Can you recall a time when you faced a hardship and returning to normalcy was difficult? Perhaps you were recovering from a medical treatment or surgery. Or had gone through an emotionally draining time. Maybe it was a bad flu that knocked you down for a bit. Or you lost a job and faced uncertain times. Through it all, were you able to find reservoirs of faith? Could you count on friends and community? Could you find a blessing in the moment, or express gratitude once you came out of this morass. If you are still in the midst of a hardship, can you envision a better time in your life?
Parashat Eikev describes the hardships that the Israelites faced throughout their forty years of wandering yet reminds the Israelites that God was by their side through it all, even when the Israelites couldn’t recognize that God was near. God fed them, clothed them, and led them. Yes their journey was difficult, fraught with peril, and was often time monotonous, however, they made it; we find them this week, listening to Moses, as they sit on the threshold of the Promised Land, preparing to enter it.
A verse in this portion provides the commandment to recite Birkat Ha’mazon, the blessing after meals. It declares: “When you have eaten, when you are satisfied, then bless the Eternal your God for the good land you are about to enter.” (Deut. 8:10)
Rabbi Shefa Gold offers a teaching on these verses. She tells a story of recovering from food poisoning and even when she was well a few days later, had little appetite for food. She had difficulty returning to normalcy. Once she did, she had a greater sense of appreciation.
From this experience she teaches us a lesson of Birkat Hamazon:
‘You shall eat’: Open yourself wide to receive all the goodness and beauty of the world. Take in with pleasure the fullness of its nourishment.
‘You shall be satisfied’: Instead of immediately reaching out for more or for what’s next, rest consciously in the fullness of this moment, this bite, this morsel of life.
‘You shall bless’: When you eat, remember the Source of all Goodness. Taste God in every bite and acknowledge the gift you are receiving.”
We can apply these lessons to many moments in our lives. When we go through a hardship that makes it difficult to experience life’s fullness it may take time before we can express gratitude for what we have and for what we have overcome. If we once often took something for granted that was taken away from us temporarily, that experience of hardship may teach us to appreciate that facet of life differently.
Birkat Ha’mazon is a blessing of thanksgiving, gratitude and appreciation. As you enter into Shabbat, I invite you to pause for a few moments to think of three things for which you are grateful this week, and acknowledge the beauty and joy that moments of gratitude, even in the midst of hardship, can offer.