430. The Attitude of Gratitude: The obligation to bless God after eating

You shall eat, be satisfied and bless God… (Deuteronomy 8:10)

When we eat our fill of something made from one of the five grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt) or of one of the seven species for which Israel is specially praised (dates, figs, grapes, olives, pomegranates, plus the aforementioned wheat and barley) we are to thank God not only for the food but also for the land of Israel. After eating bread, this takes the form of birkas hamazon ("bentching" or grace after meals), a series of four blessings, the first three of which fulfill the Biblical requirement (the fourth is wholly rabbinic in nature). After cake, wine or the special fruits of Israel, we say a "bracha mei'ein shalosh," a single blessing that contains the themes of the three blessings of bentching. This is al hamichya (after cake or other baked goods), al hagefen (after wine), al hapeiros (after those species of fruit) or some combination if one has eaten several of these items together.

Since eating "until one is satisfied" is a wholly subjective measure, the Sages instituted that one should bentch after eating a k'zayis (an olive-sized portion). The upshot of this is that we thank God for His goodness even though we may not be full - that's still a pretty good thing to do! (See Talmud Brachos 20b.) Also rabbinically-instituted is the practice to say blessings before we eat, as well as before performing mitzvos and upon seeing the wonders of God's world.

The reason behind this mitzvah is to cultivate the attitude of gratitude. When we bentch, we acknowledge that God is the source of all the good things that we enjoy. God doesn't "need" our thanks, but we increase our merits through praising Him, which is what He desires for us.

This mitzvah applies to both men and women. There is some discussion in the Talmud (Brachos 20b) as to whether or not women are obligated at the Biblical level but at the very least they are obligated rabbinically.

This mitzvah applies to men and women in all times and places. It is discussed in the Talmud in the sixth through eighth chapters of tractate Brachos. This mitzvah is codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim 184. This mitzvah is #19 of the 248 positive mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #13 of the 77 positive mitzvos that can be fulfilled today as listed in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.