of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Berakhot 1:1

It is a positive mitzvah from the Torah to recite a benediction after food, for it says [Deuteronomy 8:10] "You shall eat, be satisfied and praise God..." By Torah law [therefore] one is only obligated [to recite grace] if one has eaten one's fill (for it says "You shall eat, be satisfied and praise"); but by force of rabbinic legislation even if one has only eaten an olive's-bulk [of bread] one is obligated to recite [grace] afterwards.


Before a dozen participants send me e-mails pointing out an egregious error let me anticipate them and say that I am aware that I have left the heading of the series as indicating that our source is Shulĥan Arukh whereas the source of this shiur is, in fact, from a different halakhic code, Rambam's great Mishneh Torah. It just seemed to me to be unnecessary to change the general heading for this one topic in the series. As always, Rambam's exposition of the situation is exquisitely clear and needs no elucidation in itself. Therefore we shall proceed immediately to the format of birkhat ha-mazon and its finer details.

Birkhat ha-mazon consists of eight parts:
  1. a psalm;
  2. an introductory invitation;
  3. the first of four benedictions;
  4. the second benediction;
  5. the third benediction;
  6. the fourth benediction;
  7. sundry blessings and invocations;
  8. various biblical verses.
On weekdays it is now most unusual - especially in Conservative circles - to preface grace with Psalm 137; but it is an almost universal custom to preface grace with Psalm 126 after meals taken on Shabbat and YomTov. Recent generations have seen sundry verses added on to the psalm from other parts of the psalter, but this is just innovative custom. Latterly many have introduced the Kabbalistic custom of singing Psalm 23 either as well as or in place of Psalm 126 - especially to the beautiful melody of Benzion Schenker.

The introductory invitation [#2 above] is the zimmun that we mentioned in the previous shiur. The Mishnah [Berakhot 7:1] states quite clearly:

Three people who have eaten together are required to issue the invitation...

The Mishnah [Berakhot 7:2] restricts the three people to three adult males, but we have already dealt with this issue at length in the previous shiur. (See Shabbat 054.) In most Conservative circles all adults who have shared a meal start grace with zimmun, provided they were three or more. On Shabbat and YomTov it is best to recite grace over a cup of wine. (See Shabbat 052.)

Zimmun is very simple. One of the company takes a full cup of wine in his (or her) hand and proposes to the rest "Let us say grace". (The traditional Hebrew wording is Rabbotai nevarekh [Gentlemen, let's say grace]; for obvious reasons in Conservative circles at least it has become customary to replace this with "Ĥaverim nevarekh [Friends, let's say grace].) The diners respond to this invitation Yehi shem Adonai mevorakh le'olam va'ed [May God's Name be blessed for evermore]. The 'leader' repeats this response (so as to include himself) and then she continues: "With your permission, friends: let us praise God from whose store we have eaten". The company signify assent by repeating the words. The leader then concludes the invitation by saying "Praised be He and praised be His Name". (When ten or more adults have dined together the text is expanded to include God's name: "let us praise God the Lord from whose store we have eaten".)

Birkhat ha-Mazon proper consists of four benedictions. Even the Gemara [Berakhot 48b] recognizes that each of these benedictions was introduced separately over a long period of time. Modern scholarship agrees with this assessment but disagrees as to when and by whom each of the benedictions was introduced. However, this is immaterial to the actual format of the benedictions.

The general layout of the benedictions of birkhat ha-mazon is dicated by the biblical verse which is its origin:

You shall eat, be satisfied and praise God for the good land that He has given you.

We are to thank God for the food we have eaten and for the land that provided it. The sages in the Gemara [Berakhot 48b] put it this way:

The order of birkhat ha-mazon is as follows: first berakhah: ha-zan ["Who feeds"]; second first berakhah: ha-aretz ["the Land"]; third berakhah: boneh Yerushalayim ["Who builds Jerusalem"]; fourth berakhah: ha-tov ve-ha-metiv ["the Good One Who is benificient"]... You shall eat, be satisfied and praise - this is the benediction ha-zan; God - this is the zimmun benediction; for the land - this is ha-aretz; for the good [land]' - this is boneh Yerushalayim...; that He has given you - this is ha-tov ve-ha-metiv.

While this analysis is clearly artificial in how it relates the content of the already established benedictions to the verse in the Torah, it nevertheless does serve to indicate the ideational provenance of at least the first two beerakhot - and they are probably the oldest.

The first benediction is over the food we have eaten:

Praised be God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who, in His goodness, feeds the entire world with grace, kindness and mercy. He 'provides food for all flesh for His kindness is everlasting'. And because of His great goodness food has never failed us and will never fail us, for the sake of His great Name. For He is God Who feeds and sustains all, does good to all, and provides food for all His creatures. Praised be God, Who feeds all.

The phrase 'provides food ... everlasting' is a direct quote from Psalm 136:25.

To be continued.