Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 1 June 2024 / 24 Iyar 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 25)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Anyone who recites Birkat HaMazon is blessed through it.”

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

As we have learned together, Birkat HaMazon has so many beautiful aspects. Each new detail adds another sparkling dimension, and together they weave the most magnificent tapestry. In fact, Birkat HaMazon is such a foundational component of our relationship with Hashem that Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (1561-1640), in the commentary Bayit Chadash (commonly known by the acronym Ba’Ch) on the Tur, quotes the Sefer haChinuch: “Whoever is careful regarding the recitation of Birkat HaMazon will merit to receive his livelihood in a dignified manner all the days of his life.”

Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593), in his commentary on Megillat Rut (3:7), writes that Boaz, the righteous and selfless leader of the Jewish nation, merited success in all of his communal endeavors, managing to sustain the entire nation during many years of famine, due to his careful recitation of Birkat HaMazon.

Rabbi Sirkis points out that every single letter of the Aleph Bet is found in the text of Birkat HaMazon, except for one. The only letter that does not appear is the ‘final peh.’ Its lack is such an anomaly that he feels a need to explain why it is missing. He points out that many words that revolve around anger end with a ‘final peh.’ For example, ‘af’ and ‘ketzef’ end this way. He writes that the ‘final peh’ represents anger, and then says that whoever recites Birkat HaMazon with concentration and intent will be protected from all manner of anger and destruction.

He also relates a story from Sefer Chassidim about a man who passed away and appeared in a dream to one of his relatives. He told him that every day he is judged anew because he did not recite Birkat HaMazon with the correct concentration and intent.

I, personally, was inadvertently persuaded by one of my sons to treat the way I relate to Birkat HaMazon more seriously. One summer, a few years ago, my son was visiting family in London. One day, he phoned and said that they had gone out sightseeing and they had taken sandwiches for lunch. After finishing eating, he started getting himself ready to recite Birkat HaMazon, when he realized that he did not have the text with him. My son is an up-and-coming Torah scholar and certainly knows Birkat HaMazon by heart. But, as part of his Avodat Hashem – his approach to his spiritual growth – he had made a commitment to always recite Birkat HaMazon from a text. In that way, he hoped to fine-tune his intent when reciting it and to imbue his Birkat HaMazon with more meaning. And, now, he found himself on a beautiful summer afternoon in a park in central London - textless! So, he phoned home and asked me to read out the text to him so that he could write it out. And that is exactly what we did. I read out the text, word by word and he wrote it down. And then he recited Birkat HaMazon slowly and carefully. As he always does.

Recognizing the wisdom behind his actions, I also took upon myself to recite Birkat HaMazon from a text. And it makes all the difference. It makes me slow down. It makes me pay more attention to what I am saying. And it allows me to savor each word. At least as much, I hope, as I savored each mouthful of whatever I have just eaten!

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