Parsha Halacha – Parshat Eikev
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The Torah portion of Eikev contains the mitzvah of reciting Birkat HaMazon, the Grace after Meals. The Torah says (Deut. 8:10), “וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה׳ אֱלֹקֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ And you will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the L-rd, your G-d, for the good land He has given you.” This blessing is a Biblical command, unlike all other blessings which are of Rabbinic origin (with the possible exception of the blessings on the Torah. See here).
Why Does G-d Need Our Blessing?
The commentaries discuss why it is a mitzvah to bless G-d since He has everything and has no need for our blessings. Rabbeinu Bachaye asks, “Since G-d is the source of all blessings… it is clearly impossible for any of His creatures to bless Him adequately… His Existence is completely self-sufficient, and He has no need of anyone or anything beside Him. Therefore, even if we were to bless Him all day long and all night long, what would we accomplish by this?”
He gives two answers to this question:
- For Our Sake
Certainly G-d does not need our blessings. We bless him for our own sake – to heighten our awareness that He is the source of all the beneficence in our lives. When we recognize G-d’s involvement in our lives and show our appreciation for it, He, in turn, blesses us abundantly. This is why it says (Brachot 35b) “Whoever benefits from this world without reciting a blessing is considered to have stolen from G-d and from the Jewish people.” One who does not say the blessing, diminishes his awareness of G-d and causes, in turn, G-d’s benevolence to this world to be diminished. When one causesDivine benevolence to be diminished by failing to say a blessing, it is considered stealing (G-d’s benevolence) from his community, the Jewish people.
- Drawing G-dliness into this World
From a Kabbalistic perspective, Rabbeinu Bachaye explains that our blessings have a direct impact on G-d’s revelation in this world. G-d’s essence cannot be changed by our blessings as G-d’s essence does not change at all. However, saying a blessing can increase the revelation of G-dliness in this world. In this context the word bracha can be translated as increase (see Exodus 23:25) so that, saying a bracha increases the revelation of G-d in this world.
This interpretation can be used to explain the following unusual story in the Talmud (Brachot 7a).
G-d Asks for a Blessing
“Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the High Priest related: Once on Yom Kippur, I entered the Holy of Holies to offer Ketoret (incense). I saw the L-rd of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: ‘Yishmael, My son, bless Me.’ I said to Him, ‘May it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger, and may Your mercy prevail over Your other attributes. And may You act toward Your children with the attribute of mercy, and may You treat them beyond the letter of the law.’ The Holy One, Blessed be He, nodded His head (and accepted the blessing.)”
If G-d asked for a blessing, why did Rabbi Yishmael respond with a prayer for G-d’s mercy and kindness? This can be understood according to the above explanation, that a blessing to G-d means that G-d’s presence should increase in this world. This is accomplished when He shows mercy and kindness to His people.
The Prayers of the Tzadikim
The Talmud (Chullin 60b) says that G-d desires the prayers of the Tzaddikim (righteous). Why does G-d only desire the prayers of the righteous? If He somehow “enjoys” our praise, He presumably would “enjoy” that praise from ordinary people as well. Based on the above explanation, however, the Talmud means that G-d desires to bestow His bounty upon the world. The prayers of the righteous are more likely to be answered because the righteous are more deserving. It is, therefore, their prayers that increase G-d’s beneficence in this world.
This is also the meaning of the words in the Kaddish, “Yitbarech veyishtabach veyitpa’air etc. – May He be blessed and praised and exalted.” This means that when G-d is praised and exalted (i.e. recognized in this world), He is also blessed and revealed in this world.
Drawing the Infinite into the Finite
In Kabbalisitic language, the Alter Rebbe explains (Likutei Torah on Parshat Eikev, 16a and b) that reciting a bracha draws down G-d’s infinite revelation (Sovev Kol Almin) into the finite worlds (Memalei Kol Almin).
The rest of this article will discuss history, meanings, and laws of the second blessing of the Birkat HaMazon.
Text of the Blessing
Here is the text of the blessing:
נוֹדֶה לְּךָ ה אֱלֹקינוּ. עַל שֶׁהִנְחַלְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶרֶץ חֶמְדָה טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה. וְעַל שֶׁהוֹצֵאתָנוּ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם. וּפְדִיתָנוּ מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים. וְעַל בְּרִיתְךָ שֶׁחָתַמְתָּ בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ. וְעַל תּוֹרָתְךָ שֶׁלִּמַּדְתָּנוּ. וְעַל חֻקֶּיךָ שֶׁהוֹדַעְתָּנוּ. וְעַל חַיִּים חֵן וָחֶסֶד שֶׁחוֹנַנְתָּנוּ. וְעַל אֲכִילַת מָזוֹן שָׁאַתָּה זָן וּמְפַרְנֵס אוֹתָנוּ תָּמִיד. בְּכָל יוֹם וּבְכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה:
וְעַל הַכּל ה׳ אֱלֹקינוּ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ וּמְבָרְכִים אוֹתָךְ. יִתְבָּרַךְ שִׁמְךָ בְּפִי כָּל חַי תָּמִיד לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד: כַּכָּתוּב. וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ עַל הָאָרֶץ וְעַל הַמָּזוֹן:
We offer thanks to You, L-rd our G‑d, for having given as a heritage to our ancestors a precious, good, and spacious land; for having brought us out, L-rd our G‑d, from the land of Egypt, and redeemed us from the house of bondage; for Your covenant which You have sealed in our flesh; for Your Torah which You have taught us; for Your statutes which You have made known to us; for the life, favor, and kindness which You have graciously bestowed upon us; and for the food we eat with which You constantly nourish and sustain us every day, at all times, and at every hour.
For all this, L-rd our G‑d, we give thanks to You and bless You. May Your Name be blessed by the mouth of every living being, constantly and forever, as it is written: When you have eaten and are satiated, you shall bless the L-rd your G‑d for the good land which He has given you. Blessed are You, L-rd, for the land and for the sustenance.
Composed by Yehoshua
The Talmud (Brachot 48b) says that the first blessing of the Birkat HaMazon was composed by Moshe Rabeinu when the manna fell from heaven while the second blessing was composed by Yehoshua when he and Jewish people conquered the land of Israel.
Of Biblical Origin
The Talmud (ibid) says that the verse from which we learn the mitzvah of reciting Birkat HaMazon also teaches that we must recite a blessing for the land of Israel, as the Torah says, “And you shall bless the L-rd, your G-d, for the good land.” As such, why did Yehoshua have to compose this blessing if it is a Biblical obligation that was already being fulfilled in the time of Moshe?
The Rashba (on Brachot ibid) explains that before Yehoshua composed the text of this blessing, people would express their thanks to G-d for the land of Israel in their own words. Even though the Jewish people had not yet conquered the land, they still thanked G-d for the land they were soon to receive. When Yehoshua conquered the land however, he formalized the text of the blessing which we now must use.
The Talmud says that the second blessing should include an expression of thanks in the beginning and in the end. This is why we begin the blessing with נוֹדֶה לְּךָ – “I give thanks to you” and end it with וְעַל הַכּל…אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ “and for all this we give thanks to You…”
The Alter Rebbe explains (Likutei Torah on Parshat Eikev, pg. 14c and d) that since this blessing was composed by Yehoshua it represents a lesser level of G-dly awareness than that expressed by the first blessing composed by Moshe. This is why this blessing begins with the word נוֹדֶה which can also mean to admit. This alludes to a person who serves G-d despite the fact that he is not naturally inclined to do so. (Certainly Yehoshua was a great tzaddik who served G-d with his whole heart. But his generation had to overcome the pull to give primacy to nature’s laws.)
The first blessing begins with the words בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה – “Blessed are You…” which indicates an all-encompassing awareness of G-d, as previously mentioned. (See above that the word bracha means to reveal and increase). Although the second blessing does not begin with those words, it finishes with a bracha (baruch atah Hashem…). This indicates that one must graduate to a higher level of Divine awareness. This higher-level awareness is achieved through the mitzvah of brit milah and through Torah study which are both mentioned in the second blessing. This is because the Torah reveals the deepest levels of G-dliness to the Jewish people in this physical world and having a brit is a precondition to absorbing the teachings of the Torah, as we say at the brit milah ceremony, “Just as he entered into the brit, so may he enter into Torah…”
Brit and Torah
The Talmud (ibid 48b) says that one must mention the mitzvah of brit milah (circumcision) and the Torah during the second blessing of Birkat HaMazon because we received the land of Israel in the merit of both the mitzvah of brit milah and the observance of the Torah. The fact that we merit the land through the brit milah is alluded to in the verse that says, (Gen. 17:7-8) “I will maintain My covenant (brit) between Me and you… I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring, the entire land of Canaan, as an everlasting inheritance,” that is, the inheritance is contingent upon the covenant, the brit.
The fact that we merit the land through observing the Torah, is alluded to in the verse (Deut. 8:1), “You shall faithfully observe all the mitzvot that I am commanding you today, so that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land that the L-rd promised to your forefathers.” Through our faithful observance of the mitzvot we merit to possess the land of Israel.
Brit Before Torah
In addition the Talmud says that the brit should be mentioned before the Torah because G-d made 13 covenants with us about the brit milah (see Gen. 17) and only three covenants with us about the rest of the Torah. (See Sotah 37a where these are enumerated).
We therefore say in the following order: עַל בְּרִיתְךָ שֶׁחָתַמְתָּ בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ. וְעַל תּוֹרָתְךָ שֶׁלִּמַּדְתָּנוּ – on the brit which You have sealed in our flesh and on the Torah You have taught us.
The custom is that women, too, say the text thanking G-d for the brit and for the Torah despite the fact that they do not have a brit, nor are they obligated to study Torah.
The commentaries offer several explanations for this.
- A married couple is considered to be one unit. So the merit of brit of the husband and the Torah he studies is shared by the wife. Similarly, when women perform the unique mitzvot for women, the merit of these are shared with their husbands (Bedek HaBayit, cited in Magen Avraham 187:3). (Even a person who never gets married were certainly married in a previous reincarnation.)
- Women are born with a brit. (Although, physically, women have no brit, spiritually, they innately have the same level of connection to G-d engendered by the brit.) This is why, according to many opinions, a woman can be a mohel (see Avodah Zara 27a, Magen Avraham, ibid).
- In addition, women are obligated to study Torah, specifically those parts of the Torah that relate to the mitzvot they must observe (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 187:7).
The blessing ends with the words בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ עַל הָאָרֶץ וְעַל הַמָּזוֹן – “Blessed are you G-d for the land and for the sustenance.”
The Talmud (Brachot 49a) says that it is forbidden to finish a blessing with two concepts. Rather, the end of each blessing (from “baruch attah Hashem” onwards) should be about one concept that is the main point of that blessing. The Talmud questions why then this blessing finishes with two concepts- thanking G-d for the land and for sustenance? The Talmud explains that we thank G-d for the land which produces sustenance, that is for the fact that it is a fertile land which grows sustaining food.
Thanks for Bread from the Ground
The Alter Rebbe (Likutei Torah, Eikev 14a and c) questions the need to mention the sustenance in the second blessing, as thanksgiving for G-d’s sustenance is already expressed in the first blessing of Birkat HaMazon. He explains that since the first blessing was composed by Moshe when the Manna fell from heaven, it was important to include a separate thanksgiving for earthly sustenance.
Although eating regular bread seems mundane compared to eating Manna, it can actually be a greater spiritual accomplishment. The Divine energy found in regular food is concealed within the physicality of that food, we must therefore labor to extricate and elevate this spirituality by saying the proper brachot on the food and by eating it with the intent to serve G-d. When we do this, we transform physicality into spirituality. In fact, this is the very reason G-d created this world, so that we elevate it and reveal G-d’s presence within it.
This also explains why in this blessing we call the land of Israel אֶרֶץ חֶמְדָה, a desired land. It refers to the fact that G-d specifically desires a physical land which is transformed into spirituality.
May we merit to bring about G-d’s revelation in this world!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!