Call me old fashioned, but one thing that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside is when I actually see people in restaurants stop and “say grace” before they eat. It means that these people actually make it a point to stop and thank God for the food they are about to eat no matter who might be watching. I used to work with a Jehovah’s Witness guy who would hardly so much as look at his food before saying a silent prayer. My wife and I try to do so; usually being more successful in our home than when we’re out, but it’s something I’d definitely like to work on. Some questions some might have about this practice are:
1. Is “saying grace” found in the Bible?
2. What exactly is taking place while doing this?
I’ll attempt to answer these questions in one explanation that might wind back and forth a little.
While saying grace before a meal is nowhere to be found in the Bible, the concept definitely in the Torah. The only thing different about it is the order in which most do it.
ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את־יהוה אלהיך על־הארץ הטבה אשר נתן־לך
“And when shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:10
Yes, most people bless God out of order, but the heart remains. Rabbinic Jews traditionally allot a time of prayer to bless God immediately preceding a meal while most cultures bless Him when everyone is assembled because different people might come and go. It can also be difficult to figure out exactly when a meal is officially over.
Where most commandments in the Torah are extremely concise and to the point with little additional explanation, there is some very good explanation that follows this passage:
“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14
Wow. That totally sounds like something you’d see in the commentary section of Chumash by Rashi; but no, that’s the explanation of it given in Torah. Even thousands of years since then, I don’t know if anyone could have put it better if they tried. Still, what is going on here with this communication?
Just for the record, the command is not to “bless the food.” This concept of blessing food is a relatively new. It was created through a misunderstanding because, while we say a blessing “over” food, we are not blessing the food, but rather blessing God; the Source of all things.
Though my wife and I are not Rabbinic Jews, rather leaning towards Karaite Jewish interpretation, we do say a Hebrew blessing over our food that Rabbinic Jews traditionally say over bread. Many modern Karaite Jews use these same blessings and many appear in Karaite liturgy. Practicing Orthodox Jews have different blessings for different types of food, but we find that this single blessing best encapsulates the essence of blessing God for all food (after all, its not really about what kind of food you’re eating, but rather that there is food at all).
The blessing goes like this:
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ
Barukh atta Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lekhem meen ha’aretz.
“Blessed are You, LORD or God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.“
The only other blessing over a different kind of food we recite is when we ceremoniously drink wine on Shabbat or during other holidays. That blessing goes like this:
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן
Barukh atta Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, bo’rey p’ri hagafen.
“Blessed are You, LORD or God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.”
Though some Orthodox Jews might object to us using the blessing for bread before eating a steak, we figure that whatever fed the cow so it could grow large enough to be slaughtered and eaten more than likely came from the earth (that is, unless we start harvesting grains on the moon…which might be a ways off). We use the term “bread” to symbolize food the way the Avinu Prayer says “give us this day our daily bread.”
Long explanation short: It works for us, which is the most important thing. Finding a prayer, blessing, or whatever expression that you want that best blesses God is all that matters when giving thanks to God for what He provides. It can be spur of the moment or it can be previously composed; as long as it is truly from your heart each and every time you say it, that is the most important aspect of a blessing.
I hope this blesses you so that you may more easily bless God.