“And thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He hath given thee” (Deuteronomy 8:10).
After we finish eating a meal, we are commanded to thank God for the food with which He has blessed us. “Birkat Hamazon,” Grace After Meals, is a series of blessings, some thanking God for the food, others covering different areas of Jewish life, such as thanking God for the Land of Israel, praying for the Messiah, as well as other requests for blessings.
We also make blessings before partaking in food, but these blessings are much shorter and are specific to the food that they are about to consume. So why is Birkat Hamazon so much longer?
The context of the commandment in Deuteronomy to bless God after eating a satisfying meal comes when Moses is saying his final speech to the Jewish People. They will be entering the Land of Israel without him. They have been in the desert for forty years, literally guided by the Hand of God, with a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud in the day. They saw Him bring the plagues to Egypt, split the sea, give the Torah, and countless miracles, and they still fell time and time again, doubting God and His infinite power. They performed the Sin of the Golden Calf, they believed the slander of the Spies, and they questioned God’s presence and power even though it was so clear to them.
In Deuteronomy when Moses tells the Jewish people to bless God after meals, he says to “bless the Lord thy God for the good land.” Thanking God for the land is implicitly also thanking Him for the food. The point of Birkat Hamazon is to use food to remind us of all of the good that God gives us in our lives, and to focus on the important things such as the Land of Israel and Redemption with the coming of the Messiah.
In a time of only good, it is easy to forget about God, as the Jewish People did in Egypt. God was performing miracles before their very eyes, and yet they had moments when they doubted Him. Moses knew that they were going into a land of abundance, and he wanted to remind them not to forget about God. When things are good, it is easy to think “My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Birkat Hamazon serves not only as a way to thank God for our food, it is a reminder to us that every single thing in our lives comes from the Almighty.