Birkas HaMazon 3
Expressing Our Relationships with Hashem Through Birkas HaMazon
By Rabbi Shlomo Goldfinger
The Jewish People: Chosen for What Purpose?
We now turn our attention to the second blessing. This blessing is different from the first in several respects. First, its focus is clearly the Jewish people, rather than humankind in general. Its focus is the association between the Land of Israel and the sustenance it produces. It references various mitzvos that seem to be only loosely connected to the land, but that reflect the fact that we have been chosen for a unique mission. These include bris milah, Torah, and commandments without obvious reasons, among others. Although some connect these to the land, we might suggest that these references underscore the chosenness of the Jewish people. In truth, the land itself reflects our chosenness for a mission.
When we study B’reishis, we find that Hashem promised Eretz Canaan to Abraham twice – first at the Bris Bein HaB’sarim, and then again when He gave him the commandment of circumcision. This triggers the obvious question: What kind of gift is it when you promise to give something you’ve already committed to give? This takes regifting to a whole new level! However, we can understand this by noting that, the first time, the land was a gift to Abraham simply because of who he was, reflecting Hashem’s love for him. But the second time, Abraham was given a responsibility, an accountability, to see to it that all of his descendants were circumcised, thereby entering into the Covenant of Abraham. He was also charged with raising his descendants to follow the way of Hashem. By having the land re-given at that time, it took on an entirely different character. Whereas previously it was a gift given freely and generously, the second time it became a symbol of a mutual covenant, a bilateral pact between Hashem and Abraham, where each had a responsibility to the other. The land itself became a symbol, a token, of that mutual agreement.
In this light, the land joins with the Exodus, bris milah, the Torah, and the commandments as not just symbols, but testimonies to the Jewish mission.
A major part of that mission is to proclaim the knowledge of Hashem to the world. One of the ways we do that is by blessing Him and thanking Him for our food. Indeed many gentiles practice saying grace or reciting a prayer of thanks around a meal. They learned this from us.
And so we express hodaah – a combination of thanks and surrender – to Hashem for choosing us, that is, by making us His responsible partner in bringing His awareness to the world. We therefore reference not only the land, which symbolizes this, but also the other items enumerated earlier that do the same.
We then reference the verse in D’varim that is the Biblical source for this commandment – V’achalta v’savata u’veirachta – to testify that we are indeed fulfilling our charge by reciting Birkas HaMazon. This is immediately followed by a brief prayer – but not one for our continued sustenance from Hashem, as we said in the first blessing. Rather, the prayer is that His name should be blessed by all living things.
One may rightly ask, what is the relevance of this to Birkas HaMazon? But under the approach outlined above, it fits beautifully. We are proclaiming that by saying Birkas HaMazon we are fulfilling our mission. The ultimate purpose of that mission is for the entire world to follow in our footsteps in recognizing Hashem, and that is what we are praying for here. Our focus is not on ourselves, not that we should continue to be taken care of, as in the first blessing. Instead, here our focus is on our mission as the Chosen People, which is entirely for Hashem’s sake, to bring the entire world to recognize Him.