To Dedicate Please Contact: Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
You will eat and you will be satisfied and you will bless Hashem your G-d for the good land that He gave you. (Devarim 8:10)
In this week’s parsha we learn about the mitzvah of birchas hamazon. The Torah commands up to recite a blessing upon the conclusion of a bread meal in which we have been satisfied. Our birchas hamazon today consists of four blessings.
In the second blessing of the birchas hamazon we come across an unusual word. We express our thanks that “You Hashem have provided us with sustenance.” The Hebrew words are “shah’atah zan.” The commentators note that the word “sha’atah” is unusual in two respects. First, it is rare to find a Biblical Hebrew word that has a prefix of the letter shin. The use of the letter shin as a prefix became popular in post Biblical Hebrew. In Tanach when a posuk wants to add to an expression the word “that” it typically uses a complete word like asher. Being that birchas hamazon dates back to Biblical times we would have expected that the text follow the common Biblical Hebrew style and refrain from using a shin as a prefix. Second, the vowel of the letter shin is a kamatz. We would have expected the vowel of the shin to be either a segol or a patach which would read sheh’atah or sha’atah. Why the kamatz?
In the sefer Pardeis Yosef the author quotes Rav Moshe Lifshitz zt”l who notes that the reason this word is used is because it has a precedent once in tanach (Shoftim 6:17). Furthermore, the vowels segol and patach are occasionally used to express a question. If the segol or patach were used here it might mistakenly connote “Is it really true that Hashem provided sustenance?” Such a statement is pure heresy. Therefore a kamatz is used to force us to translate the posuk as a statement only. Thus the expression is translated “You Hashem provide sustenance.”
However we may still ask why did chazal formulate the text of this blessing using a complex word that appears only once in the entire tanach and not select a different collection of words that would not involve these issues?
Let us review the context of what occurred in sefer Shoftim where this word appears. It was during an era where the Jewish people were suffering at the hands of Midyan. An angel suddenly appeared to Gideon and said “Hashem is with you mighty man of valor.” After some dialogue Gideon asked for a sign that Hashem was truly with him. We may note that it is here where the word “shah’atah” is found. Gideon asked the angel to show him a sign “shah’atah mi’daber e’me,” i.e., that it is You Hashem who is communicating with me. Thereupon Gideon presented a young goat and unleavened cakes of bread and put them on a rock. A fire came out from heaven and consumed the meat and bread. The miraculous consumption of this food was a sign that Hashem was with Gideon.
Chazal tell us that today when we have no Beis Hamikdash and no altar upon which to offer sacrifices our dining room table serves as a replacement for the altar. With regard to an offering it is essential that the kohen have the proper thoughts so that the offering is valid and accepted by Hashem. Likewise, when we eat food from upon our table it is essential that we eat with the intent that the food provides us with strength and energy to serve Hashem and not to satisfy our desire for self gratification. Only with the proper intent will our eating be pleasing and acceptable before Hashem and considered as an offering.
We may homiletically suggest that the reason Chazal chose this unusual word in our birchas hamazon was to bring our attention to this event in Shoftim so that we remember the purpose of why we eat. At the moment we thank Hashem for the meal that he has provided we also ask that our intent of eating be accepted before Hashem and that our consumption serve as an offering akin to how Hashem accepted the bread and meat offering of Gideon. We too want our consumption to serve as a sign “sha’atah mi’daber e’me.”
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004