Never Forget Hashem
Rabbi Reuven Mann
One of the most prominent institutions of Judaism is that of blessings. There is hardly an activity we perform, religious or secular, that is unaccompanied by a bracha. Blessings are recited over food, pleasant aromas, and the performance of mitzvot. In addition, we bless the Creator when we behold magnificent creations, such as the ocean and mountains or when we perceive lightning and thunder. We also bless Hashem over good tidings, as well as bad. The list goes on and on including a vast range of blessings too numerous to mention. It is interesting to note that all of these blessings, except one, were not commanded by Hashem, but were ordained by the Rabbis. Why did the Rabbis see fit to formulate so many blessings? What is the purpose they are supposed to achieve?
This week’s Parsha, Eikev, contains the bracha commanded by Hashem, Birkat Hamazon, (grace after meals). The Torah says, “You shall eat and be satiated and bless the L-d your G-d for the goodly land that he gave you.” Taking a cue from this verse the Rabbis went on to require blessings in many other contexts. They said, “If the Torah demands that we praise G-d after we are satisfied, how much more so when we are hungry and about to partake of His food.” The question arises, why is it that only the Birkat Hamazon is ordained by the Torah? What is so special about the fact that we have eaten a meal and are now in a state of satiation?
The Book of Devarim is comprised of Moshes’ final addresses to the Jewish people. He knew that his days were numbered and dedicated them to securing the welfare of G-d’s chosen nation. His foremost concern was that they should succeed in the next phase of their mission, i.e., to conquer the land and establish a society based on Hashem’s laws of justice and compassion. A major concern of his was that they would be corrupted by success. Many people have been ruined by the attainment of great wealth and fame. Struggles and difficulties usually make a person humble and grateful to Hashem for whatever He bestows. However, when things go exceedingly well and a person attains enormous fortune there is a tendency to “forget Hashem” and take the credit for oneself. The challenge in life is to always remain humble and remember your Creator. All the good one experiences in this life is an unearned gift from Hashem. Even if you used great acumen and skill in achieving your goals, you must give the credit to Hashem. It is He who granted you life, and endowed you with the mental ability and skill which enable you to achieve your success.
However, the temptations of ego are great. Man turns to his maker in times of need, but tends to “forget” him in his moments of glory. He needs to magnify himself and satisfy his feeling of greatness. When this type of mentality takes hold, it usually spells the beginning of the end. Great individuals, nations, and empires have met their doom because they fell prey to the emotion of self-aggrandizement.
It is because of this that the Torah commanded us to bless G-d after we have eaten and are satisfied. After stating this command, the very next verse says, “Be careful lest you forget Hashem.” It then explains, “Lest you eat and be satiated and build good houses and increase your livestock and silver and gold, and your heart will be uplifted and you forget the L-d your G-d who took you out of Egypt.” Birkat Hamazon teaches us that it is more important to remember Hashem in times of success than in times of failure. When we experience setbacks, it is natural to feel humble and turn to Hashem. The challenge is to be humble and grateful when we experience great triumphs and all our dreams have come true.
Basing themselves on this philosophy, the Rabbis expanded the range of blessings and mandated them for a multitude of occasions. They knew how fickle we are and prone to forgetting. The purpose of the extensive institution of blessings is that man should be in a constant state of awareness and awe of his Creator. This is the most important element in achieving a life of success and true satisfaction. May we be worthy of this blessing.