“No flour, no Torah; no Torah, no flour.” – Pirkei Avot 3:21
When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. – Deuteronomy 8:10
Reciting the Birkat Ha-Mazon after eating a meal with bread is an ancient Jewish practice. Our Sages determined that it is a mitzvah d’oraita (biblically commanded) from the verse, When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you (Deut 8:10). Like blessing the bread before the meal, the Birkat Ha-Mazon afterwards raises the satisfaction of a physical craving into the realm of the spirit as the table becomes the family altar. The prayer not only expresses gratefulness for the food, but also binds us together by expressing gratitude to God’s mercy and compassion towards the Jewish people and hope for a blessed future (Klein 1988).
Like any prayer that we say often, it may be difficult to fully focus on the blessings said after a meal, especially when we feel full and no longer in need of food to curb our hunger. Elevating our expression of gratitude for the food we have eaten above the circumstances of the actual meal reminds us of what we are saying and to whom it is directed. Rabbi Ba, the son of Rav Hiyya bar Abba, teaches: If one ate while walking, one must stand and bless. If one ate standing, one must sit and bless. If one ate sitting, one must recline and bless. If one ate reclining, one must enwrap and bless. If one has done this, one is indeed like the ministering angels (JT Ber 7:5).
The Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria’s understanding of the purpose of eating until full elevates blessing after a meal through mystical consciousness: “…every object or physical being owes its existence to a holy spark buried within it. Man’s soul inhabits his body and derives nourishment from the food he eats as well as from the Torah he studies and the good deeds he performs. A person eats. His body extracts the vitamins and minerals it needs, but that does not keep him alive, for if his soul were to leave him, he would be no more animate than rocks and sand. His soul extracts the spark of holiness within the food and that maintains life.”
We bake and we eat until we are full because of the good land given through God’s goodness. Let us give thanks whole-heartedly in return.
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