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What is Grace after Meals?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. Hey, just ate something? Feelin’ good? Go ahead—say “Thank you!” to G-d for lubricating the ecosystem that got that stuff on your plate. Birkat Hamazon (pronounced BEER-kaht hah-MAH-zone), commonly translated as Grace After Meals, is what Jews say when they’re done chowing down. Thanking G-d for what you eat is Positive Mitzvah #19. However, Grace after Meals is a faulty phrase in that it sounds too religious. There’s no mindless obeisance in Judaism, and the appreciation expressed to G-d after a hearty meal would be better simply titled just that: Appreciation.


B. Birkat Hamazon is a series of prayers to G-d recited in Hebrew, from a Siddur, (Click here for online text) and only after a meal that contains bread. When a group of three or ten people eat together, introductory statements are recited as well. Also known as bentching, from the Yiddish bentch, or bless, Birkat Hamazon takes about three minutes to do.


...if you do lunch at Frank’s and the food is funky and the fried fish is fabulous, you’ll say, “Thanks, Frank—the food was funky and your fried fish is fabulous!”
C. Birkat Hamazon has almost as many nus’chaot, or formats, that one find in Tefillah, or prayer. However, they all follow the same essential layout, consisting of around nine paragraphs.


1. How do I thank G-d after I eat?


Luckily, The Rabbis asked that question long before you did, and they answered it as well! They instituted a four-section set-format thank-you to be recited after every meal.1 Birkat Hamazon may be easily found in your siddur's Table of Contents.


2. The Idea Behind It


If you do lunch at Frank’s, you’ll thank Frank when you leave: you’ll say, “Thanks, Frank!” If you do lunch at Frank’s and the food was funky, you’ll say, “Thanks, Frank—the food was funky!” And if you do lunch at Frank’s and the food is funky and the fried fish is fabulous, you’ll say, “Thanks, Frank—the food was funky and your fried fish is fabulous!” Bottom line is, the more you enjoy it, the more details you add. And that’s why Birkat Hamazon is not a one-liner—there’s a lot to thank G-d for.


3. What It’s All About


In Birkat Hamazon, one will find many expressions of gratitude for having food to eat, as well as for the land of Israel, the Exodus from ancient Egypt, our Jewishness, the Torah, the good things in life that we have, and of course, the food. And while you have your host’s ear, you may as well as for a couple of favors. That’s why the majority of Birkat Hamazon actually consists of prayers for redemption, the return to Israel, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, health and well-being, sustenance, and dignified self-sufficiency.


Also read about 'What is the Prayer Al HaMichyah'  .

Footnotes

  • 1. See "Who composed the Grace after Meal?" (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/230,2065791/Who-composed-the-Grace-after-Meal.html).

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COMMENTS

Three Minutes? LOL

Posted by: April Fried, Henderson, NV on Nov 11, 2005

Wow when I would be at camp it took WAYYYYY longer than three minutes, at least for us... in Chabad Lubavitch, in California ,where i went to school, it also took a lot longer than three minutes, But it's a prayer, once you know it.. you never forget and your life is just not the same without.

Great article!

Editor's Comment

It certainly takes longer than three minutes to sing the entire text!

Bentching

Posted by: Eli van Tijn, Enschede, Netherlands on Aug 17, 2006

The grace after the meals is also known as 'bentsching' The word bentching is derived from the latin 'benedicere', it means 'to bless'

RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prayer » About

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Grace After Meals
Biblically mandated prayer, consisting of four blessings, recited after eating more than an ounce of bread.
Tefillah
Prayer. The Jewish Sages instituted three daily prayers, and an additional prayer on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Birkat Hamazon
Grace after Meals. A Biblically mandated prayer, consisting of four blessings, recited after eating more than an ounce of bread.
Siddur
Prayer book.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Yiddish
Language closely related to German commonly spoken by European Jews.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.