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Parshas Eikev - Learning Enhances Performance 16 Av 5783

08/11/2023 08:34:53 AM


I sometimes wonder if my readership feels that I take this opportunity to use this platform for my personal therapy or self-reflection. I admit that self-reflections shared can benefit others, and I strongly believe that certain events – common, every day occurrences, omissions, miscalculations – blunders and simple acts of forgetfulness can have a powerful effect on many people beyond the individual committing the mistake.   

On Yom Kippur we recite Viduy/confession which openly admits the positive things each of us has lacked and the negatives each of us may have violated. The Chid”a, Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, broke down the traditional Viduy and added different infractions, each of which begins with the same letter of each phrase of the Viduy. The first heading of the Viduy is ‘Ashamnu’, we have been delinquent. The Chid’a specified some of these delinquencies, listing אכלנו בלא ברכה תחילה וסוף  - we have eaten without reciting the introductory and /or concluding benediction. I have a tendency to swallow the words of the needed bracha before eating, but I nevertheless do manage to say them. Even if I forget to recite the Bracha/blessing at first, the law stipulates that one can say the blessing even while the food is in your mouth. If it is too difficult to do that, then you are supposed to say the bracha when taking the next bite or piece of food.

A few months ago, I found myself not once but twice realizing  that I had forgotten to say the Bentching! Despite the fact that there are administrative ways to ‘fix’ the blunder by having in mind that forgotten -to- bench food when bentching after the next or any other meal eaten later, I still typically keep in mind  that the bentching covers the previously eaten food, too. Nevertheless, I was devastated. How could I be so callous as to totally forget to recite the Grace After Meals even one time, let alone two times!

I took this as a sign that I needed to do something for two reasons: 1) as a tikkun - a  corrective measure and 2) for an atonement. Based upon the rabbinic teaching that since we don’t have the Beis HaMikdash, we cannot offer sacrifices, Chaza”l tell  us that if one learns about the sacrifices it is considered as if they were brought. Therefore, I thought to myself, what better way to gain atonement and correct my infraction of laxity than to learn about the laws of bentching and of the Brachos. It did not take too long for me to realize that this learning opportunity was right in front of me in the Smichas Chaver Program taught by Rabbi Whittenburg. I made a commitment, bli neder, to join the chabura/group to learn the details of the mitzvos of bentching. I cannot say that I am now an expert in this area of halacha, but I definitely feel that Hashem will accept this mechanism of learning about a topic or area that needed shoring up.  

This strategy works for anyone at any time throughout life: Make an effort to learn about something in order to get better at it. This is true for any mitzva, but how much more so for the most fundamental mitzva of gratitude for eating, an act which continuously gives us physical nourishment, giving us the strength to pursue our spiritual needs. Birkas HaMazone is something we are trained to say from a very young age. It is probably the most universal tune  sung in Jewish music across the Jewish spectrum. The command to bentch consists of three simple phrases found in the Torah:  “I ate, I was satisfied, and I blessed.”  Rav Dov Ber, the Maggid from Mezeritch, writes that Birkas HaMazone requires more kavana (intent or direction) than the Shmoneh Esrei because prayer is rabbinic while Bentching is Biblical, as we in the discussion below.  

The Torah in this week’s Parshas Eikev states in Devarim 8:10 "ואכלת ושבעת, וברכת את ה' אלוקיך על-הארץ הטובה אשר נתן לך"  :“When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless God your Lord for the good land that He has given you.” Take a moment to review this section of the Parsha.  Look at the passuk (phrase) just before and immediately following this one.  There is a hidden message within the following Pshat/explanation I offer. The Gemara Brachos 21a states that this particular quoted line is a commandment to recite the grace after meals. I try to analyze why would a person forget to say a blessing, either before beginning to eat or immediately after eating? A powerful concept the Rabbis use to explain our lack of devotion to Hashem is the blessing of success and wealth that we have. This is best explained by the author of the Ner LaMaor who says we should not only bless Hashem when we are extremely hungry, starving, or pressured to eat; we should also bless Hashem -  even when we are full and satisfied.  In fact, it is precisely when we are totally satisfied and full, when things are going well that we are required to bless Hashem. There is no doubt that a poor, destitute person should thank Hashem for the food he has, but even someone who has plenty, who may think he is in control of his bounty, surely needs to recognize Hashem’s gifts and thank Him when eating and upon finishing his meal.   

The Gemara Brachos 35b states …”whoever benefits from this world without first making a bracha is committing a sin as reprehensible as if he stole from God and the Jewish people.” Rebbi Akiva Eiger asks, “I understand why this is considered stealing from Hashem because everything belongs to Him, but why is it stealing from the Jewish people?” Rebbi Akiva Eiger answers with the explanation: God created the world so that man can benefit and recognize the goodness of Hashem. As a result, a person will bless Hashem’s name in acknowledgment of all the good He did for us. Our blessing of Hashem will lead Him to add and to bestow more success and blessings upon His creations. Therefore, if a person is less than grateful for what he receives and does not recognize the source and or the inherent blessing expected as an expression of gratitude, then any benefits received but not followed by a bracha are tantamount to stealing from God. Indirectly, without blessing Hashem, God withdraws His giving of plenty, which affects the entire Jewish people. The ingrate causes God to hold back the plenty that He is fully desiring and willing to give, but only on condition that He is blessed by the people. Therefore, everyone loses out due to the lack of blessings said before and after we eat.

The lesson to be learned is that everything we do in life affects not only specific individuals; our actions – or lack of appropriate actions – can negatively affect potentially everyone in the world. This rule applies to every commandment, but especially with regard to reciting Birkas HaMazone, or Heaven forbid, not saying it or forgetting to say it.  Learning about Mitzvos will give us a more heightened sense of the impact we can have on ourselves on our families, and on the entire world, hopefully in a most positive manner.     

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784