Birkas HaMazon 4
Expressing Our Relationships with Hashem Through Birkas HaMazon
By Rabbi Shlomo Goldfinger
The Temple and Birkas HaMazon
In the third blessing, we reference Jerusalem and the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). We need to understand what the connection of these two are to eating and to reciting Birkas HaMazon, and why these deserve a blessing on their own, and could not be included in the previous blessing, which referenced the land, the Torah, and bris milah, among other things. Why couldn’t we have added Jerusalem and the Temple to that list, and thereby saved an entire blessing, which now seems superfluous.
We must also understand the introduction of very strong language petitioning Hashem to continue to care for us. Nurture us, feed us, give us plenty, and care for us, we say, in a tone that seems almost demanding. This is in sharp contrast to the first blessing, where we gently state, “v’al yechsar lanu mazon (May it be Your will that we should never lack food).” This would seem to be a more respectful way to ask for the continuation of our needs than the repetitive, demanding tone in this blessing.
Later in the blessing, we contrast receiving from Hashem to receiving from humans. We pray that we should only be dependent on Hashem and not on people: “she’lo neivosh v’lo nikaleim l’olam va’ed” – so that we should never be ashamed or embarrassed. This is extremely problematic. Why is our face-saving such an important detail? And if it is, why is this mentioned here and not earlier? What does this have to do with the Temple or Jerusalem?
Living in a House Among You
We may answer these questions as follows: Yerushalayim, and particularly the Beis HaMikdash, represent the glorious concept that Hashem’s presence dwells among the Jewish people, in a bayis, a house, that He in a certain sense shares with us. This house, or more precisely this home, is the abode of the Sh’chinah. Furthermore, we found the keruvim מעורים זה בזה–m’urim zeh ba’zeh [Yoma 54a], representing the loving, almost intimate relationship that Hashem has with the Jewish People. The Beis HaMikdash is the place that connotes this personal, almost intimate relationship between Yisrael and Hashem, if we may say such a thing. It is the location that reflects Hashem’s love for B’nei Yisrael and His closeness to them. The land reflects the contractual bris (covenant), with its mutual responsibilities between Hashem and Israel. While this is profound, it does not directly bring with it warmth, love, or empathy. In fact, struggle and sacrifice are associated with the land, as well as bris, Torah, and Y’tzias Mitzrayim. In contrast, the place where Hashem’s Sh’chinah dwells among us is synonymous with the love and closeness between Hashem and Yisrael.
Requesting Food from Someone Who Loves You
When a son is given supper by his mother, he is not ashamed. Nor is he embarrassed to request food, even perhaps his favorite dish when he is hungry. In analogous fashion, in the context of the Beis HaMikdash, the act of Hashem sustaining us becomes an act of love, even of intimacy, and so we have the right to say: Comfort us, shepherd us, take care of us! And because Hashem’s love for us is boundless, and we love Him in return, there is no shame or embarrassment in directly asking for His bounty, and in receiving it graciously.
This, then, is the third blessing: Hashem sustains us as an outgrowth of His love and closeness with Israel. This is exemplified by the Beis HaMikdash, where His Sh’chinah dwelled among us, and where all of Israel went up on the three holidays, to “be seen” before Hashem. Here we are able to pour our heart out, crying, demanding that Hashem come even closer to us as He continues to sustain us. And as He does, we have no shame or embarrassment in receiving His loving bounty.