Archive for Birkat Hamazon

The Essence of Bircat Hamazon (grace after meal)


In this week’s Parsha, we rid ourselves of Pharaoh and of Egypt as we leave and start our journey to the Promised Land. It was a monumental event and one that we remember often in our prayers and holidays.

If one is sensitive and smart enough, he will realize that man is here on earth for a very brief time and is given opportunities to accomplish his mission. While he’s working on fulfilling his goals, he is provided with nourishment to sustain himself. The sustenance which G-d provides should be appreciated. We show appreciation by saying brachot before and after we eat. Food is the fuel that keeps us going. As a matter of fact, perhaps the appreciation we demonstrate for the food might be part of man’s mission.


The Sages enacted Bircat Hamazon-Grace after Meals, so that we can thank G-d for that pastrami sandwich. It says in the Torah “VE-ACHALTA VE-SAVATA UBERACHTA” – “one eats then he’s satiated then he blesses”. This is the main biblical source for the grace after meals.


Looking carefully at Bircat Hamazon, one realizes that we mention how G-d took us out of Egypt. The exodus was a miracle and it showed His mighty hand. However, what is the purpose of mentioning this in Bircat Hamazon?  Yes, I quenched my desire and am now able to perform the duties which HE placed on me, but what does the exodus from Egypt have to do with thanking HIM for my meal? What does my pastrami sandwich have to do with the price of tea in china?


In order to understand, we have to learn a fundamental Jewish concept. There are four types of life in the world. The lowest level is an inanimate object, called DOMEM. DOMEM consists of rocks, earth, a table etc. Next level up is TZOMEACH which is vegetation, for example, flowers. A step higher is CHAI which consists of animals. The highest level is us, Humans, we are called MEDABER. The literal translation means to speak.


Let’s examine the main biblical source of Bircat Hamazon. It is important to understand what the root of the word ACHILA- to eat, is. ACHILA could come from two roots, let us explore both.

One meaning is to break down, to devour. The root word in Hebrew is KILAYON. For instance, an animal tears apart its prey.


Another root that ACHILA can be derived from is the word KALAH, which means complete, perfect.

The Sages found two roots of the word ACHILA-to eat. We see with our own eyes how both roots of ACHILA are correct and it depends on us as to how we utilize and “label” it.


Let’s take soil, which is the inanimate object of DOMEM, and plant seeds in it. Within a short period of time after planting the seeds, plants and vegetation will grow. This is called TZOMEACH. The animals, CHAI, then proceed to eat the vegetation. Man, MEDABER, then captures the animal, slaughters it, and then consumes it. Now man has nourishment to complete his mission in life and be perfect. This is what ACHILA is intended for, to reach perfection.


We can also use the other definition and eat like an animal by tearing apart the food for pleasure only without reaching any goal and without reaching perfection. Clearly, the choice and power is ours.

G-d kept on telling Moshe to tell Pharaoh, “let my people go so that they shall serve me”. Hashem was demanding, “Let them go so that they can be complete in their mission”. This is the only reason why the Jews were let go, to achieve perfection.


The essence of BIRKAT HAMAZON is chiefly to bless and appreciate G-d for what he gave us. The only way to bless Him is to have our freedom. For this reason G-d took us out of Egypt. Secondly, and equally as important, to fuel us so that we can complete our mission in life and truly attain perfection

Laws About Birkat Hamazon


The sages asserted that one who is careful to recite birkat hamazon, will, for the rest of his life receive his sustenance with honor. In this week’s Parasha (Eikev 8:10), it states, ‘And you shall eat, and you shall be satiated, and you shall make a bracha to G-d for the good land which he gave to you’. In the commandment to say birkat hamazon, the Torah makes reference to three things; food (eat), land, and good (tov). From this we learn that this blessing must incorporate acknowledgement of food, the land of Israel and Jerusalem. Thus the obligation to recite the themes contained in the first three brachot is a Torah law (Mede’orisa). The fourth bracha was enacted by the Rabbis (please refer to the first article for an explanation of the first bracha).

When the Jews entered Israel, Yehoshua, their leader, instituted the second bracha (nodeh), acknowledging G-d for giving us the land. The Israelites left Egypt and spent forty years in the desert. During that time, they received the Torah and slowly formed a nation. Although Moshe wasn’t able to enter, it was Yehoshua who led them to the Promised Land. The third blessing was instituted by King David when Jerusalem was consecrated as the Holy City. King Solomon added an acknowledgement for the temple when the construction was complete. After the destruction of the first temple, the text was modified to include a plea for the return of Jerusalem and the Temple. This became form of our third bracha, rachem. The Torah connects eating bread to making a birkat hamazon; therefore giving us the positive commandment to say the blessing after eating bread.

The amount of bread in which a person eats to require the birkat hamazon is a kezayit (literally, olive size, which is equal to a volume of half an egg, A good example would be a half a slice center of rye bread). Birkat hamazon is only required if the kezayit is eaten within three minutes (but there are conditions and pre-conditions). It’s important to note, satiation is the key factor in determining whether birkat hamazon is Mede’orisa (from the Torah) or Mede’rabanan (Rabbinical) (Mede’orisa tends to be stricter). This concern arises when one doesn’t remember whether he said birkat hamazon or not. If he is full at the time of remembering, then he recites it and if not then he does not. The reason is because the pasuk says ve’savata one should be satiated which would make it Mede’orisa.

Another note, since birkat hamazon is a Torah obligation, the sages instituted stringent laws with regard to its recital. One of those requirements is to that birkat hamazon should be said in the place where one ate. The Sages define ‘the place where he ate ‘ to mean any place within the room which he ate (a wedding hall is a prime example).

The Power of Birkat Hamazon- Grace After Meal

One of the most famous and best-loved American authors, was one who has remained a national treasure and America’s most archetypal writer. He wrote two of the most important novels in American Literature; Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s writings have reportedly inspired more commentary than those of any other American author, and have been translated into at least 72 languages. His name has remained known despite being dead for a century

Mark Twain replaced his earlier negative stereotype of the Jewish people with another, more positive one. In 1879, he wrote privately:
Sampson was a Jew – therefore not a fool. The Jews have the best average brain of any people in the world. The Jews are the only race who work wholly with their brains and never with their hands. There are no Jewish beggars, no Jewish tramps, no Jewish ditch diggers, hod-carriers, day laborers or followers of toilsome, mechanical trades. They are peculiarly and conspicuously the world’s intellectual aristocracy

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Mark Twain

Food has magical powers! One would be surprised what a plate of spaghetti or a plate of Osh-palov can do. Food could change a person’s attitude 180 degrees from pussycat to tiger within minutes. My mother mentions that when my father z’l would come home from work a bit agitated, she would quickly feed him dinner, and then and only then engage in conversation. ‘That’s how you tame the lion”, she says. It just so happens, my father z’l would say ‘always eat something light before coming home to your wife for dinner; it can avoid many unpleasant confrontations.’

             Dr. Goldman, a psychologist at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, says when a person is hungry, the body experiences a chemical imbalance and presumably, can be categorized as an illness. It’s a miracle that within minutes of eating, a person regains physical strength as well as being able to feel good emotionally.
             In this week’s Parasha it says, ‘you shall eat and be satiated and then bless G-d’ (Devarim 8:10), and later on ‘Lest you eat and be full and become haughty and forget G-d’ (8:12:14). The Torah understands how man’s mind works, in that being full, man forgets his Creator Who gives food to everyone and makes all full. As man must plow, sow, reap, stack, thresh, winnow, clean, grind, sift, knead and bake until he finally has some bread to eat, there is reason to fear that he may begin to believe that whatever he has, comes about from his own efforts. In order to remove such thoughts from man’s mind, we are commanded to bless G-d after we eat. This is the primary reason of birkat hamazon (the blessing after the meal).
       Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch also explains the need for brachot (blessings) as a means to elevate man spiritually. After enjoying a meal, we have acquired renewed power and strength to understand matters, and we must recognize this power is a gift from G-d, and whatever power we have acquired, must be used to serve Him.
   The idea that we should recite this prayer comes from a verse in the Torah. “You should eat and be satisfied and bless G-d for the good land He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). The Sages comment that the literal meaning of this implies that we are commanded to bless G-d only if we have eaten enough to be “satisfied.” However, the Sages introduce the idea that we should say Grace after Meals even if we are not actually sated, as long as we have had a minimum amount of bread (an “olive-size,” regarded as one ounce).
This prayer has four paragraphs. The first, composed by Moshe, concerns the fact that G-d provides food for the whole world. The Jewish people wandering in the desert recited it after eating the mann which fell from heaven. The Israelites showed great appreciation reciting “Hazan”. G-d blessed them where there was no poor; everybody received food. There was no worry for Jews to scrounge around for nourishment.
After forty years they entered the Promised Land. Then Yehoshua wrote the second paragraph, which starts by thanking G-d for the sacred Land of Israel. This paragraph also thanks G-d for the Covenant of Circumcision, for the Exodus from Egypt, and for the Torah.
The third paragraph, composed by David and Shlomo, concerns the sacred city of Jerusalem. It also speaks of the Davidic line of kings and of the Temple. This paragraph ends with a plea to G-d to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem with the coming of the Messiah.
The final paragraph of Grace after Meals was composed by the Sages some 1,870 years ago. It is a general expression of gratitude to G-d: He is “the King who is good and who does good to all.”
In fact, this last paragraph was written after the terrible tragedy of the Jewish revolt which got crushed by the Romans in 135 CE. Huge numbers of Jews were massacred. The praise to G-d could be seen as gratitude that we survived to bring living Judaism to the next generation.

It seems that the fourth blessing, which is a Rabbinical enactment, is out of sequence with the first three.

 The first 3 brachot glorify Jewish history periods- receiving of the Mann, going into the Promised Land, and the building of the Temple. However the fourth, even though we see G-d’s miracle, is stemmed from a very dark period of time.  The Roman Emperor ordered after defeating the Jews that the bodies killed at Bettar, the last stronghold, may not be buried. In fact, it wasn’t until a new Emperor assumed command fourteen years later, that they were allowed to bury their dead.
 Yes, we thank G-d for the miracles that he performed. The bodies after many years did not decay. HOWEVER, COULD’T THE SAGES FIND A HAPPIER INCIDENT THAN THIS ONE!!!
One of the secrets of Birkat Hamazone is the realization of the wonderment that Mark Twain wrote about the Jewish people.
There is a guarantee which can be derived from the Grace after Meal which gives the Jews the ability to always look forward to tomorrow.

Besides our forefathers and the immediate generations that followed, there is a generalization that can be applied. Whether it be Matetyahu and the Maccabees, Samson or Bar Kochba, the prototype classic hero, which we are accustomed to imagine, never come out to fruition. The hero’s either succumbed to their weaknesses or their children destroyed their legacy.
Only through Hollywood does this fantasy play out.
Ever wonder why, the highest Hollywood  grossing box-office film series, the spaghetti western, starring Clint Eastwood, the hero, who kills out all of the most sinister evil bad guys, is never given a name.  Its either Blondie (the character has blonde hair) or “who are you”. Hollywood want us to fill in the blanks. Because they know we would like to put our name there.
The fantasy hero.
In the early part of the twentieth century, when going to the theater to see a silent film was a curious new fad, a Rabbi was asked what he thought of his experimental journey to the theater. He said it’s a lot like life. When the theater gets darker, the curtain comes up and the film starts and when the film ends the lights go back on. Life is the same; when life gets dark and depressing than one begins to fantasize. When the imagination ends, though, the lights go back on and man has a grip on life and reality again.
It seemed like the Jews had a savior; Bar Kochva. To be more accurate, his name was Shimon (or Simon) bar Kosiba.
What we do know about him is that he was a person of tremendous physical strength. He was able to uproot a tree while riding a horse. He was able to hold back a Roman catapult. His feats of personal valor were legendary, which all attributed to the superhuman aura about him.
The Talmud says that anyone who wanted to join his army had to be willing to cut off their little finger. However, the rabbis objected to such an act of self-mutilation, and therefore he resorted to the test of “simply” uprooting trees. In the writings of Dio Cassius it says that he had an army of 200,000, each soldier  was strong enough to uproot a tree. By any measure, it was a large and fearsome Jewish army.
Bar Kochva was a very charismatic, intelligent person, as well as a religiously observant and pious Jew. He had great and sincere faith. This, in combination with his charismatic personality produced a natural leader that captured the heart and soul of the Jewish people.
He said that the only way that the Jews would get anything from the Romans would be to take it by force. He, therefore, organized this very large army and began the rebellion against Rome, which lasted almost six years. During four of those years there was an independent Jewish state.
Bar Kochba followed the same strategy that the Jews had followed in the first rebellion against Rome. He first re-conquered the Galilee to cut the Romans off from the sea. Then he surrounded Jerusalem and forced them out.
He had active support from most of the rabbis – in contradiction to the first two revolts against Rome. In those instances the rabbis were at best neutral. In this war, Akiva ben Joseph, the most influential rabbi lent his name to the cause.
It was Rabi (Rabbi) Akiva who ascribed to Shimon bar Kochba the famous messianic verse: “A star will shoot forth from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). That is how he got the name “Kochba,” which means “star.” In essence, Rabi Akiva crowned him the Messiah. Rabi Akiva was so widely respected among the people that if he saw in Shimon messianic qualities then the people immediately elevated him to the level of the Messiah. This helps us understand very well why the Christians would take no part in the war; it would have made one messiah too many.
Shimon bar Kochba’s reputation became so great that, according to the records of the times, many non-Jews came to fight in his army. They saw it as a real chance to bring down the Roman Empire. Many people were not very happy with the Romans and their ways.
All told, Bar Kochba eventually mustered an army of almost 350,000. In the ancient world that was an enormous army, greater in number than the entire Roman army.
The Romans were so hard pressed that Hadrian brought his best general and all of his troops from England, Gaul, Germany and all of the provinces scattered throughout the Roman world. The reason was simple: Rome felt itself threatened as no other time. It was total war.
Many details of the war are unclear to us. We know that at one point Bar Kochba took back Jerusalem and proclaimed that he was going to rebuild the Temple, which was one of the steps the Messiah was supposed to do according to prophecy and tradition. However, due to Roman pressure and internal dissention he apparently never got to actually rebuilding it. By the third year of his reign there were already signs of disenchantment.
I. A “Star” Fades and Burns Out
After a string of almost unbroken successes for four to five years he now began to suffer reverses. As the pressure of Rome bore down upon him he began to worry about betrayal and was on the lookout for spies. However, he looked in the wrong places. He felt that the rabbis had turned against him.
This happened while he commanded a very large force at the city Beitar, which was the key to Jerusalem. Today there are a number of archaeological sites that could be Beitar, which was the location of the last great battle of this war, but the exact site is not known conclusively.
In either event, the Jews were so well-fortified and supplied they could have held out at Beitar indefinitely. Had they done so, the Romans, who were constantly harassed by guerilla warfare and marauding Jewish soldiers, would have retreated.
 However, the pre-request of being the Mashiach as Bar Kochva proclaimed was that you cannot believe you’re the Mashiach. The minute one believes he’s the one, the honeymoon is over. Like many leaders and heros, power has the ability to corrupt and seduce the most pious.
 Everything started to fall apart.  Beitar was betrayed. Its secret fortifications and entrances were revealed to the Romans by insiders – but not the rabbis, as Bar Kochba feared. Yet, in a fit of almost insane paranoia Bar Kochba accused the great sage, Rabi Elazar, of being the spy and executed him. He then lost the support of the rabbis completely. It eroded all chance of reconciliation. Then they began calling him, “Bar Koziba,” meaning the son of a lie; a false messiah. Their hopes were dashed.
Beitar fell to the Romans on Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, in 135 CE, adding it to the calamitous national tragedies of the Jewish people. Bar Kochba was eventually killed in battle. According to Dio Cassius and Jewish sources, at least a half a million Jews were killed. It was a tremendous blood bath…..And they didn’t allow us to bury our dead.
The whole world thought the Jews were finished. No civilization has ever resurfaced after a devastating and decisive destruction. At best the nations of the world thought the Jews will emerge similarly like the Gypsies, in a small insignificant non-important amount. They will be thieves and the low-lives of the world; they will always be strutting from one caravan to another.
The fourth Bracha of Bircat Hamazone comes to show us if we follow the Torah we have the blessing of, not just survival, but even more so, emerging, in a short time to the top of the world again. This has occurred in our history countless times. The fourth blessing of “G-d is good and does good” is the reason why G-d didn’t allow the Jewish bodies to rot. Furthermore, 14 years later, a leader emerged from the same monsters that destroyed us, who had sympathy and allowed the burial of our brothers. Isn’t that strange!! In hindsight we have prospered and the Romans are gone. History repeats itself, in a short period after the Holocaust we have overcome and flourished!!
Through the darkest times, the greatest let downs, we’re still standing!!!
That is one of the important, powerful, and meaningful lessons of the Birkat Hamazon.
helping constructing the article-Rabbis Berril Wein, Baruch Dopelt, Issac Oilbaum,  Dr Robert Goldman