Gratitude is imbued with joy. Imagine receiving a gift; the more you understand its origins, the deeper your appreciation and sense of thankfulness. This essence is something that Judaism has understood and perpetuated through the act of blessing.
How Judaism Values and Gives Thanks for Every Bite Through Bentching
Among the myriad blessings in Judaism, there’s the emblematic phrase “Baruch.”
While its direct translation is “blessed,” we aren’t, as one might assume, continuously blessing God. Does the Creator truly need our praises?
Here lies a nuanced distinction: “Baruch” and “Bereija” (meaning a source, specifically where water flows) share linguistic roots.
By uttering the blessing, we’re acknowledging that everything in existence comes from one source: God. Thus, more than just praise, it’s an acknowledgment. It’s a reminder that God is the primary source of our lives, even the food we consume.
So, when we recite the Blessing After Meals or bentching, we recognize and value that what we consume is a divine gift. This acknowledgment fills us with joy and gratitude. Yet, a clarification is necessary:
God doesn’t need our thanks; it’s we who need to express it. Food, in this context, becomes a bridge connecting us to the transcendent.
Connection and Gratitude: The Heart of Jewish Traditions
Come Shabbat, Iom Tov, or other festivities, before bentching, the “Shir Ha-ma’alot” is sung—a psalm penned by King David commemorating the Jewish People’s return from exile to the Promised Land. Although there are traditional melodies, any song from the heart will suffice. After all, God understands the language of the soul and all earthly tongues.
Right before this act of gratitude, there’s a brief ceremony: Maim Achronim, the washing of the fingertips. Picture approaching something of immense value, be it a work of art or a newborn. Before touching, you ensure your hands are clean. Similarly, with Maim Achronim, we recognize that before connecting with and thanking God, we need to purify ourselves.
In this simple yet profound tradition, one can see the essence of humanity: to recognize, give thanks, and connect. While specific tools may be used for the ceremony, its true value lies in the act, not the object.
Because at the day’s end, all that’s needed is a vessel, water, and a heart ready to express gratitude.