It has been said that religious Jews possess two fears:
Fleishig phobia - the fear of missing Haagen-Daaz;
Bread phobia - the fear of bentsching
The latter fear has sprouted quasi-breads, mezonos
rolls and fascinating halachic inquiry. Our parsha is home
to where it all begins [Devarim, 8:10]:
And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless
the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you.
A simple question: the verse links the mitzvah to the land -
and yet we know (to the chagrin of many) that bentsching is
portable and is not land-locked. Thus Ramban comments:
And on the good land - the Torah commands
that you shall bless Hashem whenever you are satisfied -
for that satisfaction and for the land that He gave you
... and behold the obligation of this mitzvah is in all
Ramban modifies for the land to and the land -
but his point begs the question: Why does a Jew who eats a
tuna fish sandwich in Brooklyn have to thank God for the
sandwich and Yerushalayim. It all seems rather random
We shall return to this point, but first let us note the
context of this mitzvah, for Eikev relates the quest of the
Jewish nation on the move. Moshe addresses the fearful
masses who must overcome their Eretz Yisrael phobia. In that
surprising context, Moshe exhorts them to transcend by
contemplating their past in two distinct ways. First
remember the miraculous, (i.e. Egyptian exodus)
17. Will you say to yourself, "These
nations are more numerous than I; how will I be able to
drive them out"? 18. You shall not fear
them. You shall surely remember what the Lord, your God, did
to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt: 19. The
great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the
mighty hand, .... So will the Lord, Your God, do to all the
peoples you fear.
And then consider the "normal"
2. And you shall remember the entire way on
which the Lord, your God, led you these forty years in the
desert, in order to afflict you to test you, to know what is
in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or
not. 3. And He afflicted you and let
you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did
not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would
make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but
rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord
does man live. 4. Your clothing did not
wear out upon you, nor did your foot swell these forty
In the Egyptian and desert experience lay the groundwork for
transcending. Just as the speaker who may be afraid to
address a particular audience can gain confidence by
reminding himself of his past successes - that he's been
there done that, so, by reflection upon their Egyptian/Midbar
experience, the Jews will feel empowered to conquer Eretz
Yisrael. Just as Hashem was with them in Egypt and beyond,
so He can protect them in a rough neighborhood.
Thus all beginnings are crucial. Think of first grade, a
first day in class, a first year of marriage or a first
impression. If that goes awry, it is hard to destroy and
And then Moshe projects even further to a place that the
Jews can hardly imagine [Devarim, 8]
7. For the Lord your God is bringing you to
a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and
depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains, 8.
a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and
pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey,
9. a land in which you will eat bread
without scarcity, you will lack nothing in it, a land whose
stones are iron, and out of whose mountains you will hew
But that serenity comes with a price:
11. Beware that you do not forget the Lord,
your God, by not keeping His commandments, His ordinances,
and His statutes, which I command you this day,12.
lest you eat and be sated, and
build good houses and dwell therein, 13.
and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver
and gold increase, and all that you have increases,
14. and your heart grows haughty, and you
forget the Lord, your God, Who has brought you out of the
land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,15.
Who led you through that great and awesome desert,
[in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought,
where there was no water; who brought water for you out of
solid rock,16. Who fed you with manna
in the desert, which your forefathers did not know, in order
to afflict you and in order to test you, to benefit you in
17. and you will say to yourself, "My
strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this
wealth for me."
Forgetting God. Caught amidst their fears, Moshe projects to
his people a future that is so serene that the greatest
enemy comes from within - and it is this context that
bentsching looms large - for couched between the serene
vision and the potential danger is the antidote:
And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless
the Lord, your God, for the good land He has given you.
Note the literary parallels of eating and satisfaction [cf.
v. 12]. The sense of the bentsching imperative now takes on
a much more profound meaning. It is not simply a parochial -
God thank you for the bagel drive by. It is long and
reflective - covering themes of covenant, kingdom, Torah,
and Yerushalayim, - for in the bentsching experience is
found the solution to piety amidst comfort; internalize
the bentsching notion and you can live in wealth and still
remain connected to Hashem.
It is thus fascinating to note that a bracha rishona - a
blessing before the food is only Rabbinic, whilst the
blessing afterwards is from the Torah - for the blessing
before the food comes from a place of hunger and need.
God is the obvious address when there is need and no obvious
solution. But the Jew who is happy and satisfied [yes, Jews
can be satisfied] and through simple reflection is able to
connect it back to Hashem understands the secret of
survival. Read the book of Shoftim or consider the challenge
of American Jewry. The Jew who is full has often forgotten
My personal experience has shown me that many unaffiliated
Jews are very moved when they discover the simple beauty of
a blessing. Connecting food and general good with God and
recognizing that small pleasures (and beyond) are
opportunities helps make the simplest sandwich a taste of
share two previous pieces I have written about bentsching
It seems rather
innocuous, but in our time-starved world, its sheer length
strikes fear in the hearts and minds of men, sufficiently so
to have spurned an industry of avoidance. How sad it is!
I refer to the
fear of bentsching (grace after meals or birkas
hamazon), that alongside fleishig phobia (the
fear of eating meat, lest God forbid one miss out on that
geshmake Haagen-Daaz or Klein's), figures prominently in
the real lives of Orthodox Jews who can't find the time or
zitsfleisch (patience) to bentsch
properly. Thus mezonos rolls, rice cakes and Ezekiel
bread have emerged as possible alternatives. Both the former
(are mezonos rolls really mezonos?) and latter
(what's the bracha on Ezekiel bread?) have developed
fascinating halachic discussions that transcend this forum.
[I find it
fitting/ironic that as I write these words, (Friday Morning
4:26 am) the smell of delicious Angel's bakery bread wafts
into our Jerusalem apartment. It is a shtickl fun olam
haba - a piece of other worldliness].
The source of the
incredibly beautiful mitzvah of bentsching can be
found in our parsha (8:10).
You will eat
and be satisfied,
and you will bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land He
has given you.
You may have
noticed that the Biblical obligation of birkas hamazon
starts when one is satiated
- a mere k'zayis (olive size measure ~1.1 oz.) of bread just
won't do. To adduce support to this idea, a famous,
beautiful piece of Talmud is often cited:
taught: The ministering angels said before God: Master of
the Universe, it is written in Your law, "(I am God) that
does not favor nor accepts bribes",
but in fact, do You not show favor to Israel, as it is
written," The Lord shall show his favor towards you?"
He replied: And shall I not raise up My countenance towards
Israel, for in my Torah I wrote:
And you shall eat ,
be satisfied and bless the Lord, your God, and
they are particular [to bentsch] if the quantity is but an
olive,[ is but an egg]
A two tiered
obligation emerges. Rabbinically, we are obliged to
bentsch after a k'zayis of bread whilst the Torah
obligation only commences after one achieves satisfaction.
The Talmud then extols the Rabbinic level that invites
special Divine grace as a worthy investment with residual
Much about this
Talmudic piece baffles. Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg
(1878-1966) asks two basic questions:
1. If the
obligation to bentsch requires satisfaction and one
is not satisfied with a k'zayis, why is the Rabbinic
obligation not equivalent to a blessings made in vain?
2. How has the
gemara solved its initial problem of God's favoritism? At
the end of the piece, God is still favoring His Jews ?
brilliant insight flows first from his personal nostalgic
reflection - one worth our consideration:
Before his move
to Germany and then Switzerland, Rav Weinberg lived in
Lithuania. He described the dire poverty of many in his
"city". I suspect he meant the small town of Pilvishki.
Often dire poverty created Shabbos Jews - Jews who were
basically hungry all week so that their Shabbos could be
celebrated with (not a lot, but) a bit more.
"And these Jews",
said Rav Weinberg, "what would happen to them when they
would come to the shul and find guests who needed a meal?
Many were the first to jump at the opportunity." Of course,
when they came home with their guests, their meager morsels
had to be stretched out to accommodate the guests.
But make no
mistake, exclaimed Rav Weinberg, even as they ate less,
perhaps only a k'zayis of bread, oh was there satisfaction;
a sense of contentment that flowed from giving another Jew
the ta'am (taste) of Shabbos. In other words,
their love of kindness more than made up for their lack of
food. This said Rav Weinberg is what the gemara is
teaching. With only
partially filled stomachs, they found great joy in the
k'zayis and were indeed able to bentsch from a place
of great satisfaction.
Such an attitude
unleashes a Divine quid pro quo: My dear children, by
attaining satisfaction from your noble acts of excessive
kindness, I too must respond by showering you with excessive
kindness as well.
As a bar mitzvah,
my son recently received what I like to call a "me-pod"
(actually 3 of them), a symbol worthy of its generation.
Now, even one who is walking on the street has the societal
license to completely ignore all other people. A few years
back, in an anecdotal survey of slogans for popular
products, I encountered these ennobling messages: "Because
you deserve it", "Do something for yourself", "I am the
King", "Obey your thirst", and "Double your pleasure".
transmitting the hallmark Jewish legacy of loving kindness
within such an environment carries a whole set of
The preceding was
written two years back. I have since learned a wondrous
Vilna Gaon comment whose words confirm, complement and
elevate this idea to yet another level:
First the root
verse of the Vilna Gaon:
The one with
the good eye shall be blessed - for he has given from his
bread to the poor. [Proverbs, 22:9]
Vilna Gaon cites
our gemara and asks 3 more questions:
Ostensibly, God could have chosen any mitzvah where
Jews go beyond the norm [Shabbos, Kosher, Family Purity] to
evoke bracha; the gemara's evoking of this particular
mitzvah seems random? [and requires explanation]
At the end, the gemara mentions the k'zayis- olive
[measurement] and then the k'beitzah-egg.
The egg is [really and] halachically bigger than the olive
[a point we will soon reference]. Here's the question: If
the Jews even bentsch on an olive [smaller amount],
certainly they bentsch on an egg [bigger amount]? Why
does the Talmud move from the more impressive to the less
impressive - a very non Talmudic way of speaking?
The evoking of the egg/olive seems to be a veiled
to a classic dispute between R. Meir and R.Yehuda regarding
the minimum amount that requires bentsching. R.Meir
opts for the olive and R Yehuda for the egg. Halacha goes
with R. Meir's olive. Is it not strange for Hashem [who is
talking as as per the Talmudic story] to evoke a dispute?
For us, there may be a dispute - but, to quote Talmudic
parlance, u'mee ikah sefeika kamei shemaya. Does
Heaven harbor doubts?
Vilna Gaon solves
them all in one fell swoop. First he evokes two sources that
daily food requirement [2 meals] = 6 eggs = 20 olives
Ergo, one meal =
3 eggs = 10 olives.
Eaten alone, this
is a very satisfying meal, but the tov ayin
[good-eyed] Jew wants to share his [meager] food with
others; and while doing this, he desperately seeks to
acknowledge God in his life.
Halacha teaches that a minyan of Jews precede bentsching
with an exalted zimun [invitation to bentsch], one
that evokes Elokeinu [our God].
That's the prize.
The tov ayin Jew pines to say: Hashem, or rather
Elokim: I see you so clearly in my normal life. A good and
with-it friend of mine recently shared a personal sense that
he always feels like Hashem gives him so much even as he is
inadequate and undeserving. [he then shared with me a source
that teaches that one should not say that - but not for now]
ayin Jew is on the lookout for nine other Jews; he
will reduce his food intake to a bare k'zayis - but
it's well worth it, for in giving to the others, he gains
the opportunity to explicitly acknowledge Hashem. Thus the
Talmud first references the k'zayis, for in seeking the
ideal minyan, he only eats a k'zayis [for ten olives = one
Alas, life is not
always a party and he can't always find ten Jews, but he
does not give up, he still searches for two other Jews with
whom he can utter the beautiful words of the regular zimun:
let us, as a group bless the One from whose bounty we
eat. With less Jews, he is able to eat more - the
egg-sized amount of bread, [for 3 eggs = one meal].
Thus the deeper
Talmudic meaning: The one who tries so hard to
bless/exalt/acknowledge God [and His role in one's everyday
life] will sure receive God's blessing.
In that equation there is perfect calibration rather than
is told And I shall bless those who bless you, for
blessing you is by extension acknowledging Me. What is true
for Avraham is true for the whole of his people.
The one who seeks to give blessing to God's people and
understands from whence it all comes - shall himself be
As I pen these
words from the land of Israel, I testify to the incredible
kindness of a people who don't have so much [materially] but
still manage to give it all.
A gutten Shabbos
from Beit Meir, Israel
Good Shabbos - Asher Brander
 This is the
assumption of the overwhelming majority of halachic
authorities. Cf. Ra'avad however, Mishneh Torah,
 Cf. Rashi, Berachos 20b
 The precise measurements are a matter of
controversy. Vilna Gaon's source is a Rif and Zohar.
Cf. Gra on Mishlei, 22:9
 In Vilna Gaon's terminology - the Jews are a
holy people that seek with candles at night to find
ways of exalting and praising Hashem
 Vilna Gaon cites a Zohar and develops this
notion beyond - but this is was a feeble attempt to
capture the essential rational notion.
 Cf. Bamidbar 10:35, Rashi ad loc.