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Todah Le’HaShem Part V

Updated: May 27, 2020

“Don’t just tell him to say Todah…tell him to say a Beracha!” Rav Nissim Yagen zt’l

Parents traditionally [and rightly so] make a big deal about having their little children say Todah out loud to the unfamiliar relative that just gave them a delicious candy.  Although this is a great start, HaRav Nissim Yagen zt’l cried out that the real lesson should be to teach the child to say a Beracha.[1] While the two seem to teach the same message, a deeper introspection into the teachings of our holy Sages uncovers quite a lesson about gratitude, and thereby taking us further along our happiness journey.

“Anyone who’s ungrateful for the kindness of his fellow, will ultimately be ungrateful for the kindness of the Holy One, Blessed Be He” (Midrash Mishnat Eliezer perek 7)

(מדרש משנת רבי אליעזר פרק ז)   כל הכופר בטובתו של חברו לבסוף כופר בטובתו של הקב "ה

The Midrash Mishnat Eliezer teaches us that although the Todah [towards our fellow] and Beracha [towards our Creator] complete each other, it’s the Beracha that helps us reflects on the deeper meaning of the gifts we’ve received.  Because saying Todah is so simple and well-intended, it’s become part of everyone’s speech at early childhood.  By the time we’ve reached adulthood, the Todah towards our fellow has become an engraved part of our habits, thereby losing much of the kavana[2] behind it.  A person can get so used to saying it, that receiving a pencil, a hot dinner plate, or a brand new car can literally have the same exact well-intended, yet habitual and superficial Todah. 

The Beracha, on the other hand, takes a little more effort and thought process to do than its superficial Todah partner.  This is supposed to lead the person to think a little more about what they just received.  Although it’s also common for us to forget the kavana part of our Beracha, one only needs to simply think about the literal meaning of what they’re saying in order to raise the Beracha to its former status.  

“You will eat and you will be satiated, and bless HaShem your God, for the good Land that He gave you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָךְ. (דברים ח י)

Nearly 500 years ago, The Maharal of Prague taught[3] us that the literal commandment to bless HaShem after eating makes the Birkat HaMazon the most important Beracha in the entire Torah.  Birkat HaMazon is so significant, that Gemara (Berachot 35b) judges one who eats without reciting it, as if he had stolen from God Himself.  A careful review of the biblical source of the blessing (i.e. Deut 8:10), can help us get a deeper meaning of what we should be so grateful about.  

First, we ate.  When one considers that nearly 25,000 people die each day (est. 9.1 million people/year)[4] from pure hunger, they should recite Birkat HaMazon as if it is Birkat HaGomel[5].  Second, we were satiated.  The same UN and other institutional studies report that there are nearly 1 billion people that suffer from hunger today.  Just imagine the tears of hunger, and your Kavana already increases.  Lastly, you got to bless HaShem.   This literally means that your life has a purpose.  If not for having a God with an eternal instruction set and purpose for all of His creations, life would simply be purposeless.  How horrible would life be if simply lived to eat and drink before you die; and then bring children along the way to suffer the same purposeless consequences?  By acknowledging, obeying and thanking HaShem you are also committing to your ultimate and eternal purpose. 

This means that all that’s missing from our Todah is exactly what’s missing from our Beracha—Kavana.  Just take a moment and think about what you received before saying either one.  Rabbi Efraim Kachlon once taught me “Is the pen someone lent you simply just a pen, or is it a tool that you will now use to write a Chidush, a phone number, or an answer to a test that will change your world forever?”  Of course you can look at it as just a $2 pen, but that would make you as ungrateful as the purposeless ones who live to die.  Our Sages teach us that When Moshe Rabbeinu commanded us to observe the Birkat HaMazon and all the other commandments, he literally said “…you shall observe to perform, so that you may live…”[6] Anytime the word “Live” is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to eternity, and not to this temporary world.  Divinely we see that the same verse that taught us true gratitude through Birkat HaMazon, is a verse numbered 8:10, which in its original Hebrew is ח י—Life. 

For those of you who want even more happiness, blessings and purpose in both this world and the next, BeEzrat HaShem we will discuss more Torah details in our ALON HaKODESH.   In the meantime, we should all take this time to think, reflect and realize that we all live a life that’s full of difficulty;  it’s time to make something good out of it.  This opportunity alone is reason enough to say Todah Le’HaShem (Thank You to HaShem).  A great way to say Todah is with Birkat HaMazon with Kavana!

“It (Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy” (Proverbs 3:18)

If you ask the praiseworthy supporters why they grasp it, they’ll simply tell you that it’s their tree of life. 


[1] i.e. The correct blessing

[2] Meaning, significance, intention, direction of heart.

[3] Netivot Olam, Unit Ha’Avodah Chapter 18

[4] UN Study 2013 also confirmed by Mercy Corps April 2018

[5] Said today to replace the Korban Todah that was brought to thank HaShem for saving ones life

[6] Parashat Eikev, Deuteronomy (8:1)

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