Almost all the blessings in the Jewish prayer book were instituted by our sages and are not Biblically mandated. The only exception is the commandment to bless G‑d after eating bread, as Moses tells us in this week’s Torah portion:

And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless the L‑rd, your G‑d, for the good land He has given you.1

Over time, the blessing (often called Grace After Meals) evolved, and is now a series of four blessings composed over more than a millennium. The Talmud explains who composed each blessing and when. We will focus on the first two:

With regard to the origins of the four blessings of Grace after Meals, Rav Nachman said: Moses instituted for Israel the first blessing of “Who feeds all,” when the manna descended for them and they needed to thank G‑d. Joshua instituted the blessing of the land when they entered Eretz Yisrael.2

Why on earth do we thank G‑d with a blessing about bread from the heavens? The bread we eat, bread grown from the ground with great investment of toil and time, is categorically different from the manna in the desert, which miraculously descended from the heavens each morning of their 40-year sojourn. Why then do we say the first blessing, composed by Moses for the miraculous manna, and not begin directly with the blessing composed by Joshua as he and the Jews entered Israel and ate natural bread grown from the land?

Perhaps the sages included the blessing composed by Moses because it captures the essence of the purpose for the blessing.

While much of the previous Torah portion is dedicated to reminding the Jewish people never to forget the awesome experience at Sinai, this week’s portion focuses on the spiritual dangers of entering the land of Israel. The miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and the journey through the wilderness were about to end. Moses cautioned the people that in the Land of Israel there would be great temptation to attribute success to their own power and wisdom. Now that they would be growing bread by the sweat of their own brows, they might forget about G‑d and attribute a successful harvest to their own ability to navigate and channel nature’s force. Moses therefore reminds us that when we eat natural bread, when we are satiated, when we enjoy blessing, we must recognize G‑d as its source.

Perhaps this is why the Sages included Moses’s blessings for the manna—the bread from the heavens—together with Joshua’s blessings for the bread of the land of Israel, the bread of the earth. For the purpose of the Grace After Meals is to recognize that the natural bread is a blessing from G‑d no less than the bread from the heavens. Both Moses and Joshua teach us to recognize the truth: that G‑d is manifest not only in miracles but also in nature; not only in the bread from the heavens but also in the bread from the earth.