We have just concluded the High Holidays, during which we ate wonderful meals on Rosh Hashanah and didn’t eat on Yom Kippur, and now we enter the holiday of Sukkot, when we get to eat in the sukkah. We are certainly a people focused on eating. We know the value of blessings before we eat including the process of deciding which blessing to say over what we are ready to enjoy. Those blessings are a quick “Thank You, G-d, for _____.” However, after we have eaten a meal (preceded by the motzi) we say a much longer prayer, the Birkat HaMazon. It is sometimes done quickly but for those of us who went to camp, the Birkat HaMazon was sung with table banging and more. I heard a story when visiting in Israel about a group of American teens at a kibbutz singing the prayer after a meal. The Israeli teens they were with were amazed that these Americans were so intent on saying the Birkat HaMazon when they had no idea of what the words meant. That is an interesting commentary, but I will let you think on it while I give a little info about this blessing.
First is where it comes from: In Deuteronomy 8:10, Moses says to the Jewish people, “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your G-d for the good land which He has given you.” The blessing is not for the food but for the land. However, this blessing is long, so what else is going on? Moses tells the people this before they enter the land and they are hopeful that, with the possession of the land, there will be abundance and security. Moses reminds them (and us) that comfort and security may be great, but they are “spiritually perilous.” When all is wonderful we may forget G-d and think that we are more powerful. The last long speech that Moses gives before the entry into the land (and Moses is gone) is to remember our dependence on a higher power, especially when we don’t see all the fantastic things like the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai. This grace after the meal is to remind us to be grateful for all our blessings — not just food but all we have. The final line in myjewishlearning.org on Birkat HaMazon says, “It is precisely at the moment when our bellies are full and our immediate physical needs have just been satisfied that this reminder is most needed.”
So my challenge to you is to TRY IT! Get it on YouTube! Do it camp style: Bang the tables, clap your hands — be grateful with all your senses. And don’t forget to get the app for all the blessings so you know what to say when you see, smell, hear or taste things! Start the new year off right with gratitude.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.