Birkat in an Aramaic rabbinic formulation known as the “b’rirkh Rakhamana” to be used in emergency situations.) There’s only one problem in doing this – we neglect the remainder of the verse of Torah. It is for the “good land” that we offer the blessing.
The Torah is clearly referring to the promised land. However, we do not have to be beholden to such a limited understanding. The “good land” might just as well be the “good planet.” It is truly a miracle that this planet has all that we need to sustain ourselves. Unfortunately, this bounty has a tendency to make us lazy and less caring. We figure there’s always more than we need. We are quickly discovering that this is only true if we take proper care of the natural balance of this good planet.
It is also an unfortunate reality that this planet’s bounty is not equitably distributed. If there is reason to seek true world peace, this is it. After all, this inequitable distribution is responsible for a lot of the wars, conflicts, and problems we experience as a species.
At first I thought that perhaps we needed to add another piece to the original Torah text that calls upon us not to just eat, be sated, and bless, but to also share that blessing. Then I realize that, in a way, this is already in the text of the verse – in the neglected “for the good land that has been given to you.” We need to rethink our understanding of these words, and of the Birkat HaMazon, to be sure to remind us of the necessity of sharing the blessings. As we say at Pesakh, let all who are hungry come and eat. would that we made these words a daily reality for all.
Ken y’hi ratson. Ken y’hi ratsoneinu.
©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester