Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Happy Birthday Birkat Hamazon!

The Torah (Exodus 16:1) reports that the Children of Israel arrived at the Wilderness of Sin on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, approximately one month after the exodus from Egypt. The Torah relates (Ibid. verses 2-4) that the Children of Israel began complaining to Moses and Aaron about the “wonderful” foods they ate in Egypt and their current lack of culinary choices. God tells Moses to inform the nation that manna would begin falling to feed the nation.

The Biblical commentator Rashi asks: Why was this particular date so important to be worthy of mention in the text? The Torah rarely mentions actual dates. Rashi explains that on this day, the 15th of Iyar, the supply of matzah and food that the Children of Israel had brought with them from Egypt had been completely consumed. Rashi notes that on the following day, the 16th of Iyar, a Sunday, the manna began falling.

The day the manna was introduced to the people is another significant anniversary, as the Talmudic passage below indicates: “Rabbi Nachman stated that Moshe established the first blessing of the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals,) “He who sustains the world,” when the manna began falling. Joshua established the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon, “the blessing of the Land,” when the Children of Israel entered the land of Israel. King David and King Solomon established the third blessing, “He who builds Jerusalem.” King David composed the words, “Be merciful, God, our Lord, upon Israel Your nation, and upon Jerusalem, Your city.” King Solomon added, “upon the great and holy Temple…” The fourth blessing, “He who benefits and causes benefit” was established by the Sanhedrin in Yavneh, after the dead from Betar were finally [permitted to be] buried” (Berachot 48b).

Imagine the glee of the Children of Israel when they literally received “manna from heaven” just as their food supply ran out. Who better than our greatest prophet, Moses, could compose the opening lines of Birkat Hamazon! Next time you recite, or even sing, Birkat Hamazon, think about the miraculous manna.

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