Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 24 August 2019 / 23 Av 5779

Parshat Ekev

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Food For Thought

This parsha contains the mitzvah of Grace after Meals — “When you eat and are satisfied, then bless G-d…“ Rav Hirsch examines several aspects of the Grace after Meals, finding profound ethical significance in the halalcha regarding three who partake of a meal together. When three or more adults break bread together, they are obligated to also cite the Grace after Meals together, to give expression to the fact that they ate communally. The zimun, as it is called, follows this pattern:

Leader: My friends, let us say the blessing.

The others answer: May the name of the L-rd be blessed from now and forever more.

The leader continues: May the name of the L-rd be blessed from now and forever more. With permission of the distinguished people present — Let us bless Him whose food we have eaten.

The others say: Blessed is He whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live.

Then, the leader recites the blessing on behalf of the others, who respond Amen, and thereby make his blessing their own.

In seeking food — more than in anything else — a person tends to think only of himself, and every man competes with his fellow man. The communal element in the meal and in the recitation of the blessing reminds us of G-d’s goodness, which is directed simultaneously and in equal measure. The first blessing, which is customarily recited aloud by the leader, concludes: Blessed are You, Hashem, who provides food to all. We are thus liberated from selfish thoughts.

Indeed, this is a fitting conclusion to the entire process of nourishment — from planting the first grain of wheat to blessing G-d for his bounty after the meal. At every step we are reminded of our obligations to our fellow man. For on the Jewish field, no seed ripens for the owner alone. Precisely where selfish desires may enter, we are instructed to sanctify. When the landowner works his land and gathers his produce, he sets aside the gifts to the Kohen and the Levi. He gives ma’aser, a tenth of his produce, to the Levi to sustain him in his service of G-d. The landowner is cautioned to leave a corner of his field for the poor, along with bundles that were inadvertently forgotten. Finally, when the grain is processed and turned into dough, before it is baked into bread, challah is removed for the Kohen.

Thus, the entire process of nourishment culminates with communal recognition of the One G-d, through whose goodness we live.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 8:9; Collected Writings Vol II, pp. 317-323

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