Grace After Meals
by Rabbi Isaac Klein
followed by the Talmud,
prescribes a benediction after eating as well
8:10; B. Ber. 35a). There are three forms
of the Grace after meals:
- boreh nefashot (B. Ber. 37a).
- bracha achat meein shalosh (M. Ber. 6:8; B. Ber. 37a)
- birkat hamazon (ibid)
The first and simplest is baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam boreh n'fashot rabot v'chesronan al kol ma shebarata l'hachayot bahem nefesh kol chai, baruch chat haolamim.
This benediction is recited over foods which are preceded by the benedictions boreh pri haetz, boreh pri ha'adamah or shehakol (O.H. 207:1).
The rabbis gave special consideration to seven species with which the Bible says the Land of Israel was blessed: "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land. . . a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey" (Deut. 8:7-8).
Hence after eating these we recite the bracha achat meeyn shalosh, "one benediction which has the form of three," i.e., a shortened form of the longer Grace after meals (O.H. 208). It is recited after foods which are preceded by the benedictions boreh minei mezonot or boreh pri hagafen, and for the fruits enumerated among the seven species: rigs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (the honey referred to in this verse is not of bees but of dates).
The shortened form, also known as ah hamichyah, begins with the usual formula
and then varies according to what was eaten: after wine, al hagefen v'al pri hagefen, after fruit, al haetz v'al pri haetz, after pastry, al hamichyah v'al hakalkalah. When two varieties have been eaten, a combination of the above is recited. Then follows a summary of the benedictions in the longer Grace after meals. Before the closing formula, there is an insertion for Sabbaths, Rosh Hodesh, or festivals. The closing sentence again indicates what food was eaten.
The full Birkat Hamazon is recited whenever the meal was preceded by hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.
Like the benediction before the meal, the Grace afterwards raises the satisfaction of a physical craving into the realm of the spirit. Through the Grace, the family table becomes the family altar. The prayer not only expresses gratefulness for the food, but also binds the participants to their people by expressing gratitude to God for past favors to the people as a whole and hope for its blessed future.
Before the actual Grace is recited an introductory psalm is said. On
weekdays we recite Psalm 137, al naharot bavel, to express our mourning for the destruction of Zion, an event which should not be forgotten even during our meals. On Sabbaths and festivals we recite psalm 126. In place of the sorrowful remembrance of past tragedies, it is an optimistic vision of the future rebuilding of Zion.
When three or more adults have eaten together and each one has to recite the Grace after meals, a formal invitation to say Grace is said (M. Ber. 7:1; O.H. 192: 1), on the principle that before a sacred function is performed there should be an invitation to the participants to join. This helps establish the proper mood for the ritual. kol milei dik'dushah ba'ey hazmanah (Zohar, quoted in M.A. 1 on O.H. 192:1).
This quorum of three is called a mezuman from the name of the prayer, Birkat Zimun (from the verb z-m-n, "to invite"). The honor of leading the mezuman is accorded by the host to the most distinguished person present Sep. 47a). If a Kohen is present he should be given the honor (O.H. 201:2); otherwise it is given to a talmid hakham, a learned person, or to a guest (O.H. 201:1-2).
The leader calls the people together with rabotai n'varech, and they respond with yehi shem adonai m'voach meatah v'ad olam. The leader responds with birshut maranal v'rabanal v'rabotai n'varech sheachalnu mishelo asking the permission of those present to praise God. If ten or more adults are present the word eloheinu is added after n'varech. The people respond with baruch sheachalnu mishelo uv'tuvo chayinu. Again if there are ten or more adults present the word eloheinu is added after barukh.
Grace itself then follows.
It has four benedictions, designated in the
by specific names (13. Ber. 48b):
praises God for providing food for all.
It represents a public thanksgiving for
God's goodness to all humanity.
This benediction has two paragraphs:
offers thanks to God for all past
favors granted to our people,
summarizes the preceding enumeration
of blessings and concludes with a
benediction. On Hanukkah and Purim
the special prayer al hanisim
assigned for these holidays is recited
between the two paragraphs. The Rabbinical
Assembly Weekly Prayer Book
contains an al hanisim for
Yom Ha'atsma'ut as well.
While the previous benedictions were expressions
of gratitude for past favors, this is
a prayer for the future flowering of Zion
and for the continued blessing of God.
It concludes with u'vneh yerushalayim,
a prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
On the Sabbath
a special prayer, retzeh, is
insetted before u'vneh. On Rosh
Hodesh and on festivals ya'aleh
v'yavo is inserted before u'vneh,
making appropriate reference to the day.
This benediction was added around 137
C.E. after the revolt
of Bar Kokhba, According to the Talmud,
it was instituted when the Roman authorities
relented and granted permission to bury
the "slain of Betar," the last
Jewish stronghold, whose inhabitants were
put to the sword (B. Ber. 48b).
paragraph of the Birkat
The conclusion of this benediction,
l'olam al y'chasrenu, marks the end
of the statutory Grace after meals. However,
as with the other services, other prayers
were added in time, such as the series of
short prayers beginning with harachaman.
The texts of these vary, but all versions
contain a prayer for the host and for those
present, a prayer for the coming of Elijah
the prophet, and a prayer that we may be worthy
to see the days of the Messiah.
This passage includes the
words magdil y'shuot malko. On Sabbaths,
Hodesh, the word magdil is changed
to migdol. Various explanations for
this have been given (O.H. 189 in M.A. 1).
The verse in question comes from Psalm
18:51, where magdil is used.
However, in 2
Samuel 22:51, where Psalm 18 is repeated,
the word migdol is read, It has been
suggested that the original text of the Grace
had magdil, but that someone added
the parenthetical phrase v-b-s-"b
m-g-d-v-l indicating that the
reading is migdol in 2 Samuel. This
was later misread as an abbreviation for u'vshabat,
and it was assumed that we are to say migdol
on the Sabbath. Whatever the reason, this
has become the established custom, and as
usual in such cases, it is easier to reinterpret
than to abolish. The passage ends with oseh
shalom, the prayer for peace, which has
special significance in the Birkat Hamazon.
On the verse "And I will give peace in
the land" (Lev.
26:6), Rashi comments: "And if you
shall say, So there is food and drink; but
without peace what good are they? Therefore,
with the expression of thanks for food we
also pray for peace, which will make it possible
for us to enjoy then blessings" (Mateh
Mosheh, quoted in Landau, Tselota
d'Avraham, 2:556). The final passage,
y'ru et adonai is a collection of
biblical verses. These are said silently out
of consideration for any poor people who may
be present at the table. The passage states:
"They who fear the Lord know not want"
(Ps. 34:10 and " I have been young and
now I am old, yet have I not seen a righteous
man forsaken, nor his seed begging for food"
(Ps. 37:25). Since this is an ideal and a
hope rather than a fact, it is better said
in a hushed voice.
Since it was felt that the
full Grace after meals was a bit too long,
many prayer books have a shortened form alongside
the full text, One of them is quoted in O.H.
192 in B.H. 1, and it contains all the essential
elements required by the Talmud.
The shortened Grace may be used when brevity
is desired. The United Synagogue has adopted
one, with additions in English, for general
use in Conservative
Alternative Grace after Meals
B'rich rahamana malka d'alma mareih d'hahy pita.
Source: Klein, Isaac. A
Guide to Jewish Religious Practice.
Theological Seminary of America, 1988.
Reprinted here with permission.