Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 3 February 2024 / 24 Shvat 5784

Birkat Hamazon: Blueprint of Jewish Destiny (Part 11)

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

(Zohar HaKadosh to ParshatTerumah)

The Fourth Blessing begins: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, the Almighty, our Father, our King, our Sovereign, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Maker, our Holy One, Holy One of Yaakov, our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Israel, the King Who is good and Who does good for all.”

As mentioned in the introduction, this blessing was added to Birkat HaMazon by the Beit Din of Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh (Brachot 48b). The words, “Who is good and Who does good for all,” refer to a miracle that occurred during the Roman conquest of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were brutally massacred. Among the many cruel and vindictive acts the Romans did was to leave the bodies of the slaughtered unburied for seven long years. And, yet, during the entire time that they had not yet been brought to burial, they miraculously did not decompose. It is this specific miracle that is being commemorated in our blessing.

However, the blessing is not only focused on one specific miracle, on one particular act of goodness that Hashem did for us. The Maharal explains that the beginning of the blessing, from “our G-d” until “the King Who is good”, is made up of ten different components. The Maharal says that the number ten always represents holiness. In our blessing, we are moving upwards from one level of holiness to the next, finally arriving at the greatest possible level of understanding the holiness of Hashem, which is His goodness. Thus, the blessing also focuses on the abundance of goodness that Hashem blesses us with. And the more that we recognize Hashem’s goodwill, the greater is our ability to thank Him for it. And the greater our ability, the greater is our responsibility to do so.

The Talmud (Ketubot 104a) partially portrays Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi’s great wealth and his unapparelled achievements. On his deathbed, our Sages relate that he lifted up his hands to the Heavens and declared, “You [Hashem] know that I toiled before You with all my ten fingers in Torah, and I did not take any pleasure from this world, not even with my small finger!”

Rabbi Shlomo Goldman (1869-1945), the illustrious and saintly Rebbe Shlomke of Zvhil, points out that Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi’s statement seems to be implausible. He was wealthy beyond imagination. He was treated with the utmost honor by all, Jews and non-Jews alike. He was monumentally successful in his endeavors for the benefit of the Jewish People. Rebbe Shlomke asks, “How could Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi not have enjoyed this world?” Rebbe Shlomke explains that in the Spiritual Realms it was decreed for Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi to be destined to enjoy a certain amount of pleasure in the physical world. Therefore, Hashem blessed him with goodness in order that he could derive pleasure from it. But he didn’t want to take part in that enjoyment. He preferred to accrue more and more spiritual rewards and pleasures, and not to use any of his merits for his own physical comfort. Hashem then sent him more kindness and more goodness so that he would be able to experience the pleasures he was destined to receive. But, once again, he didn’t want to take pleasure from them. So, Hashem sent him more and more measures of goodness, but still he refused to allow those materialistic pleasures to affect his life. This was the secret to Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi’s immense wealth and success. Hashem continuously sent him more and more goodness so that he could enjoy his “portion” of physical pleasure, but he refused to take it for himself!

In the same vein, Rabbi Yosef ibn Migash (1077-1141) from Spain, commonly known by his acronym “Ri MiGash,” one of the most brilliant and influential spiritual leaders of Spanish Jewry, writes that our primary debt of gratitude – hakarat hatov – should be reserved for Hashem. In his words, “Hashem bestows perfect goodness upon us. How fitting and proper is it that we praise Hashem with perfect praises! That we should not do anything that will cause Hashem to be angry with us. And we should not do anything that Hashem hates.”

To be continued…

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