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.
We now come to the third berakhah of Birkhat ha-Mazon. As we have mentioned already a couple of times, even our classical sources recognize that the various elements that comprise birkhat ha-mazon were not all introduced at the same time. Of course, modern scholarship would not concurr with the statement of the Babylonian Amora Rav Naĥman [Berakhot 48b] concerning its details:
Rav Naĥman says: Moses instituted the berakhah "ha-zan" [the first benediction] when the manna came down for them. Joshua instituted birkhat ha-aretz [the second benediction] when they entered the land [of Israel]. David and Solomon instituted "boneh Yerushalayim", [the third benediction]. It was David who introduced "[Be merciful towards] Your people Israel and Your city Jerusalem"; and Solomon introduced "and on the great and holy house [which is called by Your Name]"...
The text of the third benediction as we now have received it clearly postdates the destruction of the Bet Mikdash. Of course, it is most likely that the present version is just a reworking of an older one, to make it fit the new circumstances that arose after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE. In the previous shiur we quoted the requirements of the sages concerning the content of these berakhot:
Rabbi Eli'ezer says that anyone who does not say "a pleasant, good and wide land" in birkhat ha-aretz and [who does not mention] "the Davidic dynasty" in "boneh Yerushalayim" has not fulfilled his duty.
In his Siddur Rav Sa'adya Ga'on [892-942 CE] suggests a very concise text for this benediction:
Be merciful, God, towards Your people Israel, towards Jerusalem Your city, towards Zion Your glorious abode, and towards the great and holy house which is called by Your name. Restore the Davidic dynasty in our days and rebuild Jerusalem the holy city soon. Praised be God, Builder of Jerusalem. Amen.
The fact that this benediction concludes with 'Amen' - as an averration and not as a response - is a sure indication that originally Grace comprised only three benedictions and ended at this point.
On Shabbat and on certain special days there are additions made to the benediction boneh Yerushalayim. On Shabbat we add a paragraph asking God to approve our Sabbath rest and to ensure that it will be, for us, a day of unmitigated joy. It seems to me that originally this addition may have been an alternative version of the benediction "boneh Yerushalayim" for it too includes a plea for the restoration of Jerusalem - a plea which Sa'adya Ga'on omits in his version of this addition. On the Three Festivals (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles) - including the intermediate days - and on the New Moon (Rosh Ĥodesh) we also add a paragraph whose content is similar: this paragraph, "Ya'aleh ve-Yavo", is the same as that which is included in the Amidah on those days.
It is clear, as I have written above, that the plea for the restoration of Jerusalem and everything that the city stands for in Jewish religious ideology must have been composed (or re-worded) after the disastrous year 70 CE. Some minds, sensitive to the content of our prayers, may feel some discomfort from the text as it presently stands: is there not more than just a shade of ingratitude when we pray to God to restore Jerusalem - we who were privileged to hear Motta Gur announce on his walkie-talkie that "the Temple Mount is in our hands"? It is for this reason that the Masorti Siddur, Va'ani Tefillati reads "and complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem".
The Gemara [Berakhot 48b] which we quoted above also deals with the fourth benediction of Grace, ha-Tov ve-ha-Metiv. The continuation reads as follows:
Ha-Tov ve-ha-Metiv was instituted in Yavneh with reference to those killed at Betar. Rav Mattanah says, "On the very day when permission was given to bury those killed at Betar they instituted at Yavneh ha-Tov ve-ha-Metiv [lauding God as good and benificent]; 'good' because [the corpses] had not rotted and 'benificent' in that they were permitted burial."
Betar, south-west of Jerusalem, was the site of Bar-Kokhba's last stand against the Romans in 135 CE. According to Jewish tradition the slaughter there was immense and the Romans showed no quarter. Apparently for quite some time the Romans refused to allow the bodies to be buried so that they remained as a warning to future possible rebels. If Rav Mattanah is correct that this blessing was introduced in Yavneh then it must have been introduced almost immediately after the rebellion was crushed because very soon after that the Sanhedrin had to move from Yavneh in Judah and take up residence in Usha in the Galilee.
After the completion of the four benedictions there following a series of short prayers to God 'the All-Merciful'. The number of these prayers varies. In the text as we have it at present there are about a dozen of them. Clearly, some of them can be omitted at the discretion of the worshipper. The sages set great store by those which called on 'the All-Merciful' to shower blessings on those present. In particular, guests should be generous in this matter concerning their hosts; children concerning their parents; spouses concerning their partner and so forth. This series culminates with the request that 'the All-Merciful' bless everyone seated at the table with the blessings God bestowed on the three patriarchs, ba-kol, mikol, kol. This is a reference to terms used in the Torah in connection with God's benificence to the patriarchs: Abraham [Genesis 24:1], Isaac [Genesis 26:3] and Jacob [Genesis 32:10].
The last of the benedictions in which God is addressed as 'the All-Merciful' contains a reference to Psalm 18:51. The text of this psalm is repeated in the second book of Samuel [22:1-51]. There are a few very minor textual differences between the two versions, and one of them occurs in the verse in question. The custom has grown up to use the version in the book of Psalms on weekdays and on Shabbat to use the version of this verse given in the book of Samuel. My teacher, Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, once suggested that the origin of this quaint custom might derive from some prayer-book quoting the verse from the book of Psalms [magdil] and then, in parenthesis, adding that in the second book of Samuel the word is given as migdol. Someone misread the Hebrew abbreviation for 'in the second book of Samuel' and thought it read 'and on Shabbat'.
Further verses from biblical sources were finally added to the text of grace. The last of them is Psalm 29:11, which reads:
God will grant strength to his people, God will bless his people with peace.
In Midrash Rabbah [Leviticus 9:9] Rabbi Shim'on bar-Yoĥai is quoted as saying that
Great is peace, for it contains all other blessings.
This is why we wish each other Shabbat Shalom, a Sabbath of Peace.
This series is now ended. I hope you have enjoyed it. So far in the Halakhah Study Group we have covered the Reading of the Torah and Shabbat Eve in the home. The time approaches when we must choose another topic. Many participants have already sent me their suggestions and requests regarding the next topic. I shall leave a little more time for further suggestions and then I shall present some of your suggestions to be voted on, so that it is you, the participants, who collectively decide what we shall study next. Please send your suggestions to me because I look forward to reading them.