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Torah Sparks

July 27, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 7:12-11:25; Hertz, p. 780; Etz Hayim, p. 1037
Triennial Cycle I: Deut. 7:12-9:3; Hertz, p. 780; Etz Hayim, p. 1037
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3; Hertz, p. 794; Etz Hayim, p. 1055

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(7:12-26) Encouragement in following the commandments, and not fearing the Canaanites. You must destroy all the idols of the nations you conquer.

(8:1-18) A warning against overconfidence: Once you have occupied this good and fertile land, don't forget that God brought you there. Thank God for the land and its goodness whenever you eat. Verse 8:10 forms the basis of the practice of reciting Birkat ha-Mazon (blessing after meals).

(8:19-9:3) Future existence depends upon loyalty to God.

(9:4-29) As part of a long section of exhortation and teaching, Moses reviews some of the history of the Israelites in the wilderness in order to draw instruction from it. One example is the incident of the Golden Calf, the breaking of the Tablets, and Moses' prayer of intercession to God.

(10:1-11) The making of the second set of Tablets.

(10:12-22) The conclusion of Moses' second speech to Israel, a warning to "fear the Lord and walk in all His ways."

(11:1-12) A review of the miracles God did for Israel in the wilderness, and praise of the goodness of the Land that they will soon inherit.

(11:13-25) The second paragraph of the Shema, tying the bounty of the land to Israel's faithfulness to the covenant; an exhortation to keep the Torah and its commandments.

This Shabbat's Theme: "World Hunger"

When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in... beware least your heart grow haughty. (Deut. 8:10-12, 14)

  1. BirKat Ha-Mazon, also called benshen, is the grace recited after meals which include bread. It is based upon the biblical commandment cited above. There is also an abridged form of grace, known as auka ihgn which is a short summary of the first three paragraphs of the BirKat Ha-Mazon. It is recited after meals that do not include bread, but food consisting of the seven species as enumerated in the Torah. Any food that does not consist of these seven species calls for the shortest form of grace, known as ,uapb truc which reads: "Praised are You ...for all the things that You have created to sustain every living being..." In effect then, we see that after partaking of any food, from a mere morsel to a sumptuous meal, one should sense that an expression of gratitude to God is called for.
  2. The Birkat consists of three ancient blessings, to which a fourth blessing was added later on (along with supplementary petitions). The first blessing is believed to be the most ancient. It gives the essence of the prayer - which is thanksgiving for the food partaken. What should be noted though in particular is that in form and content it is a universal prayer that applies to all of humanity. It may even be said that it is "cosmic" in that it affirms God's care and concern for all His creatures. As a rabbi who was called upon to recite an opening prayer before a meal for community or secular organizations, I felt perfectly comfortable in reciting the opening paragraph of the Birkat (in English, of course) because of its universal expression.

    Here is how it reads:

    "Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who feeds the whole world with Your goodness, with grace, with lovingkindness and tender mercy. You give food to all flesh for Your lovingkindness endures forever. Through Your great goodness, food has never failed us. May it not fail us forever and ever for Your great Name's sake, since You nourish and sustain all beings. You bestow that which is good unto all and You provide food for all Your creatures whom You have fashioned. Praised are You, O Lord, who provides bounty unto all... and let us say, Amen."

    The only difficulty that one might have with this universal prayer is that it concludes by saying that food is provided for all. But unfortunately, that is not the case. As we are well aware there is a serious problem of world hunger. We cannot blame it on God either. We must blame it on ourselves. "Unlike most of the problems with which we are asked to engage, hunger is a soluble problem. We may not know what to do about poverty, and we may not know what to do about arms control, but hunger is a problem that we do know how to solve...

    According to a World Bank study, 'At the global level, if food distribution were different, present output of grain alone could supply every man, woman and child with more than 3,000 calories and 65 grams of protein per day - far more than the highest estimate requirements. Eliminating malnutrition would require redirecting only about two percent of the world's grain output to the mouths that need it. The fact is that hunger is not a shame or a scourge; it is, pure and simple, a scandal." (Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger. Pamphlet)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

The plight of the hungry is constantly before us. Every day throughout the world, 40,000 people, mostly children, die of hunger or diseases related to hunger. There are nearly 15 million such deaths every year. One billion people go to sleep every night suffering from the scourge of hunger. And everything goes on... Shouldn't we feel their pain more than we do and actually do something about it?

In 1989, the United Synagogue initiated a project called "Operation Isaiah" to help alleviate hunger. As part of the High Holiday observance, Conservative congregants throughout North America have been bringing food items to their respective synagogues on Kol Nidre Eve for distribution to the hungry. This is just one way that we can fulfill the mitzvah of feeding the hungry. Cognizant that the High Holidays start at the very beginning of September this year, it is not too early for us to begin organizing and publicizing "Operation Isaiah" in our synagogues now at the end of July. Let's all of us at least do that in our synagogues this year!

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