And you shall eat, and you shall be satiated, and you shall bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land that He has given you. (Devarim 8:10)
There are two mitzvos in the Torah for which there is a biblical obligation to make a blessing. One is the blessing on learning Torah and the other the blessing after a meal. The Meshech Chochmah points out that the blessing on the Torah precedes the act of learning, while the blessing on the food follows the act of eating. It is worthwhile pointing out that the gemora says that it is a kal v’chomer that one should make a blessing before one eats, yet it is only a rabbinical requirement to make this blessing.
There are many stories told about people who were down and out in their financial situation, and they prayed to Hashem for salvation. Hashem responded by sending them Divine Providence. But at a certain point they think, “OK, thank You Hashem for your help, I can take it from this point forward!” They think that now they have what it takes to be successful through natural business acumen, and they turn their backs on Hashem. Yet in their heart of hearts, they fully understand that Divine Providence is necessary from the beginning until the very end.
There are other areas that we are involved in where it is evident that we need Divine providence, and it would be impossible to succeed without His involvement. The classic example of this is learning Torah. If one approaches a sugya, a Mishnah, or even a verse in chumash, he can see the struggles and difficulties that the greatest of the great had trying to unlock the hidden treasures of the Torah. Yet if we learn Torah we can hope to comprehend things that seem not to have been understood before. I think all of us understand that this is yagata umatzata – if we toil, Hashem will give it to us as a gift.
If one is hungry, then thinking about Hashem before eating is not such a difficult test. But after one is satiated and full (of himself), he moves into the world of “vishachchta es Hashem Elokecha” (in fact, many people will always make a bracha rishona, but very often forget a bracha achrona). The Meshech Chochma points out that the gemora in Eruchin suggests that when a kohen eats an offering in the Holy Temple, he would not have to say birkas hamazon afterwards. This is because the eating itself is a positive commandment. The purpose of the blessing afterwards seems to be to put us on track to remind us that all that we have is from Hashem. The verse (Mishlei 13:25) says, “tzadik ochel l’sova nafsho” A righteous person eats to satiate his soul. It seems odd that one eats to satisfy the “soul”! One would think eating was to satisfy the hunger of one’s body. This means that the righteous one understands that in the long run, the purpose of eating is to grow in spirituality. By doing so, it is not merely a bodily function but an act of service to Hashem Himself. Through this idea, the Meshech Chochma answers his question: Before learning Torah it is very common for people to forget that understanding Torah is a gift from Hashem, and not because of how smart we are. With eating, it is afterwards that we need a reminder to recognize that we are only satiated by His grace.
Some people think that taking a vacation is time “off”, “downtime”, from the things that are important to us, and a time instead to become self-absorbed. In reality, just as by eating, the purpose of vacation is to be reinvigorated to serve Hashem with even more gusto.
I asked a man who works in kiruv, “How are you allowed to go on vacation? Think of all the lives that are going to be lost as you are doing R & R!?” To emphasize my point, I told him that it is said over in the name of Rav Elyashiv, that he told Rabbi Meir Schuster Z”L that he does not need to sit the full seven days of shiva because klal Yisrael needed him at the kosel (note that this was not the bottom line halacha in this case). When this man didn’t have an answer, I told him, “The reason you are going on vacation is because ‘all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy’”. In fact, the Chofetz Chaim says that one will get reward when he vacations if he does it with this in mind.
I would like to wish everyone an enjoyable summer, and become refreshed so that we can all serve Hashem better. What is most important is to not forget to thank Hashem for the good times which we have that invigorate us to go forward, no different than a delicious meal.