TORAH FOR THE NATIONS
The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people
Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Please and Thankyou
For not on bread alone does man live but on all that comes forth from the mouth of God will man live."
"Eat and be satisfied and bless HaShem your God."
In our present portion of EIKEV the Torah teaches us to bless and thank God for the food we eat. "Eat and be satisfied and bless HaShem your God" (Deuteronomy 8:10).
According to tradition, Moses instituted that after eating their food, the Children of Israel should bless God with the "Grace after meals".
Blessed are You, HaShem our God, who sustains the entire universe through His goodness, with grace, with mercy and with kindness. He gives bread to all flesh, for His kindness is for ever. And through His great goodness we never have lacked sustenance, and so may we never lack sustenance for ever and ever, for the sake of His great Name. For He is the God Who nourishes and sustains all, and Who is good to all, and Who prepares sustenance for all His creations that He has created. Blessed is You HaShem, Who sustains all.
The Torah sages also taught that if we are to bless God when we are satisfied after having eaten, how much more should we bless God while still hungry - i.e. before eating - in order to acknowledge that He is the ultimate source of our sustenance. Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly laid down a series of blessings to be recited before eating bread and other baked goods, before drinking wine, eating the fruits of a tree, vegetables and other kinds of food.
Each of these blessings begins with the words: Blessed are you, HaShem, our God, Ruler of the Universe.
Over bread, continue: .Who brings forth bread from the earth.
Where other foods are eaten with bread, no further blessing is said.
When not eating bread:
Over other baked grain products, continue: . Who creates varieties of sustenance.
Over wine, continue: .Who creates the fruit of the vine.
Over fruits of trees, continue: .Who creates the fruit of the tree.
Over vegetables etc. continue: .Who creates the fruit of the earth.
Over other kinds of foods (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, candy, etc.) water and other beverages, we continue: .through Whose word everything came about.
Just as these blessings are recited by the people of Israel, so they may be recited by all gentiles.
The simplest of all the blessings is an ancient formula that can be taught to and recited even by little children:
Blessed is the Loving One, Ruler of the World, Master of this bread.
We are all made with a physical body combined with a spiritual soul that vitalizes the body as long as we are alive in this world. In order to survive, we must meet the many demands and imperatives of the body - for air, food, drink, clothing, housing and so much more. God's will is for us to bring our material side under the control of the spiritual soul, satisfying our needs lawfully and in moderation, using the material world in the service of God through harnessing our physical bodies in the practice of His Torah.
Eating our food is among our most basic physical functions. God's gift of the air we constantly breathe is everywhere freely available - ideally we should bless God with every breath we take! But food is something that mankind has always had to work for in one way or another, whether through hunting, cultivating the land and other kinds of food production, or by working to earn the money to purchase what others have produced. King Solomon said: "All man's labor is for his mouth" (Ecclesiastes 6:7).
After working very hard for our living, it is easy when sitting to enjoy the fruits of our labors to think to ourselves: " My power and the strength of my hand has made for me all this prosperity" (Deuteronomy 8:17). Particularly in the hyper-sophisticated technological world in which we live, as we consume the various attractively-packaged ready-made products we have picked from the shelves of the supermarket, it is easy to forget that the manufacturers could never have created any of them without the God-given sunshine, air, water, minerals and incredible diversity of life-forms from which they derive. Rarely if ever does a single product label or advertisement remind us of this!
As we take a piece of food to eat, the brief pause we make in order to bless God for it before taking the first bite is an exercise in consciousness-raising. The blessing may be said aloud, in a whisper or sung with a happy tune. What is important that, after all the work and effort that went into producing and acquiring this food, we remind ourselves that it is ultimately HaShem our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who created and provided us with this very apple, this cup of tea, this bread, this cookie .
And after having eaten and drunk our fill, when we bless and thank God for His kindness and mercy in sustaining us and all the world, we are transmuting our physical, animalistic function of eating into something spiritual, deepening and enhancing our awareness of God's constant presence in every detail of our lives.
When we bless and thank God before and after we eat and drink, the words of our lips bring blessing into our lives and into our very bodies.
"And you shall serve HaShem your God, and He will bless your bread and your water, and I shall remove illness from within you" (Exodus 23:25).
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