D’var Torah: Becoming Full Through Food, and Blessings

“And when you have eaten and are satisfied then you shall bless the Lord, your God…” With these words, the obligation to say Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals) is given in this week’s parsha, Ekev. Usually, tefilot are rabbinic requirements, but the duty to say grace after meals comes straight from the Torah. Why is this? What is so important about Birkat HaMazon?

One explanation comes from the Ner La-Ma’or, who notes that we say the Birkat when we are full. So often we pray when we need something, but how often do we thank God when things go right?  It is important to remember to say thank you during the good times. We have so many blessings we should not take for granted. At camp, we feel this is a critical lesson for our community. For the most part, camp is wonderful, meals are prepared for us and are plentiful, and there is very little that we need to do to sustain ourselves. Taking a moment to show our appreciation helps put things in perspective.

The Kotzker Rebbe tells us that the Birkat HaMazon plays a key role in socialization. He points to the method used by Abraham to help people gain an appreciation for God. Abraham would bring guests into his home and share a meal. When they thanked him, he used that moment as an educational opportunity, and would say it was God that should be thanked. Additionally, when a group of people say a blessing together, it binds them in their observance.

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin twists the words slightly and says, “By blessing God, you will become full.” Food fills us physically but thanking God for the food fills us spiritually. Every human being needs both. This is strikingly clear to me during Seudat Shlishit (dinner on Saturday). After eating, the campers sing beautiful z’mirot together and then recite Birkat HaMazon. Their singing fills me with a deep sense of spirituality and meaning that I try to capture to carry me through the week. Sometimes I join in and sometimes I stand on the edge and let their voices lift me up. These moments are the greatest rewards for me as a camp director. My soul is warmed when I hear our chanichim (campers) singing songs about Jewish brotherhood, thanking God, and peace. I truly wish all of you could share this experience both for its beauty and for the understanding of how important camp is for our Jewish future.

This Shabbat, may we all become full, both through the food we eat and the blessings we make. Shabbat Shalom.