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Posted on August 7, 2020
It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. When are we most likely to pray — when we are in trouble or when things are going well? And when are we more likely to express appreciation — when we are in trouble or when things are going well?
Our Torah portion for this week, parashat Eikev, includes what might be the Torah’s only explicit command for actively reciting a blessing, for literally blessing God:
ספר דברים פרק ח
(י) וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃
When you eat and you are satisfied, you are to bless A’ your God on the good land which God has given you. Deut. 8:10
From this we learn the mitzvah (Jewish practice) of birkat hamazon, the blessing after meals. The rabbis explain that the Torah specifically commands the blessing after the meal because it is natural to say a blessing before the meal–we don’t need a command for that– but afterwards, when we are full and satisfied, we might be tempted to forget and neglect God. The rabbis clearly think we are more likely to speak to God when we are in need of sustenance. But the rabbis also mandate very short blessings prior to eating when we are hungry and save the long blessing for when we are comfortable and have the leisure to bless God at length.
The verse above specifically states that we are to thank God when we are satisfied. What if we are not satisfied with our meal? What if there is not enough food or it is poor quality or we don’t like it? The rabbis agree in such a case that the Torah does not mandate the birkat hamazon — but they do. Rabbinic law requires thanking God if we have eaten as much as the size of an olive, which, even if we have abnormally large olives, is not very much at all.
We learn from this to pray when things are going well and when they are not, and to have gratitude when things are going well and when they are not. We are living in tough times. Isolation is hard. Fear of disease is hard. Yet our blessing abound as well. We are blessed with technology that helps to mitigate the loneliness. We are blessed with opportunities to study and to read. We are blessed with opportunities to pray. It is summer and we can go outside. Most of us are blessed with sufficient and tasty food.
וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֔יךָ
When you eat and you are satisfied, you are to thank A’ your God
Let us thank God! Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Miriam Spitzer