Personally Connecting to Birkat HaMazon

Birkat HaMazon “on one foot”:

Birkat HaMazon is the blessing we say after we eat, thanking G-d for the food.

​​​​​​​The Short Version

Hubba, hubba, hubba,

Thank ya for the grubba,

Yay, G-d!

Birkat HaMazon

For a sheet about Shir HaMa’alot, with which we start Birkat HaMazon on Shabbat and other festive occasions, see here: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/313976?lang=bi

Leader: חֲבֵרַי נְבָרֵךְ!‏‏

Everybody else: יְהִ֤י שֵׁ֣ם יְיָ מְבֹרָ֑ךְ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ (תהלים קיג:ב)

Leader: יְהִ֤י שֵׁ֣ם יְיָ מְבֹרָ֑ךְ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ (תהלים קיג:ב)
בִּרְשׁוּת חֲבֵרַי נְבָרֵךְ [אֱלֹהֵינוּ] שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֵּׁלוֹ.

Everybody else: בָּרוּךְ [אֱלֹהֵינוּ] שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֵּׁלוֹ
וּבְטוּבוֹ חָיִינוּ!

Leader: בָּרוּךְ [אֱלֹהֵינוּ] שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֵּׁלוֹ
וּבְטוּבוֹ חָיִינוּ!

Leader and Everybody else: בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּבָרוּךְ שְׁמוֹ.

Leader: Friends, let us thank God.

Everybody else: Praised is the name of the Lord from now and forever.

Leader: Praised is the name of the Lord from now and forever. With your permission, let us thank (our) God whose food we have eaten.

Everybody else: Praised is (our) God whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live.

Leader: Praised is (our) God whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live.

Leader and Everybody else: Praised is God and praised is God’s name.

Context: According to the Mishnah, when 3 have eaten together then one should invite the others to join in thanking G-d (Brachot 7:1). When 10 or more have eaten then the word “Eloheinu” / “our G-d” is added.

Why would it be helpful to have somebody invite everybody else to have an attitude of gratitude?

*English text from the B’kol Echad bentcher; Hebrew text from Open Siddur: https://opensiddur.org/prayers/eating/birkat-hamazon/birkat-hamazon-thanks-for-the-food-a-creative-translation-by-reb-zalman/

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַזָּן אֶת הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ בְּטוּבוֹ בְּחֵן בְּחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים, הוּא נֹתֵן לֶחֶם לְכָל־בָּשָׂר כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ וּבְטוּבוֹ הַגָּדוֹל תָּמִיד לֹא חָסַר לָנוּ וְאַל יֶחְסַר לָנוּ מָזוֹן (תָּמִיד) לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד בַּעֲבוּר שְׁמוֹ הַגָּדוֹל כִּי הוּא אֵל זָן וּמְפַרְנֵס לַכֹּל וּמֵטִיב לַכֹּל וּמֵכִין מָזוֹן לְכָל־בְּרִיּוֹתָיו אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ הַזָּן אֶת הַכֹּל.

Praised are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who feeds the whole world with goodness, with grace, with lovingkindness and mercy; God gives food to all creatures, for God’s mercy is everlasting. Through God’s abundant goodness we have never yet been in want; may we never be in want of sustenance for the sake of God’s great name. God nourishes and sustains all beings and does good to all, and provides food for all the creatures whom God has created. Praised are You, O Lord, who provides food for all.

Context: This is the first paragraph of Birkat HaMazon, the blessing after we eat a meal.

How do you reconcile the idea that “G-d provides food for all” with the fact that there are people who don’t have enough food?

וְעַל הַכֹּל יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ וּמְבָרְכִים אוֹתָךְ, יִתְבָּרַךְ שִׁמְךָ בְּפִי כָּל חַי תָּמִיד לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד, כַּכָּתוּב: וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבַעְתָּ, וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶּׁר נָתַן לָךְ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, עַל הָאָרֶץ וְעַל הַמָּזוֹן.

For all this, O Lord our God, we thank and praise You. May Your name be praised by the mouth of all living being continually and forever, as it is written (in the Torah), “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you” (Deut. 8:10). Praised are You, O Lord, for the land and for the food.

Context: This part of Birkat HaMazon quotes the Torah verse which is the origin for Birkat HaMazon. It picks up on the fact that the verse says that after you eat and are satisfied you should thank G-d not for the food, but rather for the land that you have been given. This is because when this was written, if you didn’t have land then you didn’t have food.

If the land represents the way by which you got food, what would be the equivalent today for which and/or for whom we ought to be grateful?

וּבְנֵה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִיר הַקֹּדֶשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, בּוֹנֵה בְרַחֲמָיו יְרוּשָׁלַיִם. אָמֵן.

And rebuild Jerusalem, the holy city, speedily in our days. Praised are You, O Lord, who in Your compassion rebuilds Jerusalem. Amen.

Context: The blessing for Jerusalem has nothing to do with food, but it was added by the rabbis after the Jews could no longer access Jerusalem (post-Bar-Kochba Revolt in 135 CE) to ensure that Jews would think about Jerusalem at least 3 times a day. It is the only time in Judaism that we say Amen to our own blessing (“Amen” is used to mean “I agree”), and we do it here to mark the historical end of Birkat HaMazon before the rest got added on.

What is a fervent wish that you have which you might want to think about at least 3 times a day?

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הָאֵל אָבִינוּ, מַלְכֵּנוּ, אַדִירֵנוּ, בּוֹרְאֵנוּ, גֹּאֲלֵנוּ, יוֹצְרֵנוּ, קְדוֹשֵׁנוּ קְדוֹשׁ יַעֲקֹב, רוֹעֵנוּ רוֹעֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַמֶּלֶךְ הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵּיטִיב לַכֹּל, שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם הוּא הֵיטִיב, הוּא מֵיטִיב, הוּא יֵיטִיב לָנוּ, הוּא גְמָלָנוּ, הוּא גוֹמְלֵנוּ, הוּא יִגְמְלֵנוּ לָעַד, לְחֵן וּלְחֶסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים וּלְרֶוַח הַצָּלָה וְהַצְלָחָה, בְּרָכָה וִישׁוּעָה, נֶחָמָה פַּרְנָסָה וְכַלְכָּלָה וְרַחֲמִים וְחַיִּים וְשָׁלוֹם, וְכָל טוֹב; וּמִכָּל טוּב לְעוֹלָם אַל יְחַסְּרֵנוּ.

Praised are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who is our God, our Parent, our Sovereign, our Mighty One, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Maker, our Holy One, the Holy One of Jacob, our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Israel, the Ruler who is good and causes good for all. Day by day You have caused good, do cause good, and will cause good for us. You have bestowed, You do bestow, You will ever bestow benefits upon us, yielding us grace, lovingkindness, mercy and relief, deliverance and prosperity, blessing and salvation, consolation, sustenance and mercy, life, peace and all good. May we never be in want of any manner of good.

Context: This part of Birkat HaMazon was instituted by the Rabbis in 135 CE after Hadrian finally allowed the dead from the Battle of Beitar to be buried after the Bar-Kochba Revolt (per the Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 48b). This blessing hits on one of the main themes of Birkat HaMazon (and a Big Jewish Idea) — having an attitude of gratitude. It is easy to notice things when they don’t go right (including body parts), and this blessing encourages us to be grateful for the things are that going well in our lives.

​​​​​​​What are 5 things in your life that are going well enough that you could be grateful for them?

הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יְזַכֵּנוּ לִימוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ וּלְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. מַגְדִּיל (ביום שמתפללים בו מוסף ובמלוה מלכה—מִגְדּוֹל) יְשׁוּעוֹת מַלְכּוֹ, וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לִמְשִׁיחוֹ, לְדָוִד וּלְזַרְעוֹ עַד עוֹלָם. עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו, הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאַל. וְאִמְרוּ: אָמֵן.

May the Merciful One make us worthy of the days of the Messiah, and of the life of the world to come. On Sabbaths, Festivals, and New Moons—God is a tower of salvation to God’s king; On Week-days—Great salvation God gives to God’s king, and shows lovingkindness to God’s anointed, to David, and to his seed forever. May God who makes peace in God’s high places make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, Amen.

Context: This part of Birkat HaMazon changes one word; on regular weekdays we say “Magdil”, and on Shabbat and holidays we say “Migdol”. This is because there are two versions of this Biblical verse; one is Psalms 18:51 (“Migdol”), and the other is II Samuel 22:51 (the end of the Haftarah for Parashat Ha’azinu) (“magdil”). There was a copy of the Bible that had a note next to the verse in Psalms saying שב, which was meant to indicate that the verse is also in Shmuel Bet (II Samuel). However, somebody came along and thought that it meant that we say that version on Shabbat.

This section ends with “Oseh Shalom”, asking G-d for peace. Why might that be near the end of a prayer we say multiple times a day over food?

יְראוּ אֶת יְיָ קְדֹשָׁיו, כִּי אֵין מַחְסוֹר לִירֵאָיו. כְּפִירִים רָשׁוּ וְרָעֵבוּ, וְדֹרְשֵׁי יְיָ לֹא יַחְסְרוּ כָל טוֹב. הוֹדוּ לַיְיָ כִּי טוֹב, כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶךָ, וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל חַי רָצוֹן. בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּיְיָ, וְהָיָה יְיָ מִבְטַחוֹ. נַעַר הָיִיתִי גַּם זָקַנְתִּי, וְלֹא רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק נֶעֱזָב, וְזַרְעוֹ מְבַקֶּשׁ לָחֶם. יְיָ עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן, יְיָ יְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם.

Revere the Lord, God’s holy ones; for there is no want to them that revere God. Young lions do lack and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not lack anything that is good. Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good: for God’s lovingkindness endures forever. You open Your hand, and satisfy every living thing with favor. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord; God will be their protection. I have been young, and I have grown older, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor their seed begging for bread. The Lord will give strength to God’s people; the Lord will bless God’s people with peace.

Context: This is a set of Biblical verses at the end of Birkat HaMazon. Some people say the line “I have been young and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor their seed begging for bread” quietly.

It is offensive to insinuate that all people in poverty are bad people. Should the line quoted above be read descriptively or prescriptively?

And why might that line be immediately followed by one asking G-d to give G-d’s people strength?

A Joke

Q: When G-d plays Tic-Tac-Toe with the Jewish people, which letter does G-d take?

A: The X’s, because “Adoshem ohz l’amo yitein”.

(Literally: “G-d will give strength (ohz) to G-d’s people”, but could also be read as “G-d will give O’s to G-d’s people”).

Musical Versions

Context: Some people have a custom of singing the last few lines of Birkat HaMazon in a different tune after completing it regularly. These are the lines that mean “I was young and I have grown older, yet I have never seen a righteous person forsaken nor their seed begging for bread. The Lord will give strength to G-d’s people, the Lord will bless G-d’s people with peace.”

To you, does this tune work for these words?

A cappella recording: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1u-ohWpTX8IXdMwZnQI28Ws1enO_4qYYP/view?usp=drivesdk

Context: This a cappella recording is from an unknown group and was sent to the author by a friend back in 2010.

Thinking metaphorically, when people harmonize to Birkat HaMazon what does it say about thanking G-d in our own way?

Context: “Bendigamos” is a Ladino version of Birkat HaMazon.

Context: “Brich Rachamana” is a shepherd’s prayer version of Birkat HaMazon, as recorded in the Talmud (Brachot 40b). This is a setting to the tune of “O Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary”.

Context: This version of Birkat HaMazon is by Dan Nichols. It only covers some of the first paragraph.

How does this musical setting affect your sense of the words?

Context: In case the other link isn’t working, here’s a version of Birkat HaMazon in harmony. The YouTube link has the story behind it.

Appendix: A Story

Food for Thought

From: Why Be Different: A Look into Judaism, by Janice Prager and Arlene Lepoff

Mona Dechalet, the new French ambassador, had just arrived in Washington D.C. As she and her husband, Pierre, stepped off the plane, they were met by Alex Wagner of the State Department.

“I’ve been assigned to show you around town,” Alex said. “I think you’ll love Washington – it’s a very exciting city.”

“Fine,” said the ambassador. “When do we start?”

“Well, why don’t you take the afternoon to unwind, and I’ll pick you up tonight at around 8:30. We’ll go to the finest restaurant in the capitol.”

As soon as the French ambassador, her husband, and Alex arrived at La Cuisine, they were greeted by the headwaiter who promptly escorted them to “the best table in the house.”

“The service here is excellent, Alex,” the ambassador commented after they had ordered dinner.

“Just wait, Madam Ambassador. The food is even better.”

“Just as Alex had promised, the dinner was superb. And over coffee and delicious French pastries, Mona Dechalet thanked her American host.

“Thanks so much, Alex. The food was as exceptional as at our favorite restaurant in Paris.”

“It was truly my pleasure. But I’m not the one to be thanked,” Alex replied. We should all thank the genius in the kitchen.”

So Alex called the headwaiter and asked if they could see the chef. Soon the chef, a large figure in white hat and apron, came out.

“Your kind words to me are most appreciated,” the chef said to the three guests at the table. “But I am not the one to thank. Do you really want to thank the one responsible for this meal?”

Around the table, three heads nodded in agreement.

“Then come with me in about half an hour, when the restaurant closes. We will all go to the vegetable market.”

“Wonderful,” exclaimed Alex. “We can all go in the State Department limousine.” Seeing everyone’s excitement, the head waiter asked if he, too, could come along. And now there were five people, all in high spirits, driving to the vegetable market. At the outskirts of the city, they stopped at a large produce stand.

“I want you to meet my friend, Joe,” said the chef. “He is the one who provides me with the fruit and vegetables that you so enjoyed. This man works harder than anyone else to get the freshest fruit and the tastiest vegetables. Joe, these good people want to thank you.”

“That’s right,” said Alex. “The chef says you’re responsible for the delicious meal we all enjoyed tonight.”

“Not me,” Joe said. “If you really want to know who’s responsible, then I can take you to see another man – he’s the one you ought to be thanking. I’ll take you to him if you want, but we’ll have to drive most of the night to get there.”

“Let’s go,” said the ambassador. “This is fun. I never dreamed that Americans have such wild and entertaining evenings.”

The group, now including Joe, the chef, the headwaiter, Alex, Mona, and Pierre, piled into the limo and drove into the quiet darkness of farm country. By the time they arrived at Arthur’s Vegetable Far, the first light of dawn was warming the fields.

“What a beautiful country!” Mona whispered to her husband.

“C’mon gang,” Joe said. “Let’s go meet Arthur, the farmer.”

The group walked toward the farmhouse. But they were stopped by what they saw through the open window. The farmer and his family were sitting around a table. “Have you all washed your hands?” the farmer was asking. “Good. Then Jonathan, please lead us in the blessing.”

“OK, Dad,” said a little boy, about seven years old. “Thank you, G-d, for giving us these fruits and vegetables and this fine breakfast. Amen.”

The farmer lifted his head. He saw the group standing outside the window. “Joe!” he said. “What are you doing here so early in the morning? And who are those people with you?”

Six people stood there, silently, watching the farmer and his family. Not one of them could speak. Finally, Alex broke the silence.

“We had come here to thank you for providing the delicious fruits and vegetables that went into our meal last night at La Cuisine. But now I think we all see things in a different way.”

“Yes,” said the ambassador. “This great country has courteous waiters, skilled chefs, fine produce buyers and talented farmers. But now we realize that none of them is really responsible for the delicious dinner we had last night.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • Who really produced the fruits and vegetables? Why is it important to know the answer?

  • What was the biggest difference between those who ate at the restaurant and those who ate at the farm table?

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  • Given who ultimately produced the fruits and vegetables, what is the best way of saying thank you?