Ideally, Jews say two sets of blessings with every meal. Before the meal, we acknowledge that our food comes from God. After the meal, we say another set of blessings, the Blessing for Satisfaction, called the Birkat Hamazon. (Learn more about the Birkat Hamazon, and see a video of a rabbi chanting it, by clicking the link.)
If there is some form of bread on the table, we say only the blessing for bread, and it covers all the food on the table. This is the blessing:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, hamotzi lekhem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time-and-Space, who brings forth bread from the earth.
The first part of the blessing is the standard formula: “Blessed are You,” etc. The second part has a subtle message built into it. Taken literally, one might get the idea that we think loaves of bread are pulled from the earth like potatoes!
But look deeper: the wording of the prayer stimulates a question in our minds. The prayer engages us with a puzzle: how did the bread get to the table? That offers us the opportunity to appreciate not only the goodness of the Holy One, but the effort of the person who planted the seeds, and nurtured the plants. It reminds us that someone harvested the grain, and ground it into flour. Someone brought the flour to market and yet another person baked the loaf. Thus a whole cascade of figures come to mind, briefly present at our table, as we say the words, break the loaf, and eat.
Does this happen every time? Of course not. But the words are there, waiting for us, when we are ready to be reminded that we are not alone, that we are interdependent with people we do not know and will never meet. No human being stands alone.
Image: A loaf of bread. Photo by Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay.