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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

One Brachah from the #Torah – It’s in #Ekev

Posted by rabbiart on August 7, 2009

Readers may know that – in Halachic thought – there is a great divide between mitzvot on the Torah level – d’oraita – and mitzvot that are ordained by the rabbis – d’rabbanan. We also have the teaching to say a minimum of 100 brachot a day. Most of this threshold can be reached by davening three times a day, or even twice a day. Obviously, the saying of brachot cannot be commanded from the Torah, cannot be d’oraita because that form of worship did not exist at the time of the Torah, regardless of one’s point of view on when and how the Torah came into being.The one exception to the rule stated above is Bircat HaMazon the brachah of sustenance (aka Grace after Meals). The commandment to say Bircat HaMazon is understood to derive from a passuk in our parsha this week.

וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ–וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ

When you eat you will be satisfied, and you should bless HaShem your G-d for the land G-d has given you. (Devarim 8:10)

Rambam (and Sefer HaHinuch) articulate the brachah as being specifically Bircat HaMazon, but the commandment is also understood to encompass a variety of brachot that we say, depending on the type of food we are about to eat, or have just finished eating.

The definition of what it means to be “satisfied” by food is compelling, and also demonstrates why our sages and those who follow them should never need to diet, or go to the club to work off calories, or follow any kind of weight maintenance program.  “Satisfaction” (which by the way, we know, Mick Jagger was never able to achieve, but that’s another song for another time) is achieved by eating the equivalent of the amount of an egg (liquid) or the amount of an olive (solid food). (See Sefer HaHinuch in English Translation Volume 4, page 318 (Feldheim Publishers) for references to commentary on Rambam’s Hilchot Brachot.

Because the verse mentions the land HaShem has given us, we might be moved to ponder whether this set of obligations only pertains to people living in the Biblically described land of Israel at a time when the land of Israel is occupied according to the mandate of the Torah. (And not a political state founded by mostly agnostic refugees from Eastern Europe and whose perhaps most well-known citizen appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but that is yet another discussion for another time).

Ponder as we might, the accepted interpretation is that this commandment is in force everywhere for all times without regard to the existence of a Jewish homeland for Jewish people.  For those of us who practice equality of women (count me in, please!), the commandment applies equally to women as well as to men.  From the halachic point of view, there is also no question that – d’rabbanan – the commandment applies to women as well as men.  For men, the commandment is considered to be d’oraita – from the Torah. For women, there is a dispute among the Talmudic sages whether the obligation stems from the Torah or is only a rabbinic enactment, but either way, women and men are both obligated to say Bircat HaMazon and other food-related blessings.

Moving on, we might wonder also about the purpose of this bracha.  Why not start by quoting that great moral authority Bill Cosby, who said, “Man does not live by bread alone…. he must have peanut butter!” But seriously, this set of brachah practices serves to remind us that, no matter how successful we are (or think we are), no matter how self-sufficent we are (or think we are), food does not arrive on our table only through our own efforts.  Many, many people (and in our community, people who are most likely much less fortunate than we are) work to grow, produce and deliver food to our tables, just as many, many people are involved in the work that produces our financial ability (may it always be so) to have food on our table.

Why say these brachot?  In one word – gratitude!

Shabbat Shalom

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