In the Talmud, Brachot 21a Rav Yehuda states:
From where in the Torah do we derive the obligation to recite Birkat HaMazon (Grace after meals)? From the verse (Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 8:10): “Veachalta vesavata uveirachta et Hashem Elokecha al haaretz hatova asher natan lach”, “You shall eat and be satisfied and bless your God for the good land that He gave you.”
We are Biblically commanded to recite three brachot after eating bread:
- A bracha for provision of nourishment (Birkat HaZan)
- A bracha for the inheritance of the Land of Israel (Birkat HaAretz)
- A bracha for the building of Jerusalem (Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim)
In Brachot 48b, the Rabbis teach in a Braita that from that one verse in Devarim 8:10 we derive the different brachot within Birkat HaMazon:
From the words: “Veachalta vesavata uveirachta” (You shall eat and be satisfied and bless) we derive Birkat HaZan, from “et Hashem elokecha” (your God) we derive the mitzva to make a Zimmun, from “al haaretz” (for the Land) we derive Birkat HaAretz, from the word “hatova” (the good) we derive Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim as it says in Devarim 3:25: “the good mountain” (which is Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount), from “asher natan lach” (that He gave you) we derive Birkat HaTov V’HaMeitiv.
Origins of the Brachot of Birkat Hamazon
The Talmud discusses the origins of these brachot:
Rav Nachman said:
- Moshe composed Birkat HaZan at the time that the manna fell from heaven.
- Yehoshua composed Birkat HaAretz when they entered the Land of Israel.
- King David and King Shlomo composed Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim.
- Birkat HaTov V’HaMetiv (Who is good and confers good) is looked at by Rebbi as a Rabbinic bracha which is a continuation of Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim while the Tanna Kamma includes it as a fourth Biblical bracha. Those who consider the bracha to be Rabbinic say that it was formally added by the Sages of Yavneh on account of God’s goodness towards the bodies of the slain Jews of Betar.
In the Tur, Orach Chayim, the question is asked why we don’t start Birkat HaMazon in a more spiritual way with a prayer for Jerusalem and only afterwards thank God for the physical food? The answer that is given is that we follow the order of history so Moshe’s bracha is first, Yehoshua’s is second etc.
Rav Yissachar Yaakovson explains that there are also psychological reasons for why Birkat HaMazon is set up in this order. First, the person who ate is thankful for the food that they enjoyed. They then remember that food grows everywhere including in our homeland, the Land of Israel. Finally, they show appreciation for religious, spiritual and national values such a Jerusalem, Zion and the Beit HaMikdash.
Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim was originally a prayer that God continue to preserve tranquility in the Land. Following the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the exile, the bracha focused on the return to the Land, the Beit HaMikdash and the Davidic dynasty.
Every time that we thank God for our food, we must also praise God for the Land of Israel.
Why is the Land of Israel such an integral part of Birkat Hamazon?
- Just like God doesn’t want us to take the food for granted, He also doesn’t want us to take the Land of Israel for granted. Israel should constantly be appreciated.
- Israel is the place where the most mitzvot can be observed in the best possible way.
- Israel has great produce that we should appreciate. Israel is a land of milk and honey and the land of the seven species wheat, barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive-oil and date-honey.
- Through the blessing of Israel, the whole world becomes blessed.
We see from here the importance of taking our time to recite Birkat HaMazon with kavana (intent) focusing on our appreciation for the food that we eat, the Land of Israel and the prayer that Jerusalem should be rebuilt speedily in our days.
May the words that we recite at the end of Birkat HaMazon from Tehilim 29:11 be fulfilled: “Hashem Oz LeAmo Yiten, Hashem Yivarech et Amo Bashalom”, “God will give strength to His people, God will bless His people with peace.”
Rabbanit Sharona Margolin Halickman was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non-profit organization based in Jerusalem that provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds. Rabbanit Halickman is a member of Beit Hillel.
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