ברכת המזון

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Birchas Hamazon

Blessing after Bread

1. About this Bracha

Birchas Hamazon, also known as Birkat Hamazon, Birkat Hammazon, in Hebrew ברכת המזון, known in English as the Grace After Meals, or in Yiddish בענטשן‎ – Benching, is a set of Brachos (blessings) that are said following a meal that includes at least a K’zayis (olive sized) piece of bread or matzah, made from one or all of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt.

Birchas Hamazon is a Mitzvah דאורייתא, and is derived from the פסוק:

 “וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ” 1

The main reason to bless Hashem when a person is full and contempt, is that when a person is satisfied he may be proud and forget that everything is from Hashem.

The Torah did not stipulate an exact version of the Bracha, but it was generally mentioned that the content of the Bracha would be thanks to Hashem for the food and the giving of the land of Eretz Yisrael to the Jews.

The most important source of the Brachos is found in מסכת ברכות:

אמר רב נחמן: משה תקן לישראל ברכת הזן בשעה שירד להם מן; יהושע תקן להם ברכת הארץ כיון שנכנסו לארץ; דוד ושלמה תקנו בונה ירושלים: דוד תקן “על ישראל עמך ועל ירושלים עירך” ושלמה תקן “על הבית הגדול והקדוש”. הטוב והמיטיב ביבנה תקנוה, כנגד הרוגי ביתר.  דאמר רב מתנא: אותו היום שנתנו הרוגי ביתר לקבורה, תקנו ביבנה הטוב והמיטיב 2

Birchas Hamazon is composed of four parts that have been established over the generations:

1. ברכת הזן – Bracha on the Food

The first Bracha is giving thanks to Hashem who nourishes the world, and gives bread to all life, and recognizing that all the abundance we receive is only from Hashem, and not from human action. This Bracha was instituted by משה in the מדבר when the מן was given, as it is written:

וְזָכַרְתָּ אֶת כָּל הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הֹלִיכֲךָ ה’ אֱלוֹהֶיךָ זֶה אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה בַּמִּדְבָּר, לְמַעַן עַנֹּתְךָ לְנַסֹּתְךָ לָדַעַת אֶת אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ הֲתִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו אִם לֹא 3

2. ברכת הארץ – Bracha on the Land

In this Bracha we give thanks to Hashem for the land of Eretz Yisrael, for the commandment of Bris Milah and the for Torah and its commandments, which are also perceived as the gift of the Creator. According to מסורה (tradition), this Bracha was established by Yehoshua Bin Nun after he led the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael.

3. ברכת בונה ירושלים – Bracha on Yerushalayim

This Bracha is a תפילה (prayer) on מלכות בית דוד (the kingdom of David) and on the building of ירושלים (Jerusalem) and the בית המקדש (Temple). During the time of the בית המקדש, the Bracha was for the continued existence of the בית המקדש and David’s kingship, and after the חורבן (time of the destruction), the Bracha is said for the restoration of ירושלים and the בית המקדש. 

The Bracha also includes a request for a good livelihood, and adds special additions to it on Shabbos and Yom Tov (see below).

According to מסורה, the first part of the Bracha was instituted by דוד המלך (King David), and the second part was instituted by his son שלמה המלך (King Solomon) who built the first בית המקדש.

4. ברכת הטוב והמטיב – Bracha of thanks for Hashem’s goodness

In this Bracha we thank Hashem for his goodness toward us. According to מסורה, this Bracha was instituted by רבן גמליאל after the revolt of בר כוכבא. This Bracha was instituted as a Tefillah of thanksgiving and praise to Hashem for the miracle of the bodies of those who were killed in the revolt, that although they were not buried right away, they did not stink, rot or been eaten by animals.

2. Mayim Acharonim - מים אחרונים

This is the term for washing hands at the end of the meal, before reciting Birchas Hamazon. This obligation was instituted by the חכמי המשנה (Sages of the Mishna) for two reasons:

  1. The cleanliness of the hands in honor of Birchas Hamazon.
  2. For health reasons, to clean the hands of a מלח סדומית (salt of Sedom) that can blind the eyes if touched.

There is a מחלוקת (dispute) whether we are required to do Mayim Acharonim in our times or not, since we do not eat with our hands but rather with cutlery, and we do not use מלח סדומית. Nevertheless, the שולחן ערוך writes:

4 “מים אחרונים חובה”

Mayim Acharonim is an obligation”.

3. Zimmun

When three or more men conclude a meal together, it is customary for one to invite the others to join in reciting Birchas Hamazon. This is called a מזימון (summoning). When a זימון is made, one summons to his friends by saying: רַבּוֹתַי נְבָרֵךְ. The others respond: יְהִי שֵׁם יְיָ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם. The leader continues and says: יְהִי שֵׁם יְיָ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם. בִּרְשׁוּת רַבּוֹתַי, נְבָרֵךְ שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ. The others respond:  בָּרוּךְ (אֱלֹהֵינוּ) שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ וּבְטוּבוֹ חָיִינוּ. The leader continues and says: בָּרוּךְ (אֱלֹהֵינוּ) שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ מִשֶּׁלּוֹ וּבְטוּבוֹ חָיִינוּ. The word אֱלֹהֵינוּ is added when there are ten or more men present.

4. Special Additions

On שבת (Sabbath) and יום טוב (holidays) we make special additions to Birchas Hamazon:

רצה – On Shabbos, we make an addition to the Bracha of בונה ירושלים before the words “ובנה ירושלים”. We add in the words “…רצה והחליצנו”.

יעלה ויבוא – On Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuos, Succos, Simchas Torah, Shemini Atzeres, Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur (for those who are forbidden to fast), we add in the words of יעלה ויבוא in the Bracha of בונה ירושלים before the words “ובנה ירושלים”.

על הניסים – On Chanukah and Purim, we add in the words of על הניסים in the Bracha of ברכת הארץ.

Sources

1. ‘דברים, פרק ח’, פסוק י

2.  ‘ברכות, דף מ”ח, עמוד ב

3.  ‘דברים, פרק ח’, פסוק ב

4.  ‘או”ח, סימן קפ”א, סעיף א

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