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Not On Bread Alone

Not On Bread Alone

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Gratitude is a basic aspect of Jewish life. To feel and express gratitude to the people around us, and also, to feel and express gratitude to G‑d.

An important aspect of this special gratitude is the saying of Grace After Meals after eating bread. It is a significant event whether at a large banquet, at a family meal on Shabbat or simply when one individual eats a sandwich for lunch.

The saying of Grace After Meals expresses the idea that we depend on G‑d for every detail of our lives, and we are grateful to Him for caring for us at every step. We need G‑d for our existence from moment to moment, for the air we breathe and for the food we eat.

The idea that we should recite this prayer comes from a verse in the Torah. "You should eat and be satisfied and bless G‑d for the good land He has given you" (Deuteronomy 8:10). The Sages comment that the literal meaning of this implies that we are commanded to bless G‑d only if we have eaten enough to be "satisfied." However, the Sages introduce the idea that we should say Grace After Meals even if we are not actually sated, as long as we have had a minimum amount of bread (an "olive-size," regarded as one ounce).

This prayer has four paragraphs. The first concerns the fact that G‑d provides food for the whole world: this was composed by Moses. The Jewish people wandering in the desert recited it after eating the manna which fell from heaven.

After forty years they entered the Promised Land. Then Joshua wrote the second paragraph, which starts by thanking G‑d for the sacred Land of Israel. This paragraph also thanks G‑d for the Covenant of Circumcision, for the Exodus from Egypt and for the Torah.

The third paragraph, composed by David and Solomon, concerns the sacred city of Jerusalem. It also speaks of the Davidic line of kings and of the Temple. This paragraph ends with a plea to G‑d to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem with the coming of the Messiah.

The final paragraph of Grace after Meals was composed by the Sages some 1,870 years ago. It is a general expression of gratitude to G‑d: He is "the King who is good and who does good to all."

In fact, this last paragraph was written after the terrible tragedy of the failure of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 135 CE. Huge numbers of Jews were massacred. The praise to G‑d could be seen as gratitude that we survive to bring living Judaism to the next generation. In this final section we also thank our hosts and our parents, and again ask G‑d to send Elijah who will announce the Messiah.

Additional paragraphs and sentences, or slight changes of wording, provide recognition of special days such as Shabbat, the New Moon and the festivals.

Grace After Meals not only thanks G‑d for supplying our basic needs; it is an integral part of our lives as Jews, expressing the entire course of Jewish history, with its joys, tragedies and hopes. Reciting it or singing it bonds us to thousands of years of the life of the Jewish people, and also provides a precious opportunity to speak directly to G‑d.

Click here for the text of the Grace after meals

Dr. Tali Loewenthal is Lecturer in Jewish Spirituality at University College London, director of the Chabad Research Unit, author of Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School and a frequent contributor to the Chabad.org weekly Torah reading section.
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Eleanor Skibo Pennsylvania, USA August 27, 2017

Saying Grace before and after meals is our way of thanking G d for giving and receiving our sustenance. Why wouldn't we thank G d, don't we thank a friend for inviting us into his home to break bread, Isn't The Holy One much more important than any other person in this world? Reply

Zalman Kastel Sydney Australia August 11, 2014

additional meaning in grace after meals thank you Tali for reminding us that grace after meals is and can be more than just a ritual thanks for food. Rather it is a time to reflect on the gift of life itself and the preservation of our people through our long history. The link between the last blessing and the burial of the victims of the roman massacre is a powerful lesson in gratitude and acceptance. Gratitude for the dignity of the dead and whatever that meant to the living, then and now. Reply

Anonymous August 6, 2009

"the King who is good and who does good to all." In addition, I heard that this blessing was added on 15 AV 3908 (148BCE) when Jews finally brought to burial the dead of Betar (135 BCE). When Romans massacred Jewish survivors of betar and then did not allow Jews to bury their dead for 15 years. Reply

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