A word of Torah: Gratitude for our food

by Rabbi Daniel Schaefer

The early Rabbis who codified the Oral Torah in the Mishnah and Talmud, made a distinction between religious obligations that were considered d’oraita (from the Torah) and d’rabbanan (from the rabbis). In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the source for the one and only blessing, that according to the Rabbis, is d’oraita.

The birkat hamazon, or Grace after Meals. In Deuteronomy 8:10, Moses says to the Israelites:

וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He gave you.”

The opening words of the verse, v’achalta, v’savata, u’verachta. (When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless) provide the unique framework for Jews to offer thanks for their food. While in many religions and cultures, people express gratitude for their food before they eat, the Jewish approach encourages us to do so after our meal. When we are able to enjoy our food and experience satiation, and then offer up words of gratitude with a full belly and full heart, we are fulfilling God’s injunction to the Israelites in Deuteronomy. Whether you speak words from your heart, recite the full, traditional birkat hamazon, sing ancient words with a modern melody, or join together in a creative, modern interpretation, expressing gratitude for our food is a very Jewish and very ancient practice.