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