Blessings Part Two: Getting Specific

After over two years of anticipation, it finally happened: The Whole Foods on Wall Street opened last week! Though Jon and I will miss our weekly trip to the Tribeca location—where we loved bumping into and catching up with so many of you!—it was truly amazing to walk down the block, enter a beautiful new store, and see all of the delicious food that a person could ever dream of eating. 

Many faith traditions have a practice of gratitude before (and sometimes after) meals. But one of the most interesting things about Judaism is that our tradition invites us to get specific about our gratitude. Not only do we have the opportunity to give thanks for our food before we eat, but each type of food we consume has a slightly different blessing associated with it: 

For bread: Ha’motzi – Blessed are You, who brings forth bread from the earth

For wine/grape juice: Borei P’ri Ha’gafen – Blessed are You, Creator of the fruit of the vine

For grains: Borei Minei Mezonot – Blessed are You, Creator of all types of foods

For fruits: Borei Pri Ha’etz – Blessed are You, Creator of the fruit of the trees

For veggies: Borei P’ri Ha’adamah – Blessed are You, Creator of the fruit of the earth

For anything else (eggs, meat, fish, beverages, candy, etc.): She’ha’kol Nih’yeh Bidvaro – Blessed are You, by whose word all things come to be 

One of my favorite activities growing up was the annual Hebrew School “Bracha Bee” (Bracha is the Hebrew word for blessing). The teacher would shout out a food, and we had to come up with the corresponding blessing. Some of them were easy. Cheese was “she’ha’kol,” apples were “ha’etz,” cupcakes were “mezonot.” The harder ones were more interesting. Is the blessing for almonds different than the ones for peanuts? (The answer is yes!) Over chocolate covered peanuts, should one say “ha’adamah” (for the peanuts) or “she’ha’kol” (for the chocolate)? Is the blessing over French toast “ha’motzi” (for the bread) or “mezonot” (because we don’t quite treat it as bread)? (The correct answers to these questions are ha’adamah and ha’motzi, respectively.) To me, finding the right blessing for the right food was a fun puzzle to solve. 

But even if you weren’t a bracha nerd like me, it’s easy to see the wisdom of the ancient Rabbis, who grouped foods into distinct categories and created a blessing for each one. Instead of saying a general blessing of thanks, Jewish tradition gives us the opportunity to reflect on what is special about the food we are going to eat, where it comes from, and why we enjoy it. 

The most meaningful expressions of gratitude are specific ones. A good thank-you note might express gratitude for a gift. But a great thank-you note will explain what the person loved most about the gift, when they will use it, and what it means to them. It’s great to hear someone say: “I love you.” But it is even better when they share what they love about you and reflect on the qualities that are unique to you. 

May this Shabbat, and maybe even your next trip to the grocery store, be filled with gratitude for all of the specific gifts and blessings that life has to offer. 

Shabbat shalom, 

Deena 

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