Birkat Hamazon

Sara Raubvogel co-leads a 6th grade group as a madricha/teaching assistant in the Vav TA program of the CBJ Religious School. Her reflections on the […]

Sara Raubvogel co-leads a 6th grade group as a madricha/teaching assistant in the Vav TA program of the CBJ Religious School. Her reflections on the importance of finding gratitude during this time of COVID19 led her to write about an important daily mitzvah. (This mitzvah is one we also observe during Religious School recess, after enjoying our snacks.)

“Chaveri n’vareich!” 

“Y’hi shem Adonai m’vorach mei-atah v’ad olam!”

“Y’hi shem Adonai m’vorach mei-atah v’ad olam. Birshut hachevrah, n’vareich Eloheinu she-achalnu mishelo.”

“Baruch Eloheinu she-achalnu mishelo uv’tuvo chayeinu…”

The Birkat Hamazon is the grace after a meal. If you have been to Jewish sleepaway camp, that prayer probably went through your head with the same melody that it went through mine. That’s because we’ve grown up with it; it’s ingrained in our practice. Reciting the blessing after a meal is actually a mitzvah written in the Torah. Deuteronomy 8:10 states, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Adonai your God for the good land which God has given you.” This expression of gratitude, this mitzvah, has become a reflex to many young Jewish individuals, including myself. 

A few weeks ago, during my family’s complicated, unusual, virtual Passover seder, as we were nearing the end of the meal, it was time for my favorite part: the Birkat Hamazon. This prayer is amazing and extremely special to me because my cousins, who live 3,000 miles away in Toronto, follow the same melody and schtick that my brother and I learned at Camp Newman here in California. This year, even though Passover was different and unconventional due to the Coronavirus, the Birkat Hamazon was just as spirited and exciting as ever. While we were laughing, banging on the table, and bringing back memories from our summers at camp, I was reminded of the meaning and mitzvah behind the blessing.

The Birkat Hamazon is composed of four blessings: for food, land, Jerusalem, and lastly, God’s kindness. The prayer’s underlying message is arguably the most important two words in the English language: “thank you.” We’re constantly thanking God through the prayer, but the moral message of the Birkat Hamazon, the reason that Jewish professionals and sleepaway camps have tried to make this prayer seem like second nature for Jewish children is because of the overall importance of gratitude. And today, gratitude is more important than ever.

As a high school junior, starting college applications and overwhelmed with important grades, and AP and SAT tests, this Coronavirus pandemic has affected my life in many ways. It has been immensely frustrating, to say the least. However, despite the annoying bitterness of this situation, I realized that I need to take a step back. I began an art collage journal, and using cutouts from magazines and newspapers, I started to express my gratitude on paper. It has made me understand how much I have to be grateful for, and how exciting it is to say “thank you.”

I think that recently there has been a lot of negative competition in my daily life. I hear a lot of, “You know, the seniors have it worse,” or “Have you even thought about what it must be like for the freshmen in college?” These conversations, comparing problems and bad situations, are hugely unhealthy; yet we hear this all the time, and often, we’re guilty of it. 

Ever since I was nine years old, during my first summer at Camp Newman, reciting the Birkat Hamazon, I have been taught gratitude. Everyday, I hear parents tell their toddlers something like, “Remember to say ‘thank you’ to grandma!” When I was growing up and forgot to say thanks, my mom gently would remind me, “¿Qué dice?” meaning “what do you say?” in Spanish. We’re taught to be grateful at a very young age, and often saying “thank you” is second nature when we get older. But for some reason, genuine gratitude is remarkably difficult. 

I’m not saying that you have to recite the Birkat Hamazon to thank God after every meal, but I would like to suggest that you take the moral message of the mitzvah to say grace after the meal into practice. Gratitude is extremely hard, especially when life throws a curveball and everything gets flipped upside down. However, I can promise you that there is a reason to say “thank you.” There is something to be grateful for in the morning, afternoon, and night, every single day. It’s there, but it’s up to you to find it, and when you do, I think you’ll be thanking yourself.