Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 30 March 2024 / 20 Adar Bet 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 19)

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

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

The requests continue: The Compassionate One, may He bless me (my wife/husband and my children) and all that is mine. Ours and all that is ours. Just as our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov were blessed in everything, from everything, with everything. May He bless us all together with a perfect blessing. And let us say, Amen.

One of the innumerable beauties of Judaism is that not only is it permissible to ask for material blessings, it is often recommended. Unlike so many other belief systems, Judaism teaches that there is absolutely no contradiction between living a physical life and living a spiritual life at the same time.

That is why, after having finished a meal and whilst basking in the feeling of satiation from the delicious food we have just eaten, we ask Hashem to bless us. Ourselves. Our loved ones. Our homes. Our possessions. Because everything that we have comes from Hashem and the more often that we remind ourselves of that fact, the greater will be our feelings of gratitude.

In Tehillim (102:24), King David declares, “Melo Ha’aretz Kinyanecha.” The conventional translation of the verse is, “The earth is filled with Your possessions” and it is referring to the fact that Hashem has complete mastery and ownership of the universe. However, Rabbi Dov Ber of Metzrich (1704-1772) referred to simply as “The Maggid” in Chassidic circles and one of the closest disciples of the Ba’al Shem Tov and his eventual successor, would explain the verse homiletically, “Earthliness is filled [with abundant opportunities] to acquire [closeness] with You.”

Without a doubt, it is hard work trying to ensure that the desire for physicality and the pursuit of materialism does not distract us from our innate spirituality and who we really are. Sometimes, when a person takes more and more out of the physical world they are seduced into believing that there is nothing more important than material success.

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) was an enormously successful banker and one of the richest people in England. In fact, his fabled wealth gave him the ability to break through the social snobbery and pervasive antisemitism of his time. Allowing him to reach the highest levels of aristocracy and even attaining the post of Sheriff of London. But by far his greatest achievement was his never-ending concern for his fellow Jews around the world. He would travel to anywhere in order to help Jews in trouble. Capitalizing on his reputation and his social standing he was able to gain audiences with royalty and governments insisting that they alleviate the intolerable burdens that they had placed on the Jews that lived in their countries.

Once, hearing about the terrible persecution that the Jews in Russia were suffering from, he traveled to speak to the Czar and to ask for his help in lessening the cruel edicts that had been decreed against them. As always, he traveled in style using his own luxurious coach emblazoned with his personal coat of arms and accompanied by his liveried footmen. As he was passing through Warsaw a local Polish peasant ran after the coach and shouted, “Zhid! Zhid! Jew! Jew!”

Sir Moses Montefiore told his driver to stop the coach and instructed one his footmen to chase after the peasant and bring him to him. The footman easily outran the peasant and he hauled him back to the coach. By this point the peasant was so terrified that he couldn’t stop shaking from fear. Sir Moses Montefiore walked over to him and took out a one-pound note – a pound note was a lot of money in those days – and he gave it to him. And he told him, “Back in England they call me the Sheriff of London. They call me Baronet Rothschild. They call me this. And they call me that. I have a lot of titles. But for me the most beloved title of all is the one that you just called me, Zhid – Jew. That is truly the grandest title of them all!”

Sir Moses Montefiore, was one of a rare breed of people who, as he became more and more successful, became more and more aware of his Creator and of his responsibly to look after Hashem’s Chosen Nation to the best of his ability. At the pinnacle of everything that this world has to offer – wealth, standing, respect, honor and so much more – Sir Moses Montefiore never stopped thanking Hashem for everything that He had blessed him with. And he never stopped asking for more.

To be continued…

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