Graced With Food
By blessing after we eat, we elevate the act of eating by connecting with God, the source of our sustenance, and with our cultural history.
The following article is reprinted with permission from Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.
In this week's parashah, Moses continues his review of the exodus experience, reminding the Israelites of how God has cared for them in the wilderness. He reiterates the covenant and continues to review the general rewards that will benefit the Israelites if they are faithful to God and follow God's commandments. It is simple: If the Israelites follow the Torah, God will bless them in the land, and drive out their enemies. If they do not obey God, then....
Moses warns them not to follow other gods or engage in idolatrous worship practices. Moses also reminds the Israelites of some of their earlier rebellious incidents, including the events around the building of the Golden Calf and the destruction of the first set of tablets. The parashah concludes with the passage that is used liturgically as the second paragraph of the Shema. These words reiterate the connection between Israel's piety and God's blessing.
"You shall eat and be satisfied and bless the Eternal your God for the rich land that God has given you" (Deuteronomy 8:10).
In the Torah, this verse comes after a passage in which Moses reminds Israel how God cared for them while they wandered in the wilderness. God gave Israel "manna to eat... in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone" (normally I would use the more gender sensitive and more literally accurate "human" for the Hebrew adam, but the quote is so much more familiar with "man"). It goes on to note that God did not let the Israelites' clothes wear out nor let their feet swell over the 40 years of their wandering.
Moses then goes on to tell Israel what to expect in the Land of Israel, which they are about to enter. It is a "good land, with streams and springs and fountains." It is a land of "wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey." Moses continues this discourse by telling Israel that the land they are about to enter is, "a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing...."
Keep in mind that, despite the miraculous manna that God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, their biggest complaints were about hunger and the lack of variety in their food. This promise, then, must have been an incredibly attractive temptation for the people. However, Moses reminds them, they must never forget the source of their sustenance. Therefore, they must always remember, after they have eaten their fill, they must offer thanks to God.