Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blessing at a Meal

Unlike the practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver. The Gospels indicate that Jesus followed this same custom (e.g., note the NIV translation of Matt. 26:26 and Luke 24:30), one commanded in the Torah: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you" (Deut. 8:10). The Lord alone was worthy of receiving the blessing and praise as divine Provider. As we pointed out in the previous chapter, the Hebrew term berakhot (singular berakhah) means blessings. Yechiel Eckstein comments: "The berakhah does not transfer holiness to the object itself, but rather entitles us to partake of the world's pleasure. . . . We give thanks to the Lord and testify thereby that the earth is his and we are but its caretakers." The following ancient blessing used in Judaism as grace before meals reflects the above point: Barukh attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam ha-motzi lehem min ha-aretz, "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." The ancient Hebrews would never have thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them; it would also have been an insult, of sorts, to God. If everything God created was "very good" (Gen. 1:31), why should one imply that it is really unholy and profane? The postbiblical notion that one needed to sanctify, cleanse, or purify what God had already created and declared to be good would be strange theology to the biblical writers. It suggests that food and drink, in and of themselves, are unacceptable gifts until suddenly made holy through prayer.

How did this practice originate? Again, the Church went wrong because it severed its Hebrew roots. . . .
Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, p. 177. Wilson, Marvin R., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1989.

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