|When playing basketball, you better be aware of the coach’s existence because it affects the way you conduct yourself at practice and at the game—even off season. If you get involved in an activity the coach frowns upon, it might jeopardize your chance of being successful on the team. The same is true of being in a theatrical production, in the military, a student, or any other endeavor in which there is clearly one person who is in charge, if you are not cognizant of that person’s existence, you will not succeed at that endeavor. This obviously relates to G-d because if we ignore or pretend that He doesn’t exist, how can we be successful in life? Remembering that the world has a Creator and living according to that reality has been a challenge for humanity since Adam and Eve and it seems harder than ever in a 21st century, an age when screen time and social media takes the lion’s share of many people’s waking hours. The Torah has no shortage of mitzvot but one in particular keeps our minds and hearts in the right direction; blessings.|
Jews make lots of blessings. There’s a blessing for wine (borei pri hagofen) and challah (hamotzi lechem min haaretz) on Shabbat. There are seven blessing made at a chuppah, blessings before and after reading the Torah, and even blessings made when a person begins the mourning process. These blessings are all rabbinic enactments but there’s one blessing that is undisputedly mandated by the Torah; the blessing after eating a meal with bread [birchat hamazone; (“bentching” as it’s known in in Yiddish—but it’s really Latin)]. This seems peculiar, a blessing is a spiritual thing; what can we learn from the fact that the one blessing assigned by the Torah is on such a physical exploit–eating?
You will eat and be satisfied, and bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good Land He gave you. (8:10)
This bracha (blessing) specially addresses the state of mind a person is in after eating. Here are a few adjectives to describe how people feel after a good meal. Satiated, content, comfortable—and maybe even a bit drowsy. The Torah cautions that when one is full after a meal, an attitude of self-satisfaction and haughtiness can easily ensue, which in turn can cause anyone to forget about G-d and the realization that He is the one who keeps us healthy, allows our digestive and other systems to work. Our health can change in a moment, and we might not be able to do anything about it but it’s hard to have these thoughts after eating warm and crunchy pan bread, drinking fine wine, and eating grilled salmon in dill sauce, topped by French pastry. The verse concludes, “Look out for yourself, lest you forget HaShem, your G-d…Lest you eat and be satiated.”
Making a blessing after eating is a preemptive strike against allowing one’s ego to forget about G-d. It is specifically after one eats that he needs this reminder. It’s much easier to say grace before eating because you are hungry, feel deficient, and therefore choose to acknowledge G-d but in Jewish consciousness the main time to remember Him is when we feel good about ourselves and (feel like we) lack nothing.The purpose of the blessing is not merely to thank G-d for the meal we have just eaten, its main function is that we don’t forget Him.
Allowing ego to be the motivator of our actions is a recipe for bad relationships with people and G-d. The more me, the less you. This leads not only to selfishness but even to clinical narcissism and anti-social behavior. It would be absurd to say that if one doesn’t thank G-d after eating this extreme behavior will ensue, but it is also apparent that one who takes time to thank G-d after eating will have a regular reminder where his or her food, health, and wellbeing come from—these thoughts and acknowledgments are ego reducers. As such, it has been one of our most effective tools over the centuries for us to remain humble and true to ourselves.Good Shabbos [based on Meshech Chochmah]