A Sandwich in LaGuardia
Sitting in LaGuardia airport, on my way to Memphis for a scholar-in-residence engagement, I finished my tuna sandwich and began birkat ha-mazon. Now, my bensching is certainly on the faster side; when I used to start bensching in yeshivah, a certain friend would always start making motorcycle noises. Still, I do always try to think about what I’m saying. And, looking around the teeming masses of people from all walks of life in the Delta terminal, I gained a particularly powerful appreciation for being an Orthodox Jew.
For virtually everyone else there, I would wager, eating a tuna sandwich would not be a particularly significant experience. You buy it, you eat it, and that’s it. But, as an Orthodox Jew, there’s so much more to it. And I’m not even going to start with the kashrut laws that are implemented in obtaining and making the food, I will just describe the thoughts that birkat ha-mazon generates.
First of all, there is the expression of appreciation for the food. How many people actually stop to think about being grateful for the food that they eat? Sure, it was just a tuna sandwich, it wasn’t pheasant pastilla or roasted shoulder of Asian water buffalo (ah, fond memories). But it was delicious and nutritious and it kept my body going. Baruch atah Hashem, ha-zan et hakol.
Then, benching takes us on tour of the history of our nation. There were so many people of so many backgrounds around me; I don’t know how many of them had much of a national history, or ever thought about it. Ours is certainly worth contemplating at every opportunity, even while sitting at an airport gate. We trace our history back for thousands of years! And our homeland, too! Nodah lecha… ah shehinchalta l’avoteinu eretz chemda… v’al shehotzetanu… mibeit avadim…. Baruch ata Hashem, al ha-aretz v’al ha-mazon.
But there have been dark times in our history, too, and we must never forget them. The original Jewish sovereign state in the Land of Israel was destroyed. Yet it is our very mourning of that, for thousands of years, which gave us the commitment to return. And through the grace of God, we have been able to do so, and to start rebuilding the Land. Baruch atah Hashem, boneh b’rachamav Yerushalayim.
There were many more thoughts that bensching made me think about, but I’ll leave it here for now. I will just conclude by saying that if I were to add a brachah to benching, it would be: Thank you, Hashem, for commanding us to bensch.