Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Berachot 21a: Is Birkat Hamazon Biblical?

The gemara in Berachot 21a reads:
אמר רב יהודה מנין לברכת המזון לאחריה מן התורה שנאמר (דברים ח, י) ואכלת ושבעת וברכת
Or, in English:
Rab Judah said: Where do we find that the grace after meals is ordained in the Torah? Because it says: And thou shalt eat and be satisfied and bless.3
That pasuk, in Devarim 8, in Ekev, reads:
י  וְאָכַלְתָּ, וְשָׂבָעְתָּ--וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, עַל-הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לָךְ.10 And thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD thy God for the good land which He hath given thee.

One can certainly read this as a command, on a peshat level. But Shadal explains it as follows, and makes a rather good point:
וברכת: לפי הפשט אין זה ציווי, רק הודעה שכל כך תהיה טובתך והצלחתך, עד כי מעצמך תכיר חסד הבורא ותתעורר לברכו; ואח"כ הזהיר שישמרו לבלתי שכוח כי מה' היתה זאת להם. כי כן טבע האדם כשתבואהו טובה גדולה, הוא מברך את ה', אך אח"כ ברוב הימים הטובה נעשית לו טבעית, והוא שוכח מצבו הקודם.
"And bless: According to the peshat, this is not a command [to bless]; rather, it informing that so good will be your good and success, to such an extent that of your own you will recognize the Creator and be stirred up to bless him. And after that [in the following pesukim] it warns to be careful lest you forget that from Hashem was this to them. For such is the nature of man, when a great good comes to him, he blesses Hashem, but afterwards, with the great number of days of good, it becomes natural to him, and he forgets his former situation."

In other words, not tzivuy, but telling us just how good it will be. Meanwhile, even the Karaites take it as a tzivuy and obligation. Thus, Aaron the Karaite writes:

The alternative to Shadal, on the level of peshat, is that the vav of וּבֵרַכְתָּ is telling you the necessary conclusion. And indeed, we should contrast it with the alternative, appearing later in the perek:
יז  וְאָמַרְתָּ, בִּלְבָבֶךָ:  כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי, עָשָׂה לִי אֶת-הַחַיִל הַזֶּה.17 and thou say in thy heart: 'My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.'
יח  וְזָכַרְתָּ, אֶת-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ--כִּי הוּא הַנֹּתֵן לְךָ כֹּחַ, לַעֲשׂוֹת חָיִל:  לְמַעַן הָקִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה.  {פ}18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day. {P}

The proper response to וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ, the Torah is telling us, is וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת-ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ.

Perhaps this is in your heart, in parallel and contrast to וְאָמַרְתָּ בִּלְבָבֶךָ in pasuk 17. But say that a beracha is out loud.

Even so, peshat in this pasuk is not bentching. It is a recognition, every once in a while, when living the good life in the land of Israel, and then thanking Hashem, either in your heart or out line.

What we see in the gemara is a derasha, that every time you literally eat until you are satiated, you must make a blessing. Perhaps when one blesses

This does not mean that this derasha does not create a chiyuv deoraysa; or that while bentching with proper intent, you are not in this manner fulfilling the peshat interpretation of the pasuk.

Separate from this, on a peshat level, is this only thanking for the land?


  1. I think even on a peshat level it isn't thanking Hashem *for* the land, but (as Shadal understands it) that *because of* "the gift of the good Land" we will eat and be satisfied and be thereby be inspired to thank Hashem for the bounty we enjoyed. Otherwise what would the peshat be? That we only thank Hashem for the Land when we are full?

  2. i would understand it in light of the immediately preceding pasuk, pasuk 9, which describes Eretz Yisrael as: "a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass."

    Thus, our continual experience will be one in which bread will not be scarce, but instead we will experience satisfaction. and this is a feature of the land. And in this continual existence, we should not forget to regularly thank Hashem. Not necessarily (as peshat) even every single time we eat and are satiated. But in general, within our continued wonderful living on the land.

    And yes, here, the purpose of the pasuk is to say that in the situation in which we are full, we should still thank Hashem, and not say kochi veOtzem yadi.