Parshas Eikev - The Unusual Placement of Birkas Ha-Mazon

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August 06 2012

The mitzvah of Birkas Ha-Mazon ("Grace after Meals") is derived from the pasuk in this week's parshah which states, "And you shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless Hashem your God on the good land that He has given you." (Devarim 8:10) It is somewhat puzzling that this mitzvah appears in Parshas Eikev rather than in earlier parshiyos of the Torah which feature mitzvos that deal with the consumption of food, or in Parshas Ki Savo, which features the mitzvah of Mikra Bikurim, requiring the farmer to pronounce a detailed statement of gratitude to Hashem for the land and its produce. (Ibid. 26:1-10) Why does the mitzvah of Birkas Ha-Mazon appear in isolation from these other sections of the Torah which would seem to be more appropriate from a contextual perspective?

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the Torah prescribes Birkas Ha-Mazon as, "...and you shall bless Hashem your God on the good land that He has given you." Birkas Ha-Mazon is a mitzvah that applies both inside and outside of Eretz Yisroel. As such, why does the Torah specify Eretz Yisroel as the location for the fulfillment of this mitzvah? This question troubled some of the Meforshim (Commentators), and we will endeavor to provide a new answer to it. (Although the Torah's mention of Eretz Yisroel in conjunction with the mitzvah of Birkas Ha-Mazon is halachically expounded in the Gemara [Berachos 48b] as the basis for the second beracha of Birkas Ha-Mazon, we address here the Torah text's simple meaning [peshuto shel Mikra], as do several of the Meforshim.)

Parshas Eikev, and in particular the first section of it, in which the mitzvah of Birkas Ha-Mazon is featured, is geared to the inculcation of emunah (faith) in B'nei Yisroel that they are in Hashem's hands and instructs that they are to rely only on Him: "And you shall remember the entire path in which Hashem led you in the desert these forty years in order to afflict and test you, to know what is in your heart; whether you would heed His commandments or not. And He afflicted you and made you hungry and fed you the Mann (Manna) that you had not previously known, nor did your forefathers, in order to teach you that not on bread alone does man live, but rather on the word of Hashem does man live. Your clothing did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years...And you shall observe the commandments of Hashem your God, to go in His ways and to be in awe of Him. For Hashem your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of flowing ravines...A land of wheat and barley, and grapevines and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey. A land in which you shall eat bread without poverty; you shall lack nothing therein...And you shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless Hashem your God on the good land that He has given you. Be careful lest you forget Hashem your God, neglecting His commandments...Lest you eat and become satisfied and you build good houses and dwell therein. And your herds and flocks multiply, and you have an abundance of silver and gold, and all that you have multiplies. And your heart becomes haughty and you forget Hashem your God who brought you forth from Mitzrayim, from the house of slavery. Who took you through this great and awesome desert...and provided you there with water from flint rock. Who fed you Mann in the desert, which your forefathers did not know, in order to afflict and test you, for your ultimate benefit. And you would (dare) say in your heart, 'My own strength and might are the source of my valor.' And you shall remember Hashem your God, for it is He who gives you strength to achieve valor - in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers as on this very day." (Devarim 8:2-18)

By miraculously providing for the care and sustenance of B'nei Yisroel in the Midbar concomitant with teaching and demonstrating that He alone is to be relied upon and none other, Hashem put B'nei Yisroel through a unique faith training program. The centerpiece of this faith training program was the Mann, which was a daily proclamation of Hashem's constant care and authority, and which was provided with rules and instruction that systematically imbued and reinforced within B'nei Yisroel a crystal clear sense of total trust and exclusive reliance on Hashem. The faith training program of the Midbar, as accentuated by the Mann, was perpetuated for eternity through the mitzvah of Birkas Ha-Mazon, such that one who eats to satisfaction is immediately humbled in thanksgiving to Hashem for His bounty, rather than crediting oneself for provision of the pleasures and any riches that he has. This is clearly indicated from the pesukim quoted above.

Thus, Birkas Ha-Mazon is not mere thanksgiving; rather, Birkas Ha-Mazon is an eternal continuation of the faith training program of the Midbar, perpetuating the faith training of the Mann and Hashem's other miraculous provisions during the forty-year sojourning of B’nei Yisroel in the Desert. One who recites Birkas Ha-Mazon after a meal affirms and acts upon the faith training teachings of the above-quoted text from Parshas Eikev.

It is thus understood why the mitzvah of Birkas Ha-Mazon is featured in Parshas Eikev rather than elsewhere in the Torah, as Birkas Ha-Mazon is a central part of the faith training program presented in Parshas Eikev, as originally manifested by the Mann. Birkas Ha-Mazon perpetuates this program and carries forth the emunah lessons, messages and effects of the Mann for eternity.

We can now answer why the Torah prescribes Birkas Ha-Mazon as, "...and you shall bless Hashem your God on the good land that He has given you." The primary concern in the section of Parshas Eikev quoted above is that of B'nei Yisroel abandoning reliance on Hashem and attributing their success to themselves when they would experience incredible bounty and richness upon settlement in Eretz Yisroel and the reaping of its lush and plentiful provisions; as a continuation of the faith training program of the Midbar and as an antidote to B'nei Yisroel abrogating reliance on Hashem when faced with satiety and pleasure, Hashem commanded that Birkas Ha-Mazon be recited after eating. Since Eretz Yisroel is the projected location for B'nei Yisroel becoming flooded with bounty and sated, and thereupon potentially abandoning reliance on Hashem, Eretz Yisroel is perforce central to the Torah's command to recite Birkas Ha-Mazon, as the goodness and satiety provided by the promised life would be manifested specifically in the Promised Land.

The next time that we recite Birkas Ha-Mazon, let us realize that we are perpetuating the lessons of the Mann and that we are linking into and continuing the faith training program of our ancestors as presented in Parshas Eikev, as we forever affirm our total reliance on Hashem and credit Him in full for the goodness in our lives.


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