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
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.
JUST AS FOOD HAS THE ABILITY TO CHANGE ONE’S MOOD AND LEAD HIM TO ACHIEVE GREAT HIGHTS, SO DOES BIRCAT HAMAZONE, THE GRACE AFTER MEAL, IF SAID WITH INTENSITY.
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