Thursday, August 22, 2019

Grace Before Meals

One of the seven mitzvot enacted by the rabbis is reciting blessings prior to eating food. The other six rabbinic innovations are: the holiday of Purim, the holiday of Chanukah, lighting Shabbat candles, reciting the Hallel prayer, washing our hands prior to eating bread, and the concept of eruv. (The rabbis also created dozens of enactments, functioning as “fences” around existing Biblical laws. The list above are creations that did not come to support an existing Biblical mandate).  Grace after meals, or birkat hamazon,  finds its source in the Torah in this week’s parasha, Eikev.

In terms of the blessings recited prior to eating, there are a few basic categories, that are based upon another verse in this week’s parasha. The Torah states: “A land of wheat and barley, and (grape) vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and (date) honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8). From this verse, the Talmud (B’rachot 41a) deduces, in the name of Rabbi Yosef, and some say Rabbi Yitzchak, that the order of the seven items in the verse serve as the order in which the blessings are recited.

The first blessing recited, is that over bread (which would be made from the flour of five grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats). When those grains are used in baked goods other than bread, the blessing of mezonot is recited. Next in the verse are grapes. A special blessing was instituted over wine. The blessing over bread is always recited first and covers all other blessings save for that over wine. After mentioning wheat, barley and grapes of the vine, the latter 4 fruits of the land of Israel mentioned in the verse are all considered to be fruit, and require the blessing over fruit to be recited on them prior to their consumption. In Jewish law, after grains, wine and fruit, the next blessing recited is over vegetables, and finally the miscellaneous blessing is recited over drinks, meat, eggs, fish and everything else.

The seven Israeli products mentioned in the verse above are considered to be foods identified with the Land of Israel, and their first fruits, in the days of the Holy Temple, would be brought to the Temple with great pomp.

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