“Do not be terrified of them, for God, your God in your midst,
is a great and awesome God.” (Deuteronomy 7:21)
Parashat Eikev commands “You will eat and you will be satisfied and bless the Lord your God, for the good land that He gave you.” (Deut. 8:10) This is the proof text for the mitzvah, or commandment, to recite birkat hamazon, the blessing for food, after a meal. The text clearly specifies reciting a b’racha, or blessing, after eating. So why do we recite a b’racha before eating?
Reciting a b’racha before eating is a rabbinic innovation (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 21a). Its purpose is to remind us of food’s sanctity: since it comes from the land, and the land belongs to God (Ps. 24:1), food a sacred gift from God. That is why the various food b’rachot, or blessings, highlight how the land delivers the food: “… the fruit of the vine, the tree, the earth,” etc. The b’racha serves as a portal through which we access this sacred gift. The preliminary b’racha is always short; no one can concentrate much on an empty stomach.
But after the meal, Birkat Hamazon requires an extended text comprising four distinct b’rachot: for sustenance, for the land, for Jerusalem, and for God’s goodness. It not only expresses gratitude for the food, but also articulates a complete religious world view: God’s attention to each individual, the brit, or covenant, Israel’s spiritual welfare, and God’s ongoing goodness.
Eikev addresses the human tendency to become smug in our accomplishments and to take sole credit for them (Deut. 8:12-14). Birkat Hamazon is a safeguard against this hubris and reminds us true satisfaction comes from the spiritual context of nourishment.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom