The Kosher Bookworm: Benching with grace


According to the teachings of Rav Kook, while most blessings are of rabbinic origin, one of the most popular ones is to be found in this week’s parsha, Eikev, the Grace After Meals - Birkat HaMazon.

This mitzvah comes from the verse, “When you eat and are satisfied, you must bless the L-rd your G-d…” [Devarim 8:10; Ein Eyah vol.1, page 103].

This blessing is further described by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his teachings as the “Mother of all blessings” inasmuch as it is in reality a grouping of various thematic blessings that are said after the performance of the eating act.

Inasmuch as everyone has to eat, it should come as no surprise that one of the most popular liturgical works of our faith is the bencher, the booklet containing the Birkat HaMazon and related liturgical works, specifically designed in format and size to be used at the dinner table. Whether it be at home, or at a festive occasion, the bencher is ever present for the convenience of those who had partaken of a meal with bread.

This popularity has, as a result, generated a plethora of benchers reflecting varied asthetic and ideological tastes.

Among some of the most recently published benchers is “The Koren Birkon” with an introduction and translation by British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

In his learned introduction, Rabbi Sacks teaches us that we should learn from the benching experience and Moshe’s command that, “the great danger to the soul is not poverty but affluence, not persecution but freedom. When Jews are poor, they thanked G-d. When they become rich, they stopped doing so. When Jews were persecuted, they stayed Jews. When they found freedom, they lost their identity. Moshe warned the Israelites that it was not the wilderness years that were the trial of faith. It would be having a land, a home, security and ease.” Rabbi Sacks then links this rather severe observation to a brief but telling analysis of the relevant verses mandating the Birkat HaMazon.

According to Rabbi Sacks, “Moshe sets out the point in two passages, both of which contain the phrase, ‘eat and be satisfied.’

“The first: ‘When the L-rd your G-d brings you into the land He promised to your fathers… with large flourishing cities you did not build, houses full of all good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful not to forget the L-rd who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ [Devarim 6:10-12].

“The second: ‘When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land He has given you.’

“That is the choice: to eat and forget, or to eat and remember. Giving thanks is what saves us from the decadence of affluence.”

Although this work does not contain a detailed commentary, it is designed for practical use at the table, for Shabbat, festivals as well as for weekdays. Its layout, using the classic Koren Hebrew typeset makes it, text wise, one of the most attractive benchers on the market today.

Till next week, then, hearty appetite, and don’t forget to bench.