What’s Up With HaTov V’haMeitiv: Is Birkas haMazon Really “Grace After Meals?”
I don’t know about you, but ever since I became aware of why the fourth bracha of bentching ) בֶּענְטְשֶׁן in Yiddish, "to bless") was instituted, there’s been kind of a damper on my Birkas haMazon.
No, I’m not a letz [scoffer], and don’t turn that dial just yet, let me explain!
Let me first flesh out the question. Then, through an analysis of the historical evolution of the four blessings, and with the help of a popular Friday night zemer [song], perhaps we can arrive at a deeper understanding of what bentching is all about—and sure enough, it’s not just “Thanks for the grub!” It really goes much further.
It’s an important point, worth exploring. As is all too often the case with our holy liturgy, we are introduced to the bentching in grade school where it is learned as a mindless exercise to be sung after meals to a ubiquitous tune; then when we become more ‘sophisticated’, we simply drop the tune, and hurriedly mumble our way through it without a great deal of thought.
WOW! ISN’T HASHEM WONDERFUL!
Cutting to the chase, let’s start at the very end, with haTov v’haMeitiv, the fourth and final bracha. (The multiple ‘Harachamon’s’ following ‘אַל־יְחַסְּרֵֽנוּ’ were later additions to the required text, asking for God’s compassion, to take advantage of the eis ratzon, the auspicious circumstance, generated by the act of bentching itself. They are in essence parallel to individual pleas insertable into Shemonah Esrei within Repha’einu and Shema koleinu).
Look at the text of the bracha with any standard translation. The first thing you notice is how incredibly flowery-but-vague it is. After reading it one certainly comes away with the impression of how really wonderful and full of grace and bounty God is, but without mention of any of His myriad specific goodnesses upon which to focus. It starts off with 12-14 sobriquets for God emphasizing His positive leadership of K’nessess Yisrael (they are hard to count exactly), delineates that He is our King who is good and who does good, and does so in two different ways [through טוּב and גְמִילָה], and throughout all time, past, present, and future. Then it ends with a listing of no less than 15 general categories of goodness with which He blesses us, and a brief five-word prayer that His goodness continue eternally.
There is certainly the strong sense that HaShem’s goodness is limitless and timeless, but the whole paragraph is filled with glittering generalities and seems in fact effusive, if you will pardon the harsh nuance of that word.
Additionally, note that there is almost no hint of our thankfulness specifically for food, in this, the final blessing over our just-completed meal! The only referent to physical sustenance in the entire paragraph is וְכַלְכָּלָה near the very end, almost as an afterthought!
ISN’T HE? – WONDERFUL?
Tractate Brachos 48b informs us that the first three brachos of Birkas haMazon are mid’Oraisa [Biblically-commanded] whereas the final bracha was rabbinically-ordained. Rav Nachman gives us a brief summary of the development of the brachos within the bentching, and tells us what the final bracha is really all about:
אָמַר רַב נַחְמָן: מֹשֶׁה תִּקֵּן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בִּרְכַּת ״הַזָּן״ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיָּרַד לָהֶם מָן. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ תִּקֵּן לָהֶם בִּרְכַּת הָאָרֶץ כֵּיוָן שֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ לָאָרֶץ. דָּוִד וּשְׁלֹמֹה תִּקְּנוּ ״בּוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם״. דָּוִד תִּקֵּן ״עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִירֶךָ״, וּשְׁלֹמֹה תִּקֵּן ״עַל הַבַּיִת הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ״. ״הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵּטִיב״ בְּיַבְנֶה תִּקְּנוּהָ כְּנֶגֶד הֲרוּגֵי בֵּיתָר. דְּאָמַר רַב מַתְנָא: אוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם שֶׁנִּיתְּנוּ הֲרוּגֵי בֵּיתָר לִקְבוּרָה תִּקְנוּ בְּיַבְנֶה ״הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵּטִיב״. ״הַטּוֹב״ — שֶׁלֹּא הִסְרִיחוּ, ״וְהַמֵּטִיב״ — שֶׁנִּיתְּנוּ לִקְבוּרָה.
With regard to the origins of the four blessings of Grace after Meals, Rav Nachman said: Moshe instituted for Israel the first blessing of: “Who feeds” all, when the manna descended for them to thank God. Yehoshua instituted the second blessing of the Land when they entered Eretz Yisrael. Dovid and Shlomo instituted the third blessing: “Who builds Jerusalem,” in the following manner: Dovid instituted “…on Israel Your people and on Jerusalem Your city…” as he conquered the city, and Shlomo instituted “…on the great and Holy Temple…” as he was the one who built the Temple. They, the Rabbanan, led by Rabban Gamliel, grandson of Hillel haZaken, instituted the fourth blessing: “Who is good and does good,” at Yavne in reference to the slain Jews of the city of Beitar at the culmination of the bar Kochva rebellion. These holy souls were initially denied burial by decree of Hadrianus, and the bodies were stored adjacent to a vineyard for some years. They were ultimately brought to burial after a multi-year interval during which Hadrian refused to permit their interment. As Rav Masna said: On the same day that the slain of Beitar were brought to burial, they instituted the blessing: “Who is good and does good” at Yavne. “Who is good,” thanking God that the corpses did not decompose while awaiting burial, “and does good,” thanking God that Hadrian’s initial decree was reversed and that they were ultimately brought to burial.
Focusing on the Gemara’s understanding of the last bracha, a number of incongruous and uncomfortable points emerge.
(1) This seemingly has nothing at all to do with our appreciation of food, specifically in reference to the meal we have just eaten. Of all places in the liturgy, why did Chazal place this remembrance within the bentching, and why specifically at the end of the bentching?
(2) While it is true that the miraculous preservation of the slain bodies for years was a neis niglah [a clearly miraculous event] and thus it is most certainly noteworthy and of significance (overt miracles don’t happen all that often!), why do Chazal express their thanks in such superlative and repetitive terms? Was it just a matter of kavod habrios [honor accorded God’s creations], specially granted to those who died to sanctify the Name of Heaven? That doesn't seem likely.
Another way of stating this question without meaning to sound flip is: “Who cares? Why is it so important?”
I mean that as a serious question, and I intend to answer it quite literally.
(3) As I initially said, this whole episode forms a distinct “downer” in my expressions of thanks for my food. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Ta’anis 4:5) tells us what a terrible tragedy and crushing defeat the fall of Beitar was for the Jewish people. After a grueling 3½ year siege in which the surrounded inhabitants fought valiantly against the Romans, the city finally fell on the Tisha b’Av of 135 CE. The Romans cruelly massacred every inhabitant (bar one) in retribution, and says the Gemara, they “went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood up to their nostrils.” Amongst pages and pages of equally horrific narratives, states the Midrash (Eichah Rabba 2:4): “Found in [the ruins of] Beitar were the brains of three hundred children upon one stone, along with three hundred baskets of the remains of tefillin, with every basket having the capacity to hold three seahs. If you should come to sum them up, you would find that they totaled nine hundred seahs [roughly filling the size of an 8 by 8 by 8-foot-tall bedroom up to the ceiling—thousands upon thousands of desecrated tefillin—and uncounted thousands of slain tefillin-wearers]. Said Rabban [Shimon ben] Gamliel: Five hundred schools were in Beitar, while the smallest of them wasn’t less than three hundred children [a minimum of 150,000 school-age children]. They used to say, ‘If the enemy should ever come upon us, we shall go forth and stab them with our iron engraving pens [used in their Torah studies].’ But since iniquities had caused [their fall], the enemy came and wrapped up each and every child in his own sefer and burnt them together, and no one remained except me.”
After the fall of Beitar, the Romans adopted the general strategy of “No survivors will be tolerated” in eradicating Jewish strongholds of resistance, in order to break their spirit.
If I am being honest, I must admit thinking to myself, “HaShem, thank You for Your myriad benevolences each and every day, and for Your significant miracles for the slain of Beitar—but wouldn’t it have been more benevolent to have let them win? Or at least to have spared them from such savage massacre?”
Ironically the exact antithesis of the purpose of the bracha…
So, question upon question, and justification for this piece’s title: What’s up with HaTov V’haMeitiv— Is Birkas haMazon really “Grace After Meals?”
A RAY OF LIGHT FROM THE GEMARA’S HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT
To begin our answer, let’s look for a significant pattern in the evolution of our current bentching from that Gemara we quoted in Tractate Brachos.
אָמַר רַב נַחְמָן: מֹשֶׁה תִּקֵּן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בִּרְכַּת ״הַזָּן״ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיָּרַד לָהֶם מָן.
Moshe instituted the first bracha of “Who feeds” when the manna descended.
The 40-year experience in the desert is widely regarded as “boot camp” or a “training grounds” for Bnei Yisrael’s ultimate destiny within the Promised Land. In that training, HaShem provided for so much more than simply the manna. Let’s try to visualize certain aspects of what the reality of the Generation of the Desert looked like. Our view may be incorrectly nuanced, but we will try to touch on at least the broad strokes.
Hashem provided for essentially all of the physical needs of that generation via miraculous interventions, thus eliminating a great deal of the infrastructure of a normative economy.
- The manna descended daily nourishing everyone, organized by family, and eliminating most of the need for agriculture, much of professional food preparations, groceries, eateries, shuks, etc. They may have maintained some planted grains for menachos, and probably maintained livestock outside the camp for korbanos. Chullin [nonsacred] meat didn’t exist, but anyone wishing to eat physical meat, basar ta’ava (Devarim 12:20), could do so by bringing a korban shlamim. In that instance, the owner would bring his animal to the Ohel Moed for shechita, offer the blood, cheilev fats, intestines, liver, kidneys and a few other viscera upon the mizbeiach, and share the right foreleg and thigh with the kohen. He could thereupon prepare and eat the rest of the meat anywhere within the camp, in an obligate state of ritual purity, and within a roughly 36-hour time limit (effectively ensuring a fairly sizable guest list to consume the flesh of an entire animal) and “rejoice before the Lord, Your God” (Devarim 27:7). Therefore, even physical meat was consumed with a totally theocentric focus.
- Water was miraculously provided, sequentially via the “desalinization” of the waters of Marah (Shemos 15: 22-26), the 12 wells at Eilim (Shemos 15:27), the rock at Sinai gushing a river toward Refidim, (Shemos 17:1-7), Miriam’s traveling well, and its ill-fated successor, the rock at Meriva. Note that the provision of the first source of sweet water was accompanied by the injunction of Shemos 16:26: “If you shall surely obey the voice of HaShem your Lord, do what is good in His eyes, give ear to His commandments, and guard all His statutes, I will not place upon you any malady which I placed on Mitzrayim, I am HaShem your healer”; whereas Moshe and Aharon were criticized regarding the latter for “not [causing Bnei Yisrael to be] believing in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael” (Bamidbar 20:12). The waters also functioned to hygienically bathe them (Shir Hashirim Rabba 4:23), eliminating the need for public bathhouses. Thus, the water supply likewise had a totally theocentric focus.
- The manna, being spiritually derived food, לֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל –‘Light, insubstantial bread’ (Bamidbar 21:5) left no intestinal residue requiring sanitary facilities for excretion (Tractate Yuma 75b); I have no source, but it seems reasonable that the miraculously generated water supply possessed similar properties regarding liquid bodily wastes.
- Clothing and shoes were impervious to wear (Devarim 8:4, 29:5) and miraculously enlarged to fit the individual as he matured (Rashi on 8:4; Shir Hashirim Rabba 4:23). Moreover, the Ananei Hakavod functioned as the in-house launderer (ibid.). Thus, no need for clothing manufacturers, shoemakers, haberdashers, or launderers. In regard to this, it is not coincidental that Devarim 8:4 lies within the same paragraph of Chumash wherein the mitzvah of bentching is commanded (8:10)!
- The Ananei Hakavod also took care of housing construction (according to Rebbe Eliezer in Tractate Sukkah 11b), and environmental and pest control (Sifri Bamidbar 10:34, quoted by Rashi there), eliminating those industries. Likewise, the Amud haEish attended to their nighttime lighting needs even within the walls of their domiciles, a much more pressing societal need prior to the advent of ubiquitous electrical lighting (ibid.).
- The Aron, containing the Luchos haBris, not only functioned as their GPS-bearing tour guide, but also preceded them into divinely-ordained battles, ensuring success in warfare (Sifri Bamidbar 10:33, quoted by Rashi there)
- Last but not least was the view that greeted every Jew as he awoke each morning, and accompanied him throughout the day until he lay down to sleep: the awe-inspiring Amud haAnan every morning, replaced by the Amud haEish every evening, hovering majestically over the Mishkan at the Nation’s heart, a constant palpable reminder that he was under the protection—and scrutiny—of the Master of the Universe Himself, Who quite literally dwelt in the midst of His holy people. A comforting—yet no doubt daunting and sobering—daily realization.
The point here is not the shrinking economy. The point is that the Generation of the Desert owed everything on a day-by-day basis to the miraculous support of Ribono shel Olam, and that it was impossible for one to conceive otherwise. Clearly within such an environment it should have been unthinkable for a Jew to say “כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי עָשָׂה לִי אֶת־הַחַיִל הַזֶּה --My own strength and ability has procured this sufficiency for me” (Devarim 8:17). Presumably the shrunken economy did allow the people to spend almost all their time in the pursuit of Talmud Torah—from none other than the most enviable of teachers, Moshe Rabbeinu, himself.
Most likely, it was for the totality of this reality that Moshe instituted the first bracha of bentching, not just for food—an existence quite reminiscent of that of Adam haRishon in Gan Eden prior to eating from the Eitz haDa’as!
Indeed, מָזוֹן may not properly mean food; rather a better definition might be everything supportive of continued existence (of which ‘food’ is one such necessary item). For instance, consider the only time the word is used in Chumash, when Yosef in Mitzrayim sends supplies to transport Yaakov from Kna’an down to Egypt to weather the remaining five years of the seven-year famine:
וּלְאָבִיו שָׁלַח כְּזֹאת עֲשָׂרָה חֲמֹרִים נֹשְׂאִים מִטּוּב מִצְרָיִם וְעֶשֶׂר אֲתֹנֹת נֹשְׂאֹת בָּר וָלֶחֶם וּמָזוֹן לְאָבִיו לַדָּרֶךְ: (בראשית מה :כג)
Clearly in this posuk לֶחֶם means food as a staple of life and מָזוֹן represents victuals beyond the mere essentials. As the Midrash Agaddah states: לחם-כמשמעו: ומזון-אלו שאר דברים, a concept echoed by the Midrashשכל טוב : ומזון-כל מיני מאכל שמלפתין בו את הפת נקרא מזון, as well as Rashi on this posuk.
Phonetically, in an SR Hirschian sense, the word is related to shorashim such as אזנ, to weigh, balance, receive [and process] information, and זנה, to pursue a [distorted, illicit] drive to procreate, both processes which are fundamentally necessary for continued existence.
Thus the first bracha of bentching, instituted by Moshe, may be to thank God for providing the entire infrastructure for existence within the desert—as part of a more complex and very personal relationship with the Master of the Universe. The expression of gratitude includes the manna of course, but that’s merely the tip of the iceberg.
יְהוֹשֻׁעַ תִּקֵּן לָהֶם בִּרְכַּת הָאָרֶץ כֵּיוָן שֶׁנִּכְנְסוּ לָאָרֶץ.
Yehoshua instituted the second blessing of the Land when they entered Eretz Yisrael
Upon entry to the Promised Land, the nature of Klal Yisrael’s existence reverted to a more normative experience. Instead of God miraculously providing for nearly every aspect of their survival, now the Land was “appointed” as an intermediary to subserve that function via natural means. With the expansion of national borders far beyond the 12 mil of the camp of the Generation of the Desert, access to the Mishkan was more limited, so nonsacred chullin meat became permissible. However, national awareness that God still resided at the very heart of Am Yisrael was maintained by the requirement for every male to visit the Mishkan three times yearly for the Shalosh Regalim. Additionally, now many of the agricultural laws, strictly theoretical for the Generation of the Desert, came into quite practical and everyday practice, and functioned to maintain a theocentric focus to their sustenance: Terumah, Maaseros Rishon, Sheni, and Oni, Bikurim, Orlah, Kelayim, Leket, Shikchah, Peah, Shmitah, Yovel, many issurei Shabbos, Kashrus laws, attention to Tumah and Taharah, Challah and others, all functioned as constant reminders interwoven into their daily existence regarding the holiness present within food—because ultimately it was provided though the bounty of Ribono shel Olam.
Likewise the water supply retained a theocentric focus. Due to the absence of a stable abundant water supply (such as the Nile) and the unique climactic pattern of Eretz Yisrael, the Land depends critically upon adequate rainfall during the winter. During the summer growing season, there is typically not one drop of rain; and to ensure adequate winter rainfall, God requires our prayers. As Moshe says in Devarim (11:10-17, much of which is familiar to us from the second paragraph of krias Shema):
For the Land which you have come to possess is not like the land of Egypt which you have left, where you sowed your seed and watered with your foot like a garden of verdance. [Irrigation canals in Egypt connecting to the Nile could be flooded by kicking away a small dam with one’s foot, allowing crop fields to be easily watered. But not so Eretz Yisrael…] And the Land which you are crossing over to possess is a Land of mountains and valleys, from the rains of the heavens does it drink water. A Land which HaShem, your Lord seeks out continually, the eyes of HaShem your Lord are upon it from year-beginning to year-end. And it will be if all of you will obey my commandments which I command you today, to love HaShem, your Lord, and to serve Him with all your hearts and souls; I will place the rain of your Land at its proper time, both early and late, and you will gather in your new grain and wine and oil, and I will place grass in your field for your livestock and you shall eat and be satisfied וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ. Guard yourselves lest your hearts be seduced and you turn aside and serve other lords and bow to them. And the anger of HaShem will burn in you and He will shut the heavens and there will not be rain, and the ground will not yield her produce and all of you will be quickly lost from the good Land which HaShem is giving you.
Thus, comes Yehoshua and adds the Land into our equation of very personal relationship with the Master of the Universe, still through the concept that we are dependent upon Him for all of our needs for continued existence. The Presence of the Lord still resides within the Mishkan, a portable structure, which changed location several times before the advent of the Davidic monarchy.
דָּוִד וּשְׁלֹמֹה תִּקְּנוּ ״בּוֹנֵה יְרוּשָׁלַיִם״. דָּוִד תִּקֵּן ״עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִירֶךָ״, וּשְׁלֹמֹה תִּקֵּן ״עַל הַבַּיִת הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ״.
Dovid and Shlomo instituted the third blessing: “Who builds Jerusalem”…
Come Dovid and Shlomo and add two more components to the mix: Dovid establishes Yerushalayim as the national center and capital of God’s Chosen Nation, and Shlomo replaces the portable Mishkan with an imposing and permanently emplaced Mikdash, literally centrally located within the heart of Eretz Yisrael. Now HaShem has an appropriately sumptuous “home” in which to dwell in His relationship with Bnei Yisrael. Directly and indirectly God still provides for all the needs of His people. Although the Mikdash is physically permanent, it was not temporally permanent, so our present version of their blessing contains supplications for God’s mercy in the hope of rebuilding that which was destroyed.
Thus, the first three Biblically-mandated blessings can be seen as celebrating the totality of the intense personal relationship Bnei Yisrael have with God, using our physical need for food and sustenance almost as an “excuse” upon which to found that relationship. In fact, it’s a relationship God establishes with Adam haRishon in Gan Eden, at the beginning of history…
But if that is truly the pattern, we are left with our initial question. How does thankfulness for the miracles surrounding the slain of Beitar fit into that pattern?
A SHABBOS ZEMER TO THE RESCUE!
Enter the Friday night nigun of Tzur Mishelo-The Rock [HaShem], from Whose sufficiency we eat…
Tzur Mishelo is a poetic rendition of the bentching, in which each of the four stanzas summarizes one bracha of Birkas haMazon. So pull out your bentchers or zemiros booklets (with translation if you need it) and follow along:
1) The first stanza, …הַזָּן אֶת עוֹלָמוֹ רוֹעֵנוּ אָבִינוּ, אָכַלְנוּ אֶת לַחְמוֹ clearly paraphrases the first bracha of bentching, הַזָּן אֶת־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ. בְּטוּבוֹ בְּחֵן בְּחֶֽסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים הוּא נוֹתֵן לֶֽחֶם לְכָל־בָּשָׂר...…
2) The second stanza, …בְּשִׁיר וְקוֹל תּוֹדָה נְבָרֵךְ לֵאֱ-לֹהֵינוּ, עַל אֶרֶץ חֶמְדָּה טוֹבָה שֶׁהִנְחִיל לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ, echoes the second bracha almost verbatim, נוֹדֶה לְּךָ, יְ-יָ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ עַל שֶׁהִנְחַֽלְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ אֶֽרֶץ חֶמְדָּה טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה...
3) The third stanza, רַחֵם בְּחַסְדֶךָ עַל עַמְּךָ צוּרֵנוּ, עַל צִיּוֹן מִשְׁכַּן כְּבוֹדֶךָ, זְבוּל בֵּית תִּפְאַרְתֵּנוּ, בֶּן דָּוִד עַבְדֶּךָ יָבֹא וְיִגְאָלֵנוּ, רוּחַ אַפֵּינוּ מְשִׁיחַ יְ-יָ... is lifted right out of the third bracha, רַחֵם, יְ-יָ אֱ-לֹהֵֽינוּ, עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ, וְעַל־יְרוּשָׁלַֽיִם עִירֶֽךָ, וְעַל־צִיּוֹן מִשְׁכַּן כְּבוֹדֶֽךָ, וְעַל־מַלְכוּת בֵּית דָּוִד מְשִׁיחֶֽךָ, וְעַל־הַבַּֽיִת הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ...
4) And finally the fourth stanza—a BIG surprise!
יִבָּנֶה הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, עִיר צִיּוֹן תְּמַלֵּא
וְשָׁם נָשִׁיר שִׁיר חָדָשׁ וּבִרְנָנָה נַעֲלֶה
הָרַחֲמָן הַנִּקְדָּשׁ יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִתְעַלֶּה
עַל כּוֹס יַיִן מָלֵא כְּבִרְכַּת יְ-יָ
May the Sanctuary be rebuilt, the city of Zion be filled [with citizens], and there we shall sing a new song and exalt with joyous shouting, the Merciful One Who is made holy, may He be blessed and elevated, upon a full cup of wine as per the blessing of HaShem!
Hmmmm! Not one word about the slain of Beitar! In fact, this sounds suspiciously like it belongs to the third bracha all over again! At best there may be a quite elliptical referent to the corpses of Beitar, which were stored for years in a vineyard, possibly the source of that “full cup of wine” in the zemer—upon which the Shulchan Aruch states that we may recite the blessing of haTov v’haMeitiv. But apparently that’s all.
Equally revealing, look what else is NOT there!
Unlike the previous three stanzas, this one is devoid of paraphrases from the bentching. Nothing obvious at all. Yes, the shorashim קדש, רחמ, ברכ are present from the text of the bentching – but not in any recognizably associated form.
So if the Paitan is not giving us a paraphrase, perhaps he is gracing us with a peshat— an explanation!
But what is it? To understand, let’s examine the implications of יִבָּנֶה הַמִּקְדָּשׁ.
A BIG MIRACLE—WHO CARES? I’LL TELL YOU WHO CARES!
The slain of Beitar care. That’s who cares.
They care very much indeed!
Why? Because sooner or later the Beis haMikdash will be rebuilt. But it won’t just be the Bayis Rishon of Dovid and Shlomo, or even the Bayis Sheni.
It will be the Bayis Sh’lishi, and will have an added dimension, built in some fashion through the agency of God; it will have temporal as well as physical permanence, ‘til the End-of-Time.
It will be built l’asid lavo, in Messianic times. And at that time there will also be techias hameisim, the revival of the dead—so that all Jews throughout all time will be joined together again with each other, and with the Shechinah, Who will once again dwell in the midst of Her people. All Her people.
At that time, the slain of Beitar will need their bodies to serve as vessels for their souls. Healthy, intact bodies. SO they care very much that their bodies were firstly miraculously preserved, and secondly, finally afforded a natural burial.
Moreover, the remaining living Jews— including those in Yavne who appended the fourth bracha to the bentching— would have cared—because they would have understood that the nissim were in preparation for the Bayis Sh’lishi and taken heart. Perhaps Messianic times were upon them in their generation after all; and if not then, at least a havtachah, a Heavenly sign, regarding the future, a sign that Ribono shel Olam was watching with anticipation, and had not forgotten them.
Ergo, יִבָּנֶה הַמִּקְדָּשׁ , a concept that flows organically from the establishment of the Mikdash in the Third Bracha. In fact, this perspective may be simple peshat in the opening line of the fourth stanza: “May the Sanctuary be rebuilt, the city of Zion be filled [with the myriads of citizens— who have been brought back to life!]”
(Who knows, it may be that Har HaZeisim and Har HaMenuchot will sport new high-rise construction—and for Kohanim as well! Real estate in Jerusalem just seems to go up and up and up, the bubble never bursts…)
Note parenthetically how nicely this dovetails with the daily prayer of אֱ-לֹהַי נְשָׁמָה, said upon awakening from sleep (a somewhat death-like physical state):
My Lord, the soul that You have placed in me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me. You have safeguarded it within me, and You are destined [עָתִיד] to take it from me and to return it to me in the destined future [messianic] time-to-come [וּלְהַחֲזִירָהּ בִּי לֶעָתִיד לָבֹא]. The whole time the soul is within me I am thankful before You [מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ], HaShem my Lord and the Lord of my fathers, Master of all works, Foundation-Master of all the souls. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who restores souls to dead carcasses.
Note finally how well it complements and extends the pattern of the bentching we have developed above. Not only does it express yearning for the opportunity to dwell together with the Shechinah, and gratitude to HaShem for providing for ALL our needs in supporting life, but it also thanks God for gracing us with the very gift of life itself!
A VIRTUAL BEIS HAMIKDASH
And remember those 15 general categories of goodness with which HaShem blesses us at the end of haTov v’haMeitiv?
Parallel to the 15 steps leading up to the Ezras Yisrael from the Ezras Nashim in the Beis HaMikdash, they are. The same steps which the 15 Shirei haMa’alos are dedicated to. The Shechinah will dwell amongst us, and we shall have the privilege of approaching Her.
So, as you conclude your bentching with the bracha of haTov v’haMeitiv, try this:
just picture yourself climbing on foot up the slopes of Har haBayis, finally culminating on those large, stately, well-worn stone steps.
In the Bayis Sh’lishi.
Stones worn smooth by the countless footfalls of your brothers and sisters, bent on similar pilgrimages— for millennia…
You have the extraordinary privilege of personally approaching Ribono shel Olam—Creator and Master of the Universe—Who just happens to also be Avicha Shebashamayim—your Heavenly and loving Father. And Who takes a personal interest in supporting YOU.
SO – IS BIRKAS HAMAZON REALLY GRACE AFTER MEALS?
In the final analysis, our Birkas haMazon as established by Chazal is not exactly “Grace after Meals”, in spite of the fact that it is said in fulfillment of that mitzvah [ see Endnote #1]. It is so much more.
It is an expression of yearning and thanks, for the privilege of dwelling together with the Shechinah—Who provides for all of our needs in the sustenance of life—including re-invigoration with life in Messianic times.
And regarding that meal we have just eaten? That is but the merest example of those global supports from the Divine.
L’iluy Nishmas imi morasi, Bede Yaffe ע”ה , Beila d'Raizia bas Baruch HaLevi, nifterah 5th of Sh'vat 5758, and L’iluy Nishmos HaRav Betzalel ben Dov Elya and Aidel bas HaRav Dovid, Drs Charles and Adele Bahn, ע”ה
 Note the identical phrase within the Biblical command to bentch after meals (Devarim 8:10):
וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־י-הוָ֣ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃
 שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות בציעת הפת, סעודה, וברכת המזון סימן קעה
הביאו להם יין אחר, אינו מברך בפה"ג, אבל מברך עליו: הטוב והמטיב. הגה: אף על גב א שאין לו עוד מן הראשון (ב"י); ולאו דוקא הביאו להם מחדש, אלא ה"ה אם היה להם מתחלה שתי יינות, מברכין על הב' הטוב והמטיב. הגה: ודווקא שלא היו לפניו יחד כשבירך בפה"ג, אבל היו ביחד א"צ לברך אלא בפה"ג, כמו שיתבאר סעיף ג' (ד"ע להשוות הטור עם מרדכי פ' הרואה) (ב"י).
 HaShem is of course perfectly capable of fabricating new physical bodies even if no trace of the original ones remain. However presumably that process is somehow more arduous, and in some fashion the soul would rather revitalize the remains of its original body.
 Of course, since they died in the siege, either through wounds or starvation, their bodies were not exactly healthy, were they? But then neither are the bodies of any other dead people. Everybody dies of something. Even if it's just old age. (“Just.”) That's why they're dead. Their bodies are not in great shape. But the Gemara in tractate Pesachim, bottom of 68a , deals with that thorny little problem.
The Gemara brings a posuk from Ha'azinu in its discussion of whether non-Jews will experience techias hameisim:
רְא֣וּ ׀ עַתָּ֗ה כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י אֲנִי֙ ה֔וּא וְאֵ֥ין אֱלֹהִ֖ים עִמָּדִ֑י אֲנִ֧י אָמִ֣ית וַאֲחַיֶּ֗ה מָחַ֙צְתִּי֙ וַאֲנִ֣י אֶרְפָּ֔א וְאֵ֥ין מִיָּדִ֖י מַצִּֽיל׃
It also brings a davar acher to darshan the posuk differently--that the process of techias hameisim will take place in two steps: (1) First HaShem will bring us back from the dead, but with all our infirmities—(וַאֲחַיֶּ֗ה AFTER אֲנִ֧י אָמִ֣ית); and only later will (2) He heal us (וַאֲנִ֣י אֶרְפָּ֔א AFTER וַאֲחַיֶּ֗ה ).
What is the advantage of such a two-step process? It's huge. Huge!
Here is the personal experience all deceased souls will go through, l'asid lavo:
“HaShem, Two days ago, I was dead. And You brought me back to life, and now I can serve You again. Thank You.
“You brought me back with all my limitations, all my infirmities – my arthritis, my diabetes, my neuropathy, my heart problems, my cancer, my war wounds, my starved, frail, old worn-out body. But You brought me back. Thank You.
“That was two days ago. But yesterday—yesterday! Yesterday You healed me! You healed me! I can walk, run, jump, I can think again, my pain is gone, a thing of the past! Baruch HaShem I feel like a normal human being! I can serve You with Hakaras Hatov with all of my being, b'chol atzmosai tomarnu! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Thank YOU!”
Another lesson in gratitude. Huge.
 This global expression of gratitude in fact parallels another such ritual, that of Mikreh Bikurim (Devarim 26:1-11), one of the last mitzvos in the entire Torah. Mikreh Bikurim in turn forms the backbone of our Hagadah shel Pesach, itself a tour de force of thankfulness.
At bare minimum, the bringing of First Fruits to the Kohen might be seen as an expression of thankfulness for the harvest of this year’s crop. But in the accompanying attestation, the Chumash extends that Thank You all the way back to the very beginning of our national history. Instead, we thank HaShem for taking us out of the horrible straits of Egyptian slavery, for doing so with personal Hashgacha and by miraculous interventions, for bringing us into His wonderful Promised Land so that centuries later we can finally celebrate this year’s harvest: “And you shall rejoice in ALL the goodness which HaShem, your Lord has given you, you, the Levi, and the stranger in your midst.” (Devarim 26: 11).
A global Thank You indeed: Thank You, HaShem—for everything!