Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 20 April 2024 / 12 Nissan 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 22)

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

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

The final paragraph of Birkat HaMazon begins: Fear Hashem, you His holy ones, for there is no deprivation for His reverent ones. Young lions may want and hunger, but those who seek Hashem will not lack any good. Give thanks to G-d for He is good. His kindness endures forever.

The Eitz Yosef explains that one who has a healthy fear of Hashem is able to feel content even if they do not have everything that they want, because they trust that whatever Hashem has given them is what they need right now. On the other hand, someone who does not fear Hashem will never be able to feel a sense of real, absolute contentment because whatever Hashem blesses them with simply feeds their desire for more. However, when it comes to spiritual aspirations and growth we should never be satisfied.

The Talmud relates (Moed Katan 9b) that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai sent his son to Rabbi Yonatan and Rabbi Yehuda for a blessing. They blessed him with what sounded like a very strange blessing. Among other things they blessed him, “May your home be destroyed, and may you dwell in a temporary lodging.” In explanation Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin writes (Pri Tzaddik) that sometimes people become content with the level of Torah and Tefillah they have achieved. Their contentment stems from their imagining that they have achieved as much as they are capable of achieving. And, instead of spurring them onwards, their satisfaction in their accomplishments actually serves as a damper to stop them from aspiring to reaching higher and to becoming greater. Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin explains that Rabbi Yonatan and Rabbi Yehuda were blessing Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s son that he should always be able to recognize what needs improvement. That he should be able to “destroy his home” – to identify the areas that he feels comfortable in – because they will be the cause of his not being able to attain even deeper levels of understanding Hashem’s Torah and to reach even loftier levels of closeness to Hashem.

Perhaps the greatest awareness that a person can be blessed with is the knowledge that when it comes to spiritual matters there is always room for more. However high a person has reached, it is simply a a “temporary lodging” that will give them the strength to push forwards and to reach even higher levels. Because, ultimately, there is nothing more fulfilling – nothing that brings more satisfaction into a person’s life – than the pursuit of spiritual perfection.

Determined to unearth an unknown story about the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Shimshon Pincus had tracked down the Chofetz Chaim’s granddaughter who was living in a non-religious kibbutz in Israel. Rabbi Pincus asked her if she might have any stories about her saintly and revered grandfather that were not generally known. The Chofetz Chaim’s granddaughter thought for a few moments and then began to relate a personal story.

“When I was a young woman, I traveled to Russia to attend one of the great universities. I missed Radin, my home and my family, and I missed my grandfather. So when I had a chance to return home, I did so. The journey began with a train ride, away from the university, which was a hub of science, literature and technology. As we traveled into Poland, it was as if we were going back in time. I switched from a train to a horse-drawn carriage. As we continued, there was no electricity. And then we reached a village where the only water was drawn from a communal pump. By the time I got to Radin, it was past midnight. I didn’t want to wake up my parents but I knew that the Zeidy – the Chofetz Chaim – would still be awake, so I went to him. He greeted me fondly, gave me to eat and drink, and then he sat down again to continue learning. I watched him for a few moments and then the question burst out of me. ‘Zeidy, I have come from the university where they are studying the latest technological findings. They are at the forefront of all change, whether in science or medicine or technology. And you are still studying these dusty old sefarim [books], which are thousands of years old!’ My Zeidy looked up at me for a long moment. And then he said, ‘In the universities, they are learning how to make the world.’ He pointed to his Gemara. ‘But we...we are learning how to make man.’”

Because, as King David so poetically writes (Tehillim 119:72), “Tov li Torat picha me’alfei zahav vakesef – I prefer the Torah of Your mouth to thousands in gold and silver.”

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