‘You shall eat, be satiated and bless Hashem your God for the good land He has given you.’ (Dev 8.10)
These famous words are the source for Birkat Hamazon, Grace After Meals. The structure of Birkat Hamazon is very specific, with an introductory paragraph when at least three dine together, known as zimmun, four main blessings, and some final supplementary praises.
The Gemara roots some of these sections in this verse: ‘bless’ refers to the first blessing; ‘Hashem your God’ means you should start the blessings by calling on one another to invoke the Name of Hashem – zimmun.
‘The land’ is the source of the second blessing, which refers specifically to the praises of the Land of Israel, and ‘good’ means we should mention the place that is the ultimate good – Jerusalem (the concluding passages, the ‘Harachaman’ phrases, are rooted in custom, although one paragraph is for blessing one’s host).
While the first three blesses are Torah mandated, the Gemara notes that the fourth blessing –‘Hatov v’hameitiv’ is rabbinic.
One of the tragedies that Tisha B’av commemorates is the fall of Beitar in 135CE – the last stronghold of the Bar Kochba uprising in which many thousands of Jews perished at the hands of the Roman after a brief grasp of independence.
The Romans refused to allow the burial of the dead to perpetuate the humiliation, yet, miraculously, the dead did not decompose.
Hence, when permission was given to bury, the Sages instituted an extra blessing in Birkat Hamazon ‘hatov – the One who is Good – for they did not decompose, v’hameitiv – and He does good – for they were given for burial’. (Berachot 48b)
Gratitude can be an extremely short term feeling: a full belly soon gives way to being ‘full of yourself’ – forgetting the struggles and Divine help to get the food on your plate.
Acknowledging the miracles – including those borne out of extreme circumstances – helps us forge a path to appreciate everything we have.
Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning