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Eikev 5782 - You Are What You Eat: Birkat HaMazon

Friday, August 19, 2022

After Shabbat lunch on Saturday mornings, we recite Birkat HaMazon. As slowly as we sing it, it is often too fast to get in all of the words. At the same time, even with the abbreviated version we use at Agudath Achim, I have heard quite a few people groan about how long it takes to get through our prayer after eating. Even with all the length of Birkat HaMazon, the commandment to bless after eating comes from a single line in Parashat Eikev (Deuteronomy 8:10) - *sing*

וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃

And you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless Adonai your God for this good land that God has given to you.

We can see this one verse as a couple of different commandments: First - You shall eat, and you shall be satisfied. When you eat, eat enough that you don’t feel hungry, regardless of the numbers on the scale. Eat the amount and type of food that will make you feel physically and emotionally good. If something is getting in the way of you having enough food to eat, and then, enjoying that food, you must do everything in your power to return to eating with satisfaction. That includes asking for help, whether medical, financial, or emotional. 

Second - you shall bless Adonai your God for this good land. In the Jewish tradition, before and after eating, we thank God for the food we eat. As we have spoken about here before, those simple steps of thinking about the specific category of food blessing, grabbing a siddur to help, and saying the words on the page gives us time to reflect on the power and origin of the food we put in our bodies. Only thanks to our farmers, factory workers, grocery store clerks, and of course, our God, our bodies are able to turn food into nutrients, flesh, and energy. We are what we eat, but we certainly don’t get there on our own. When we practice food blessings, we not only fulfill a commandment from our God, but also, we practice the vocabulary of gratitude that we should use towards everyone who affects our lives each day.

Although the traditional Jewish blessings that come before we eat are brief and accessible, Birkat HaMazon, the blessing we eat after bread, can remain more challenging. [Later] onight, I’d like to share my own English interpretation of Birkat HaMazon that you are welcome to adopt, to share, to borrow from, and to adjust to your own experience of food and of God:

Even as God has done such good for us, may God impress us more each day.

Then, shall we be moved to praise God with every word and action.

In the embrace of Jewish community, may God’s name feel sweet upon our lips.

Just as God has sustained us today, God sustains all creatures, converting food into an infinite variety of life and love. May God continue to sustain us, our community, and our fellow Creations.

Thank you, God, for the holidays that let us celebrate with food and family. Thank you for the history that has brought us to the plenty we have enjoyed today.

As we take comfort in this Shabbat day, may we remember our duty not only to receive, but to give, as well. May you guide us and teach us how to observe this Shabbat, how to best praise you, and how to contribute to the many hands and lands who brought us this food.

Barukh atah Adonai, al ha-aretz v’al ha-mazon. Blessed are you Adonai, upon the land and upon the sustenance. 

As much good as we experience today, may You, God heal our heartbreak and bring us true peace. Barukh atah Adonai, bonei v’rahamav Y’rushalayim. Blessed are you Adonai, who builds and has mercy for Jerusalem.

God of every name - our Parent, our Ruler, our Creator, our Sustainer, never cease the blessings you provide us. May our Merciful One always be present, ruling over us, blessing and enjoying blessings, granting us all the resources we need, and giving great good to the hosts of our meal.

May the One who enacts peace in God’s high places make peace upon us and all Israel. Adonai gives great strength to God’s people, through wisdom, through justice, and through the food we eat. 

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru, Amen. Adonai oz l’amo yitein, Adonai y’varekh at amo vashalom.

Thu, April 18 2024 10 Nisan 5784