By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I would like to share with you my family’s joy in the wedding this past week of our son Elisha with Jordana Swigard, an amazing girl from a wonderful family who are pillars of the Jewish community in Seattle. Mazel tov.
It’s very difficult to try to describe in words the emotions, after pouring two decades of love and caring and effort into a child, to stand under the chupah with them and be part of the culmination of all that growth — at the same time celebrating a new beginning and a new existence where all one’s teaching and praying and hoping will take on a life of its own.
The best way to share in the Simcha is to share with you some words of Torah that I offered under the chupah that night.
The recent Torah portion, Ekev, delivers one of the most cherished mitzvos that affects our lives daily, the mitzvah of birkat hamazon, the grace recited after a bread meal, commonly known by its Yiddish name of benching. “You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your God, for the good land that He gave you”. (Deuteronomy 8:10)
This mitzvah is comprised of three blessings rooted in verses in the Torah and a fourth blessing, which is rabbinical. Within these blessings, we thank the Almighty for the bread and food we have eaten.
In the first blessing, we hint to the manna that fell for the Jews in the desert. In the second blessing, we thank God for the redemption from Egypt, the giving of the Torah, the mitzvah of bris/circumcision and the covenant implicit within and for the good and expansive land of Israel with all its bounty and special foods it provides us.
In the third blessing, we mention the holy Temple and Jerusalem, and we pray for its rebuilding. In the final blessing, we thank God for being good to us, especially in reference to certain events connected with our exile.
For years, I have been bothered by this question: Why is it not sufficient just simply to thank God for the bread? Why must we go through a mini Jewish history lesson every time we eat bread?
The answer, I believe, is implicit in another verse that introduces the mitzvah of grace after meals. God says, “You shall remember the entire road on which Hashem, your God, led you these 40 years in the wilderness … ”
Some authorities count this verse as one of the 613 mitzvos. It is a mitzvah for every Jew to realize that he or she doesn’t live for the moment and was not born in a vacuum; every Jew is the composite of all of Jewish history. We all contain within our lives and our souls the exodus from Egypt, entering the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem and all Jewish history that has transpired. Each of us forms the next link in the chain of Jewish history.
Those authorities contend that this mitzvah also includes every Jew’s individual, unique remembrance of their own personal journey in life. One should appreciate the kindnesses, events and people who have added to their life experience and have contributed to the makeup of the person he or she has become.
Another verse in that portion (Deuteronomy 8:3) indicates that bread is the staff of life. Hence, when we “bench,” or recite grace, we are not simply thanking God for the bread we have eaten. We are thanking Him for being alive.
For us Jews, being alive means all the events that go into making us who we are, “remember the entire road … ” Hence the mini history lesson; it is said in the context of thanksgiving for all that makes up our lives as Jews.
Especially standing under the chupah, the bride and groom should give thanks for being who they are as Jews and recognize that moment for becoming the next link in the chain of Jewish history. They should give thanks for their parents, siblings, teachers and network of people and kindnesses that have brought them, by the hand of God, to whom they are today.
That should be the pretext and foundation by which a couple should build their home and their lives.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel, Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.