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Birkat HaMazon and Jerusalem


Also see an accompanying column by Rabbi Francis Nataf, "Making gratitude count."

This week’s parasha, the third from the book of Devorim, is Ekev, where we learn of the sole Biblical source for the mitzva to recite Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals.

The third prayer in this service is the heartfelt tefillah for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. According to tradition, this prayer was written by King David, asking for G-d’s compassion toward the people and land, with King Solomon adding a segment on behalf of the Temple.

In his commentary, “Halacha from the Sources: Birkat HaMazon and Zemirot Shabbat,” published by the Halacha Education Center, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon deals extensively with this central paragraph, explaining its content as well as the purpose for its recitation in what is otherwise specifically a prayer of thanks for food:

“An analysis of this beracha reveals that it is constructed of two parts. The first is a general request to protect the nation and the city of Jerusalem, whereas the second is a personal request that G-d supply us with everything we need, so that we do not need to rely on other people.”

Rabbi Rimon continues:

“The Torah describes sustenance as emanating from the Temple, teaching us that whenever we eat, we should view our actions as connected with G-d’s home in Jerusalem. Even when we eat outside of Jerusalem, we mention Jerusalem in our blessing.”

Rabbi Rimon adds this observation:

“At a deeper level, one can explain that the link to the Temple also elevates our eating spiritually. Drawing on the connection between one’s consumption and G-d and the Temple creates a self-awareness that is reflected in our conduct. This is demonstrated by the Torah’s description of ma’aser sheni, which must be eaten in Jerusalem before G-d. The Torah states that the reason for this requirement is to require people to come and eat before G-d in Jerusalem.

“Eating before G-d takes a physical action and makes it into a spiritual one. By mentioning Jerusalem each time we eat, we recognize that our physical existence is not the essence, but rather the means by which we can work to better G-d’s world. Each individual who eats focuses on the national goals of Jerusalem and spreading the name of G-d in the world. This sensitizes us to the fact that even our mundane actions are steps in our quest to ‘Rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem hastily in our time’.”

Given the events in Israel today, Rabbi Rimon’s teachings are especially relevant. Consider these words:

“G-d’s watchfulness over the land of Israel is unique: G-d is only directly involved in the occurrences of the land of Israel. Therefore, the food one receives in Israel is more directly connected to G-d than the food one receives outside of Israel. This direct connection requires a specific blessing upon the land in the context of consumption, in recognition of the unique connection with G-d symbolized by the food of the land.”

Thus, we learn from these teachings of the primacy of both Israel and Jerusalem in our theological teachings, as well as of our national aspirations. Any divide in these aspirations is false teachings that lead directly to a misrepresentation of our religion and of our G-d. This is the lesson that must be reaffirmed each day as we sit down to eat and bless G-d for our bounty. Both the land of Israel and Jerusalem at its center are to be foremost in our thoughts at all times.

Let us all be mindful of this sacred teaching as we daily follow and demonstrate our continuing concern for our brethren in Israel.

This column was originally published in 2014.