This week's Dvar Torah is in loving memory of Doniel ben Myrom Chaim
In this week’s portion the Torah tell us: "You will eat and be satisfied, and thank G-d" (Deut. 8:10). The Talmud (Brochos 48a) derives from this the requirement for birchas hamazon — grace after meals.
This is one of only two blessings (the other being the morning blessing said before Torah study) that are Biblically mandated (the other blessings we make on food and on commandments are Rabbinical in nature).
What is the purpose of a brocha — blessing?
When we make a brocha, we are recognizing G-d as the ultimate source. The first words of a blessing are boruch atah — G-d, who is blessed, i.e., the source of blessing (although many translate boruch atah as "blessed are you G-d", it is a difficult, though legitimate, concept that we would need to bless G-d. The opinion of the majority of the commentators is that boruch atah translates as "G-d who is source of blessing", as opposed to "blessed are you G-d").
When we acknowledge G-d as the ultimate source, we open ourselves to receive that for which we are asking, be it food, health, or livelihood. This elevates a physical act, such as eating, from mundane to sacred; it is an opportunity to make a connection with G-d. This is also why the Rabbis decreed that we make a brocha preceding observance of a mitzva. It enables us to focus on why we do the mitzvah — we do it because it is a direct mandate from G-d, and through this understanding, we "open the tunnels", so to speak, to receive His goodness.
What is so unique about the blessing after food, that this brocha is Biblically mandated?
Rabbi Sholom Kamenetsky explains this as follows: When, logically, does a person beseech G-d for his personal needs? When he needs something. The Biblical mandate to make a brocha before eating is not necessary (the Rabbis mandated blessings when they saw people were not acknowledging G-d as the source of blessing on their own) as it is only logical. However, it is much more difficult to recognize G-d as the source after one has been sated.
Therefore, it is at this moment when we are required to do so. Precisely when we are most susceptible to not appreciating G-d’s goodness are we to acknowledge it. This is true of all bounty. Are we as quick to thank G-d for prosperity as we are to ask Him for help when we need it? Are we as quick to thank Him for good health as we are to pray to Him when we are sick?
G-d relates to us a father does to a child, and is desirous that we request what we need of Him when we need it. But just as a father does not only want to hear from a child when money is needed, but wants to have a relationship at all times, good and bad, so too should we strive to relate to G-d.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.