Judaism from A to Z—”Birkat ha-mazon, grace after meal”

One of the most important prayers in Judaism and one of the very few that the Bible
commands us to recite, is never recited during synagogue services. That prayer is the birkat ha-mazon, grace after meal.

In Deuteronomy 8:10 we are commanded that, when we eat and are satisfied, we must bless the Eternal, our God. This commandment is simply fulfilled by reciting a birkat ha-mazon (blessing of the food) after each meal. Reciting birkat ha-mazon is commonly referred to as bentsching, from the Yiddish word meaning „to bless.“

Importantly, the grace after meals is recited in addition to the various brachot over food recited before our meals (e.g. Ha-Motzi). The most well known birkat ha-mazon consists of four blessings, three of which are dated back by our tradition to the time of Ezra and the Great Assembly (around 500-300 BCE) and a fourth which was added after the destruction of the Temple (70 CE). These blessings are:

· Birkat Hazan (the blessing for providing food), which thanks God for giving food to the world,

· Birkat Ha-Aretz (the blessing for the land), which thanks God for bringing us forth from the land of Egypt, for making God’s covenant with us, and for giving us the land of Israel as an inheritance,

· Birkat Yerushalayim (the blessing for Jerusalem), which prays for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the coming of the messianic time; and

· Birkat Ha-Tov v’Ha-Maytiv (the blessing for being good and doing good). It emphasises the goodness of God’s work, that God is good and does good.

In addition to these four blessings, the full birkat ha-mazon incorporates many psalms and additional blessings for various special occasions (weddings, holidays, guests, etc.)

If you would like to hear the birkat ha-mazon sung and a download of a full version of the text, please  click here: https://bit.ly/2UtWfXl (reformjudaim.org). You can also find there  a shortened version, which is a wonderful way to start incorporating bentsching into your home rituals.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Jewish FAQ/ReformJudaism.org)

Judaism from A to Z—”Afterlife”

Judaism from A to Z—”Afterlife”
The afterlife (Olam haBa) is rarely discussed in Jewish life, be it among Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox Jews. This is in marked contrast to the religious traditions of the people among whom the Jews have lived. The afterlife has always played a critical role in Islamic and Christian teachings, for example. Jewish teachings on the subject of the afterlife are sparse: Our Torah has no clear reference to the afterlife at all.

Since Judaism does believe in the „next world,“ how does one account for the Torah’s silence? I suspect there is a correlation between its nondiscussion of the afterlife and the fact that the Torah was revealed just after the long Jewish sojourn in Egypt. The Egyptian society from which the Hebrew slaves emerged was obsessed with death and the afterlife. The holiest Egyptian literary work was called The Book of the Dead, while the major achievement of many Pharaohs was the erection of the giant tombs called pyramids. In contrast, the Torah is obsessed with this world, so much so that it even forbids its priests from coming into contact with dead bodies. The Torah, therefore, might have been silent about the afterlife out of a desire to ensure that Judaism not evolve in the direction of the death obsessed Egyptian religion.

In Judaism the belief in the afterlife is less a leap of faith than a logical outgrowth of other Jewish beliefs. If one believes in a God who is all-powerful and all-just, one cannot believe that this world, in which evil far too often triumphs, is the only arena in which human life exists. For if this existence is the final word, and God permits evil to win, then it cannot be that God is good.

According to Judaism, what happens in the next world? As noted, on this subject there is little material. Some of the suggestions about afterlife in Jewish writings and folklore are even humorous. One story teaches, Moses sits in heaven and teaches Torah all day long. For the righteous people (the tzaddikim), this is heaven; for the evil people, it is hell. Another folktale teaches that in both heaven and hell, human beings cannot bend their elbows. In hell people are perpetually starved; in heaven each person feeds his neighbour.

All attempts to describe heaven and hell are, of course, speculative. Because Judaism believes that God is good, it believes that God rewards good people; it does not believe that Adolf Hitler and his victims share the same fate. Beyond that, it is hard to assume much more. We are asked to leave the afterlife in God’s hands.

Rabbi Adrian M Schell
(Source: Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy )