Sharona Margolin Halickman
When you hear the word kavana, intense concentration during prayer, what images come to mind? Do you imagine someone intensely davening the Shmoneh Esrei at the Kotel or do you imagine someone reciting birkat hamazon, benching, in a noisy crowded fast food restaurant like Jerusalem's Burger King or Manhattan's Kosher Delight?
For most of us, the image of kavana that probably came to mind was the person davening at the kotel, not the person in the fast food restaurant.
Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezrich would beg to differ.
Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezrich taught that it is more important to have kavana, intense concentration during birkat hamazon, than during Tefilla (aside from the Shma). His reasoning is that birkat hamazon is deoraita, a mitzvah from the Torah while prayer (aside from the shma) is derabanan, a mitzvah instituted by the Rabbis.
The Gemara in Brachot 21a asks
From where in the Torah do we derive the obligation to recite Birkat HaMazon?
From the pasuk in Parshat Ekev, Dvarim 8:10: You shall eat and be satisfied and bless Hashem your God for the good land that He gave you.
In their listings of the 613 mitzvot, both Rambam and Ramban mention the recitation of Birkat Hamazon as a mitzvat aseh, a positive commandment to praise God every time that we eat at least a kezayit of bread.
What methods can we use to bring more kavana into Birkat Hamazon?
Every time that we praise God for the food, we must also praise God for the land of Israel.
The Gemara in Brachot, 48b describes how the different parts of birkat hamazon, especially those relating to the Land of Israel were formally established.
Rav Nachman taught: The first bracha ending with Hazan et Hakol, is a universal bracha describing how God feeds everyone. It was established by Moshe at the time that the Jewish people were in the desert and received the mann. Just as God gave the entire Jewish people the mann, so too should He continue to provide food for us.
The Gemara continues:
The second bracha which ends with al ha'aretz v'al hamazon, on the land and on the food was established by Yehoshua when the Jews entered Israel. We thank God for taking us out of Egypt, for the mitzvoth of the Torah and Brit Milah, the everlasting supply of food and the land of Israel.
The Gemara continues:
The bracha that ends with Boneh Yerushalaim was established by David and Shelomo.
- After eating a meal, one must take the time to sit down and focus before reciting the prayer. It is actually a requirement to sit while reciting Birkat Hamazon, even if one was eating standing up.
- One must say each word clearly and out loud and not blur them together.
- One must recognize that they are praying in the presence of God and be in awe of God.
- One must recognize that they are fulfilling the mitzvah of veachalta vesavata u'veirachta...- you shall eat and be satisfied and bless God...
- One must think about the tremendous chesed that God does for us when he gives us food.
- It is customary to leave bread and food on the table and a cup overflowing with wine to remind us how fortunate we are to have an abundance of food.
- Reciting birkat hamazon with a mezumen, a group of people increases kavana as well.
- and most important- One must understand the words. This can be done through the study
of the prayer, using commentaries in Hebrew or English. There is actually a wonderful bencher
that came out recently called Nivarech which has photographs on each page that correspond
to the prayer that is being said. There are many pictures of Israel and Jerusalem which
really make the words come alive and help focus on what the prayer is about.
King David established the part about the Jewish people and Jerusalem.
King Solomon established the part about the Beit Hamikdash.
We pray that the kingdom of David will be restored and that the temple will be rebuilt.
The Gemara concludes:
The blessing of HaTov vehameitiv is in memory of the fallen of Beitar, a city in Israel which the Romans wiped out after the destruction of the Second Temple and wouldn't let the bodies be buried. We thank God that the bodies did not decompose until they were finally buried. We hope that He will continue to do good things for us in the future.
The theme that recurs throughout birkat hamazon is the land of Israel. Why don't we just recite the universal first paragraph? Why is the land of Israel such an integral part of Birkat Hamazon?
I would like to present five suggestions:
- Just like God doesn't want us to take the food for granted, He also doesn't want us to take the land of Israel for granted. Israel should constantly be appreciated.
- Israel is the place where the most mitzvoth can be observed in the best possible way. Israel is the place where the mitzvoth were first observed.
- Israel has great produce that we should appreciate- as we read today,
it is a land of milk and honey and
the land of the seven species wheat,barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive-oil and date-honey.
In the Gemara in Brachot 49a Levy points out that when we conclude the blessing with al haaretz veal hamazon, for the land and for the nourishment, it looks like we are concluding with two separate topics when we usually just conclude with one. Rebi answers that the intention is:
Blessed are you Hashem for the land that gives forth nourushment. Israel is known as a land that gives forth nourishment.
- Through the blessing of Israel, the whole world becomes blessed.
- According to Abudraham, in Birkat HaMazon, Israel is not called
A land flowing with milk and honey, since not every spot in Israel is fruitful with milk and honey, but rather
A gorgeous, wonderful wide open land.
It is our hope that each time we bless God in Birkat Hamazon and in the other birchot hanahenin, blessings of enjoyment which are derived from the birkat hamazon, that God in turn will bless us. God created food so that we could praise Him through our enjoyment of it.
There is a story that demonstrates how special the Land of Israel is in terms of observing the mitzvoth. It's by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein in a book called On Bus Drivers, Dreidels and Orange Juice, Life in Israel is more than you bargained for!
A man got on a Jerusalem bus carrying rugalach which smelled really good. When the bus driver punched the man's ticket he asked if he could have one. The man took out a kippah from his pocket, gave it to the bus driver, handed the bus driver some rugalach and made a bracha with the driver. The seemingly not religious bus driver had no problem with this and went on to eat his rugalach. This could only happen in Israel.
During these troubled times in Israel I believe that we must put extra kavana into birkat hamazon. I hope that the following prayers will speedily be fulfilled:
Relieve us quickly Hashem from all of our troubles.
God will give strength to his people.
God will bless his people with peace.