The Meaning of Birkat Hamazon: Why We Pray After Meals
Jewish law commands us to make a short blessing on food items before we eat them. In addition to this, the Torah also commands us to make a blessing after we eat. It may seem excessive to say Grace twice, but this additional blessing after meals is actually very significant.
After we’ve eaten and are no longer hungry, our inclination may be to run on to the next thing without giving a second thought to the meal we just finished. However, the seemingly mundane act of eating is an incredible testament to God’s kindness; we are only able to satisfy our hunger because God designed a world which provides us with nourishing food. Saying Grace forces us to take a few minutes after every meal to recognize this, and show our appreciation for God’s blessings and care.
Our Sages take this idea a step further by explaining that the Grace After Meals is not just about being thankful, but about being humble. After feasting on a good meal, we feel full and satisfied. This contentment can easily cause us to become overly confident in our place in the world, and to relish in the power of being top of the food chain. When we are most at risk of forgetting God’s dominion over us, saying Grace After Meals reminds us of this important and fundamental religious principle.
Birkat Hamazon Guidelines
Birkat Hamazon, or Bentching as it is called in Yiddish, is the special Grace After Meals reserved for after you’ve eaten a genuine meal. However, in Jewish thought, a true meal is not defined by the amount of food you eat, or the time of day when you eat it. It’s defined by whether or not you’re eating bread.
Eating any amount of food without bread is seen as just a snack. Even a giant serving of steak and potatoes doesn’t qualify as a meal until you add a dinner roll or two. Likewise, even if you’re just grabbing a quick sandwich on the go, you need to slow down for at least a few minutes afterwards to recite Birkat Hamazon.
For many religious Jews, Birkat Hamazon is a part of daily life. In religious schools, children sing the Grace After Meals aloud together after lunch, and a rousing rendition of Birkat Hamazon traditionally marks the end of Shabbos or holiday meals. However, no matter how habitual Birkat Hamazon may become, you should still give your full attention to every word when reciting this prayer. One may not pause in the middle of Birkat Hamazon to talk about other things. Similarly, when in the presence of someone else saying the Grace After Meals, it’s important to be respectful and quiet until they are done.
The Structure of Birkat Hamazon
Birkat Hamazon is actually made up of four smaller blessings: Birkat Hazan, Birkat Ha’aretz, Birkat Yerushalayim, and Birkat HaTov V’Hameitiv
Birkat Hazan – The Blessing for Food
Not surprisingly, the Grace After Meals begins with a blessing for food. We bless and thank God for the food He has provided, not just to us but to the whole world. We further show our appreciation for God’s continual sustenance and nourishment in all areas of our lives.
Birkat Ha’aretz – The Blessing for Land
The second blessing of Birkat Hamazon recounts the Exodus from Egypt, and offers thanks to God for giving us the Torah and the Land of Israel. The land deserves special mention, as it is only through the vitality of the land that we are able to grow the food we need. At the same time, Birkat Ha’aretz, like Birkat Hazan, uses nourishment from food as a metaphor for the broader physical and spiritual sustenance we receive from God.
Birkat Yerushalayim – The Blessing for Jerusalem
In this section, the tone of Birkat Hamazon shifts from gratitude to supplication. After expressing our thanks for everything that God has given us, we ask that He continues to bestow blessings upon us, so that we don’t become dependent on others. This section ends with a prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Birkat HaTov V’Hameitiv – The Blessing for God's Kindness
The fourth blessing of the Grace After Meals celebrates God’s goodness, and praises the kindness He has done for us.
Additional Prayers & Blessings for Meals
The above four blessings make up the core of Birkat Hamazon. However, over time, additional prayers were added to the Grace After Meals that we still recite today. These additional prayers include blessings for specific gifts, such as livelihood, the coming of Mashiach, and the well-being of one’s host, parents or guests.
Birkat Hamazon: Special Occasions & Holidays
On Shabbos and holidays, we add supplementary blessings and make small changes to the text of Birkat Hamazon to mark these special occasions. In addition, on all holidays and special occasions, Psalm 126, Shir Hama’alot, is recited before the Grace After Meals. This beautiful psalm expresses the Jewish people’s longing for the end of exile, and our deep faith in God’s protection and love.
Changes are also made to Birkat Hamazon when a meal is shared by three or more adults of the same gender. Such a group forms what is called a "zimun", and in their presence Birkat Hamazon is elevated from an individual prayer to a communal one. A special invitation to partake in the Grace After Meals is then added to the beginning of the blessings. One member of the zimun is chosen to extend this invitation, while all the other participants at the meal respond to the leader’s invitation.
All Rabbinic authorities agree that three men over the age of bar mitzvah are obligated to form a zimun. The Sages disagrees over whether zimun is optional or mandatory for women.
Origin & History of Birkat Hamazon
The original commandment to say Grace After Meals comes from the Torah itself:
“And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless HaShem your God for the good land which He has given you” (Devarim 8:10).
This verse does not make a distinction between different types of foods, nor does it specify the exact wording of the blessing that should be made. The Talmud fills in these details, including laying out the four sections of Birkat Hamazon and providing the history of the Grace After Meals’ construction:
- The first blessing, Birkat Hazan, was established by Moshe in response to the miracle of God providing the Jews manna in the desert.
- The second blessing, Birkat Ha’aretz, was established by Yehoshua when the Jewish people entered Israel.
- The third blessing, Birkat Yerushalayim, is attributed to David and Solomon.
- The final blessing, Birkat HaTov V’Hameitiv, was added to Birkat Hamazon after the Bar Kochba revolt.
The main structure of saying Grace After Meals has stayed consistent throughout history. However, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and certain other communities use very slightly different versions of Birkat Hamazon. Not surprisingly, most communal variations occur in the additional blessings added after the Birkat Hamazon’s fourth blessing.
Text of the Birkat Hamazon
Find the Hewbrew text, transliteration and English translation of the Benching according to the Ashkenazi tradition.
Birkat Hazan: Blessing on the Food
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַזָּן אֶת הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ בְּטוּבוֹ בְּחֵן בְּחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים, הוּא נֹתֵן לֶחֶם לְכָל־בָּשָׂר כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ וּבְטוּבוֹ הַגָּדוֹל תָּמִיד לֹא חָסַר לָנוּ וְאַל יֶחְסַר לָנוּ מָזוֹן (תָּמִיד) לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד בַּעֲבוּר שְׁמוֹ הַגָּדוֹל כִּי הוּא אֵל זָן וּמְפַרְנֵס לַכֹּל וּמֵטִיב לַכֹּל וּמֵכִין מָזוֹן לְכָל־בְּרִיּוֹתָיו אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ הַזָּן אֶת הַכֹּל.
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who feedest the whole world with thy goodness, with grace, with lovingkindness and tender mercy; thou givest food to all flesh, for thy lovingkindness endureth for ever. Through thy great goodness food hath never failed us: O may it not fail us for ever and ever for thy great name's sake, since thou nourishest and sustainest all beings and doest good unto all, and providest food for all thy creatures whom thou hast created. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who givest food unto all.
Birkat Hamazon: Blessing on the Land
נוֹדֶה לְּךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ עַל שֶׁהִנְחַלְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶרֶץ חֶמְדָּה טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה וְעַל שֶׁהוֹצֵאתָנוּ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וּפְדִיתָנוּ מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים וְעַל בְּרִיתְךָ שֶׁחָתַמְתָּ בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ וְעַל תּוֹרָתְךָ שֶׁלִּמַּדְתָּנוּ וְעַל חֻקֶּיךָ שֶׁהוֹדַעְתָּנוּ וְעַל חַיִּים חֵן וָחֶסֶד שֶׁחוֹנַנְתָּנוּ, וְעַל אֲכִילַת מָזוֹן שָׁאַתָּה זָן וּמְפַרְנֵס אוֹתָנוּ תָּמִיד, בְּכָל יוֹם וּבְכָל עֵת וּבְכָל שָׁעָה.
We thank thee, O Lord our God, because thou didst give as an heritage unto our fathers a desirable, good and ample land, and because thou didst bring us forth, O Lord our God, from the land of Egypt, and didst deliver us from the house of bondage; as well as for thy covenant which thou hast sealed in our flesh, thy Law which thou hast taught us, thy statutes which thou hast made known unto us, the life, grace and lovingkindness which thou hast vouchsafed unto us, and for the food wherewith thou dost constantly feed and sustain us on every day, in every season, at every hour.
Birkat Hamazon, Blessing on Jerusalem
רַחֶם נָא יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ, וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלַיִם עִירֶךָ, וְעַל צִיּוֹן מִשְׁכַּן כְּבוֹדֶךָ, וְעַל מַלְכוּת בֵּית דָּוִד מְשִׁיחֶךָ, וְעַל הַבַּיִת הַגָדוֹל וְהַקָדוֹשׁ שֶׁנִּקְרָא שִׁמְךָ עָלָיו. אֱלֹהֵינוּ, אָבִינוּ, רְעֵנוּ, זוּנֵנוּ, פַרְנְסֵנוּ וְכַלְכְּלֵנוּ וְהַרְוִיחֵנוּ, וְהַרְוַח לָנוּ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מְהֵרָה מִכָּל צָרוֹתֵינוּ. וְנָא אַל תַּצְרִיכֵנוּ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, לֹא לִידֵי מַתְּנַת בָּשָׂר וָדָם וְלֹא לִידֵי הַלְוָאָתָם, כִּי אִם לְיָדְךָ הַמְּלֵאָה הַפְּתוּחָה הַקְּדוֹשָׁה וְהָרְחָבָה, שֶׁלֹא נֵבוֹשׁ וְלֹא נִכָּלֵם לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.
Have mercy, O Lord our God, upon Israel thy people, upon Jerusalem thy city, upon Zion the abiding place of thy glory, upon the kingdom of the house of David thine anointed, and upon the great and holy house that was called by thy name. O our God, our Father, feed us, nourish us, sustain, support and relieve us, and speedily O Lord our God, grant us relief from all our troubles. We beseech thee, O Lord our God, let us not be in need either of the gifts of flesh and blood or of their loans, but only of thy helping hand, which is full, open, holy and ample, so that we may not be ashamed nor confounded for ever and ever.
Birkat Hamazon, Hatov Vehametiv
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הָאֵל אָבִינוּ, מַלְכֵּנוּ, אַדִירֵנוּ, בּוֹרְאֵנוּ, גֹּאֲלֵנוּ, יוֹצְרֵנוּ, קְדוֹשֵׁנוּ קְדוֹשׁ יַעֲקֹב, רוֹעֵנוּ רוֹעֵה יִשְׂרָאַל, הַמֶּלֶךְ הַטּוֹב וְהַמֵּיטִיב לַכֹּל, שֶׁבְּכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם הוּא הֵיטִיב, הוּא מֵיטִיב, הוּא יֵיטִיב לָנוּ, הוּא גְמָלָנוּ, הוּא גוֹמְלֵנוּ, הוּא יִגְמְלֵנוּ לָעַד, לְחֵן וּלְחֶסֶד וּלְרַחֲמִים וּלְרֶוַח הַצָּלָה וְהַצְלָחָה, בְּרָכָה וִישׁוּעָה, נֶחָמָה פַּרְנָסָה וְכַלְכָּלָה וְרַחֲמִים וְחַיִּים וְשָׁלוֹם, וְכָל טוֹב; וּמִכָּל טוּב לְעוֹלָם אַל יְחַסְּרֵנוּ.
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, O God, our Father, our King, our Mighty One, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Maker, our Holy One, the Holy One of Jacob, our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Israel, O King, who art kind and dealest kindly with all, day by day thou hast dealt kindly, dost deal kindly, and wilt deal kindly with us: thou hast bestowed, thou dost bestow, thou wilt ever bestow benefits upon us, yielding us grace, lovingkindness, mercy and relief, deliverance and prosperity, blessing and salvation, consolation, sustenance and supports mercy, life, peace and all good: of no manner of good let us be in want.
הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִמְלוֹךְ עָלֵינוּ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִתְבָּרַךְ בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ. הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁתַּבַּח לְדוֹר דּוֹרִים, וְיִתְפָּאַר בָּנוּ לָעַד וּלְנֵצַח נְצָחִים, וְיִתְהַדַּר בָּנוּ לָעַד וּלְעוֹלְמֵי עוֹלָמִים.
The All-merciful shall reign over us for ever and ever. The All-merciful shall be blessed in heaven and on earth. The All-merciful shall be praised throughout all generations, glorified amongst us to all eternity, and honored amongst us for everlasting.
הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יְפַרְנְסֵנוּ בְּכָבוֹד. הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁבּוֹר עֻלֵּנוּ מֵעַל צַּוָּארֵנוּ, וְהוּא יוֹלִיכֵנוּ קוֹמְמִיוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ. הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁלַח לָנוּ בְּרָכָה מְרֻבָּה בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה, וְעַל שֻׁלְחָן זֶה שֶׁאָכַלְנוּ עָלָיו. הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁלַח לָנוּ אֶת אֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא זָכוּר לַטּוֹב, וִיבַשֵּׂר לָנוּ בְּשׂוֹרוֹת טוֹבוֹת יְשׁוּעוֹת וְנֶחָמוֹת.
May the All-merciful grant us an honorable livelihood. May the All-merciful break the yoke from off our neck, and lead us upright to our land. May the All-merciful send a plentiful blessing upon this house, and upon this table at which we have eaten. May the All-merciful send us Elijah the prophet (let him be remembered for good), who shall give us good tidings, salvation and consolation.
בבית אביו אומר הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת אָבִי מוֹרִי בַּעַל הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה, וְאֶת אִמִּי מוֹרָתִי בַּעֲלַת הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה.
The following has to be varied according to circumstances: May the All-merciful bless my honored father, the master of this house, and my honored mother, the mistress of this house,
אוֹתָם וְאֶת בֵּיתָם וְאֶת זַרְעָם וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, אוֹתָנוּ וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לָנוּ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּרְכוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב בַּכֹּל מִכֹּל כֹּל – כֵּן יְבָרֵךְ אוֹתָנוּ כֻּלָּנוּ יַחַד בִּבְרָכָה שְׁלֵמָה. וְנֹאמַר: אָמֵן.
them, their household, their seed and all that is theirs, us also and all that is ours, as our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were blessed each with his own comprehensive blessing; even thus may he bless all of us together with a perfect blessing, and let us say Amen.
בַּמָרוֹם יְלַמְּדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם וְעָלֵינוּ זְכוּת שֶׁתְּהֵא לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת שָׁלוֹם. וְנִשָׂא בְרָכָה מֵאֵת יְיָ, וּצְדָקָה מֵאֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעֵנוּ, וְנִמְצָא חֵן וְשֵׂכֶל טוֹב בְּעֵינֵי אֱלֹהִים וְאָדָם.
Both on their and on our behalf may there be such advocacy on high as shall lead to enduring peace; and may we receive a blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation; and may we find grace and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יְזַכֵּנוּ לִימוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ וּלְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. מַגְדִּיל (ביום שמתפללים בו מוסף ובמלוה מלכה—מִגְדּוֹל) יְשׁוּעוֹת מַלְכּוֹ, וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לִמְשִׁיחוֹ, לְדָוִד וּלְזַרְעוֹ עַד עוֹלָם. עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו, הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאַל. וְאִמְרוּ: אָמֵן.
May the All-merciful make us worthy of the days of the Messiah, and of the life of the world to come. On Sabbaths, Festivals, and New Moons—He is a tower of salvation to his king; On Week-days—Great salvation giveth he to his king. And showeth lovingkindness to his anointed, to David and to his seed, for evermore. He who maketh peace in his high places, may he make peace for us and for all Israel, and say ye, Amen.
יְראוּ אֶת יְיָ קְדֹשָׁיו, כִּי אֵין מַחְסוֹר לִירֵאָיו. כְּפִירִים רָשׁוּ וְרָעֵבוּ, וְדֹרְשֵׁי יְיָ לֹא יַחְסְרוּ כָל טוֹב. הוֹדוּ לַיְיָ כִּי טוֹב, כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ. פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶךָ, וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל חַי רָצוֹן. בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּיְיָ, וְהָיָה יְיָ מִבְטַחוֹ. נַעַר הָיִיתִי גַּם זָקַנְתִּי, וְלֹא רָאִיתִי צַדִּיק נֶעֱזָב, וְזַרְעוֹ מְבַקֶּשׁ לָחֶם. יְיָ עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן, יְיָ יְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם.
O fear the Lord, ye his holy ones; for there is no want to them that fear him. Young lions do lack and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good. O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest every living thing with favor. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose trust the Lord is. I have been young and now I am old; yet have I not seen. the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging for bread. The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.