Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 18 May 2024 / 10 Iyar 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 23)

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

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

Birkat HaMazon continues: “You open Your Hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem; then Hashem will be his security.”

The opening sentence is a verse from Tehillim (145:16). Rabbi Yochanan teaches (Ta’anit 2a-b) that Hashem delegates many responsibilities to agents in this world but that there are three “keys” He retains direct control over: the “key” of rain, the “key” of childbirth and the “key” of the Resurrection of the Dead. The Talmud then cites a similar idea from the Sages of Eretz Yisrael, that the “key” for parnasah – livelihood – is also in the Hands of Hashem alone. The Sages of Eretz Yisrael cite our verse as proof that our sustenance comes directly from Hashem, “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” The Talmud asks why Rabbi Yochanan chose not to add a fourth “key to his list and include the “key” of parnasah, like the Sages of Eretz Yisrael did. The Talmud answers that according to Rabbi Yochanan, the “key” of rain and the “key” of parnasah are one and the same, because the blessing of sustenance is derived from the rain, which causes the world to flourish and to prosper.

The Iyun Tefillah points out that as the verse states, “You open Your Hand,” it is an indication that sometimes Hashem’s Hand is closed and sometimes it is open. Our verse is a constant reminder that the key to our parnasah rests only with Hashem, and that we need Him to open His Hand for us.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes that the word “ratzon” does not always mean desire. In certain contexts, it can mean favor. For example, “Yehi Ratzu Achiv” (Devarim 33:24) or Yehi Ratzon Milfanecha. According to Rabbi Hirsch, here it means that Hashem gives everyone chen – grace – in the eyes of other people, which is the most basic prerequisite for making a parnasah. Whether we utilize that chen or not is dependent entirely on ourselves. My late father used to say how it was so much easier to give larger donations to charitable causes when the person collecting made a friendlier impression.

In his customary sharp and incisive way, the Brisker Rav would say that he doesn’t understand how it is that the wealthy have parnasah. He understands how the poor have parnasah. They realize that they can’t manage on their own, so they place all of their trust in Hashem. But the wealthy are – well, wealthy – and they think they can manage on their own. Even when they pray, they don’t feel they need to ask for parnasah. So how do they have parnasah? The Brisker Rav left the question open-ended.

Perhaps now it is possible to understand why, in the beautiful prayers that we recite on Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh, we ask Hashem to bless with Yirat Shamayim – Fear of the Heavens – twice. After asking for Yirat Shamayim the first time, we then ask Hashem to bless us with an abundant parnasah. And if that request is answered, there is a need for additional Yirat Shamayim to help us use our wealth appropriately.

This explains why this verse is followed immediately by the verse from Yirimiyahu (17:7), “Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem; then Hashem will be his security.” Because, as the Rabbi David Kimche explains, the two concepts go together. When one places their trust in the Hands of Hashem, they are, by definition, allowing Hashem to be their security.

To be continued…

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