Bircas Hamazon and Shira

The Rav explained that according to many Rishonim, there is no Torah based imperative to recite Bircas Hamazon unless the meal included bread (a wheat based product). Even according to those Rishonim who opine that reciting the after-bracha of Al Hagefen or Al Hapeiros is also a Torah based imperative (eg wine, pomegranates and figs) there is no Zimun for these latter  products; Zimun is reserved solely for recitation after the consumption of  bread (eg from wheat). Clearly, then, all Rishonim agree that there is a special Torah category reserved for bread alone.

We know that bread is a staple, and ironically in our days of diets and glycemic indices, many, ironically, avoid bread. Hilchos Brachos is complex enough, and many will b’davka choose to eat bread so that they are not confronted with complex questions about the relative prioritisation of brachos.

What is the secret of bread that raises it to this important place in Halacha?

The Rav explains that bread is the one staple which requires the active cooperation of a range of people before it can be readied for consumption. Although its roots (sic) are also from the ground, one doesn’t simply consume raw wheat. Of the other fruits which the land of Israel was blessed through, only bread (eg via wheat) requires this cooperative preparation. One reason why either a special thanks is due through Bircas HaMazon (or according to the other opinions through Zimun) from a Torah perspective, is that God has allowed us or necessitated us, so to speak, to partner him in the formation of this particular foodstuff.

Finding dry wheat for matza

Based on this insight, the Rav contends that this is also one reason Bnei Yisrael didn’t immediately sing the Shira upon leaving Egypt and instead waited until the miracle of Krias Yam Suf. Comparatively, the act of leaving Egypt didn’t involve the Jews so much as “having to put their hands into cold water”. In contradistinction, when they reached the challenge of crossing the impenetrable Red Sea, they were explicitly commanded through Moshe to “travel” דבר אכ בני ישראל ויסעו and through this, like the preparation of bread, they actively partnered God in effecting this salvation through the miracle.

From  Mipninei Harav.

Interestingly, this primary thanks that we give is after the eating of the bread. Yet, when it comes to Torah learning, the primary Bracha is recited just prior to learning Torah.  Rav Kook in Ein Ayah to Brachos 20, explains that the thanks due after eating bread is tied to the sustenance that is attained after eating the bread. For this reason, one can still recite the Bircas Hamazon as long as the food has not been digested. By contrast, when it comes to Torah study, the lessons learned after the Torah study, which can be thought of as the practical halachos leading to the ability to do Mitzvos, are of secondary importance to the Torah study itself. The Torah study itself, immediately attained at the commencement of the learning process, is the highest level of sustenance for the Neshama. For this reason, the bracha for Torah study is made just prior to this experience (at the beginning of learning).

When one examines the temporal efficacy of a miracle, the Shevach VeHodaa that one gives is only meaningful as long as the miracle hasn’t been “digested“. If the miracle has been digested, then it loses its impact and it isn’t natural to exalt through the recitation of Shira.

Living our daily lives, we encounter miracles: some through nature which can be explained through scientific principles and others which are elusive and will likely stay that way. The pursuit of science can have two effects. For those who fear the study of nature through science and logic, science challenges their sensitivity of the miraculous. Science is an ogre, something to be avoided, as it may act to desensitise the Neshama through its human explanations of Godly activity . For others, Science is a tool which is also used to meet the Creator and understand His world. Even the most explainable manifestation of his majesty serves to enthuse the Neshama and bring the Jew closer to his Maker.

It all boils down to one’s weltanschauung, the level of their secular education, and their exposure to the world.

כן נראה לפי עניות דעתי

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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