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Birkat HaZan

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Apr 17, 2005
The first berakhah of the Birkat HaMazon is known as Birkat HaZan. As the Arukh HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 187:2) points out, it is a multi faceted prayer, praising the Source of both life-sustaining necessities and life enhancing luxuries, and praying as well that His kindness will continue. The Talmud (Berakhot 48b) attributes its authorship to Moshe himself, who instituted at the prayer upon witnessing the gift of the man. Rishonim (see Chiddushei HaRashba and Shittah Mekubetzet to Berakhot. See also Hasagot HaRamban L'Sefer HaMitzvot, shoresh 1) note that this poses no contradiction to the biblical origin of Birkat HaMazon; while the obligation is indeed d'orayta, the actual format of the berakhot was developed later, beginning with Moshe's formulation of Birkat HaZan (See Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 187; note also R. Baruch Hass, Mishnat Baruch, Berakhot 16a.). The Mabit (Beit Elokim, sha'ar ha-yesodot ch. 61).contends that there is every reason to assume that Moshe's berakhah was identical to that recited today; even verses that appear in Tehillim could just as easliy have been revealed to Moshe before they were to King David. (See Prishah, 187:2, Rosh, Ber. 7:22 and Ma'adanei Yom Yov #70, and Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 28:8.)

It is readily understood that Moshe wished to lend specific form to the biblical imperative of reciting a berakhah upon completing a meal; the particular timing, however, has invited some commentary. Certainly the Jewish people had eaten many times before, and the Divine source of that sustenance could not have escaped Moshe's notice. In fact, the man seems an inappropriate choice to motivate this berakhah, in that it itself apparently fell short of the standards required for Birkat HaMazon, not being one of the five types of grain (although the Torah does use the word lechem; See Chiddushei HaRitva, Kiddushin 37b. See, however, R. Yosef Engel, Gilyonei HaShas to Berakhot, based on R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai, Nachal Kedumim, Shemot 40:23. See also R. Yochanan Shteif, Chadashim Gam Yeshanim to Berakhot, citing Ramban.).

As such, a debate exists as to the proper preceding berakhah for man. R. Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (S'dei Chemed, ma'arekhet ha-khaf, klal 100; see also B'nei Yisaschar, ma'amarei shabbat ma'amar 3) felt that no berakhah was made on man. R. Avraham Danzig (Chayyei Adam) was convinced that if any berakhah at all was made, it was certainly not the standard "ha-motzi". The Rama of Panu (ma'amar shabatot #5) writes that the proper berakhah was "ha-motzi lechem min ha-shamayyim". R. Yehudah HaChasid (Sefer Chasidim #1640) suggests"ha-notein lechem min ha-shamayyim", while the Shut Torah L'Shmah (#63) has "ha-mamtir lechem min ha-shamayyim" See also R. Meir Blumenfeld, Shut Perach Shoshanah #35;. R. Shimon Pollack, Shut Shem MiShimon II, 202; Piskei Teshuvah #280, quoting Siftei Tzadik, Parshat Beshalach; R. Shalom Krausz, Shut Divrei Shalom V, 9; R. Shlomo Zalman Braun, She'arim Metzuyyanim B'Halakhah to Berakhot; R. David Yoel Weiss, Megadim Chadashim to Berakhot at length; Gilyonei HaShas, Berakhot; R. Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg, Shut Tzitz Eliezer XII, 1; Tzintzenet HaMan (in R. Aryeh Mordechai Rabinowitz's Sha'arei Aryeh) #45; Ta'amei Minhagim, inyanei Shabbat p. 144, citing Mirkevet HaMishnah to Mekhilta, Beshalach p. 66a; R. Menashe Zilber, Marpei L'Nefesh, Berakhot 48b; and R. Aharon David Gross, V'Darashta V'Chakarta to Beshalach, p. 143.

What, then, distinguished the falling of the man in such a manner as to prompt Moshe to compose this text? The Mabit suggests that the overtly miraculous nature of this event gave rise to a fear in Moshe's heart that the Jewish people were to be sustained only through Moshe's personal merit; and upon his passing, such miracles would cease, leaving the nation of Israel to go hungry. He thus responded to this concern by instituting a prayer that beseeches G-d to continually provide for His creations.

R. Nachum Meir Bronznick (Birkat HaMazon V'Nuschah: Iyyunim V'Peirushim, p. 9) suggests another relevance to Moshe's timing. The prayer's composition came on the heels of another enactment of Moshe's. The Talmud (Yoma 75a).states that initially, the behavior of the Jewish people in the desert was like that of a chicken searching around in the garbage; their eating was purely life-sustaining, lacking any sense of order or system (k'viyut). At the time of the man, Moshe instituted that meals should have set times. Part of the defining element of a meal that warrants Birkat HaMazon is that it not be a snack, lacking in importance or dignity, but a set meal, a seudat k'viyut. Prior to the period of the man, this ingredient was lacking; only when k'viyut was established was Birkat HaZan truly relevant.

Indeed, the connection between k'viyut and Birkat HaZan is more clearly emphasized when it is considered that this berakhah is, more than any of the other berakhot, closely intertwined with the process of zimmun, which itself typifies k'viyut. The Talmud relates a dispute as to the boundaries of zimmun; according to one opinion, the entire Birkat HaZan is included. This concept plays a role practically in a number of ways. When one wishes to participate in a zimmun but to continue eating, he is obligated to pause first and listen to the zimmun. According to the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 200:2) he need only wait until HaZan begins; the Rama, however requires listening to the entire berakhah before proceding. [This dispute stems from an earlier argument in Berakhot 46a; note, though, Bayit Chadash and Beit Yosef, who suggest that the pause is to display involvement in the zimmun and the question is how much is necessary in order to clearly indicate this.] Further, even when all involved are bentching together, Birkat HaZan figures prominently in the zimmun. The Mishneh Berurah (Orach Chaim 183:28) requires that all participants listen to the leader's recitation of the first berakhah, pronouncing the words along with him; the Magen Avraham prefers the position of the Tashbetz, who instructs the participants to be silent for this berakhah and fulfill their obligations by listening to the leader (shomea k'oneh). In either case, both views place Birkat HaZan prominently within the zimmun process, and many authorities take up the question of why more care is not taken that zimmun is always perfomed in this manner. (See R. Yitzchak Leibes, Shut Beit Avi II, 6; R. Ya'akov Yechiel Traube, Shut Avnei Ya'akov 31:1; R. Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg, Shut Tzitz Eliezer XVI, 1; R. Yisrael Avraham Alter Landau, Shut Beit Yisrael #29; and R. Ovadiah Yosef, Shut Yabbia Omer I, 11:6-10.)

R. Ze'ev Nachum Borenstein (Shut Agudat Ezov 57:2) offers another perspective on the connection between man and this berakhah. Moshe felt that the basic sustenance enjoyed by humans until then warranted no special berakhah; the G-d who would create a world and populate it must keep that population alive for the creation to have any purpose. The man, however, is representative of a higher level of Divine involvement in the lives of the Jewish people. Indeed, the Talmud states that the man was given in no more than daily portions so that the relationship with G-d would be constantly felt and desired, rather than the detatchment that would come from a longer-lasting supply. It is this holy relationship, rather than the basic gift of food, that is actually commemorated by this berakhah.

With this approach, R. Borenstein offers an interpretation of a puzzling comment of Rashi. In interpreting a statement in the Talmud, Rashi appears to rule that an individual (without a mezuman) should not recite Birkat HaZan (Berakhot 46a; see Tosafot, s.v. u'l'man.) If indeed this berakhah is focused on the Divine connection, perhaps this comment can be understood. In the Mishnah (Avot 3:4.), R. Shimon states that three who eat, and have words of Torah among them, are as if they ate from "the table of G-d". According to R. Ovadiah of Bartenura, the "words of Torah" are the words of Birkat HaMazon. Thus, the Birkat HaMazon of three takes upon an especially Divine aspect, and it is to that that the Birkat HaZan is particularly attuned.

In explaining the biblical origin of Birkat HaMazon, the Talmud (Berakhot 48b) derives two concepts in dealing with the verse, v'achalta v'savata u'beirakhta et Hashem Elokekha, "and you shall eat, and be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d." The opening phrase, v'achalta v'savata u'beirakhta, is the source for Birkat HaZan, while the closing phrase, et Hashem Elokekha, refers to the concept of zimmun. The authors of the Tosafot (Berakhot 46a, s.v. ad; see also Hagahot HaGra to 48b), however, relate the reverse text, with the first half of the verse mandating zimmun, and the phrase et Hashem Elokekha referring to Birkat Hazan (Note R. Yechezkel Landau, Tzlach to Berakhot, and, at length, R. Ya'akov Grendash, Shoshanat Ya'akov to Berakhot.) R. Chaim Tzvi Brida (Otzar Chaim to Berakhot) comments on the appropriateness of such a derivation. The essence of Birkat HaZan is not merely the appreciation of the food, but a focus upon the Source of that food, and an understanding and valuing of the Divine-human relationship.

The focus upon G-d directly is evident as well from an alternative text allowed by the Talmud (Berakhot 40b; see Orach Chaim 187:1 and Shut Rav Poalim III, 7.): "Brikh Rachmana Malka, Mareih d'hai pita - Blessed is G-d the King, Master of this bread." A dispute exists as to whether or not it is necessary to conclude with the phrase"Brikh Rachmana d'zan kulah - Blessed is G-d who feeds all." (See Shulchan Arukh ibid, as well as R. Shalom Mordechai Schwadron, Da'at Torah to Orach Chaim, and R. Yitzchak Harari, Shut Zekhor L'Yitzchak #51.)

Many commentators note that this berakhah refers to G-d in lashon nistar, in third person, while later berakhot involve a direct second person address (lashon nokhach) such as Nodeh Likha. An explanation commonly offered (see Otzar HaTefillot; Haggadat Beit Ya'akov; and R. Tzadok HaKohen, Tzidkat haTzaddik p. 247) is that the first berakhah, composed before entry to the land of Israel, was farther removed from the Divine presence and thus not privileged to address G-d directly; while later berakhot benefit from holiness of the land of Israel and do have this opportunity. Such a detail would seem to place the first berakhah at a disadvantage when compared with other berakhot. Further, one might assume that the second berakhah, expressing gratitude for the Land, should precede that which mentions the food that comes from the land. Nonetheless, writes the Bayit Chadash, Birkat HaZan is given precedence in light of its authorship, i.e. Moshe as opposed to his student Yehoshua (who composed the second berakhah, Birkat HaAretz) [As to whether or not one who inverts the order of the berakhot fulfills his obligation, see R. Shmuel Abuhab, Shut D'var Shmuel #147; R. Shlomo Kluger, Shut U'Bacharta BaChaim #52; and R. Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg, Shut Tzitz Eliezer XIII, 15.] .

However, in light of the above, it is perhaps possible to suggest an additional element. Birkat HaZan, in essence, is not discussing food in itself, but is focusing our attention on the relationship that exists between the Provider of all food and His creations. This berakhah, which we have seen trancends mere sustenance in favor of k'viyut, of an established, ongoing relationship of permanence, of importance and dignity, directs our attention to the reality that all that we benefit from in this world is colored and granted significance by the nature of He who bestows it. Before we mention the Land of Israel, before Brit, Torah, and the Kingdom of David, this primary introduction is indispensible. The eloquent words of Moshe Rabbeinu masterfully set the stage for the rest of Birkat HaMazon, indeed for all berakhot and their subjects.


References: Berachot: 48b 

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