1. The Importance of Thanking God
2. Adam’s Sin Began with Ungratefulness
3. Meticulous About Blessings
4. Blessings are the key to joy
5. A Good Recipe for Dieting
6. The Responsibility
The Importance of Thanking God
When a person thanks God, he gives actual expression to his faith. Many people are aware of the fact that there is a Creator, however, so long as a person does not thank God for all of His goodness, he remains unconnected to faith itself. If one fails to express appreciation, the knowledge that God created the world lacks content and bears no constructive significance.
One who does thank God, however, becomes filled with faith, and it follows that he is able to cling to the ways of God and rectify the world. It is thus written in the story of creation (Genesis 1:31): “And God saw all that He had created, and behold it was very good.” This verse teaches us how we ought to relate to creation.
There are those who see the worst in everything, and sometimes they think that such a approach indicates depth of perception. However, this actually evidences ungratefulness, an inability to see all of the good which God has created in the world. Therefore, the Torah teaches us at its very outset that the world which God created is good.
Therefore it is very important for a person to thank God and recite blessings over all of those things from which he derives pleasure. This principal is so obvious, say the Sages, that the Torah did not need to command us regarding it (Berakhot 35a). That a person must thank God for such things can be easily arrived at through simple reasoning: whoever has faith gives thanks. This apparently is the reason that the first tractate in the Talmud in “Berakhot” (blessings): blessing and praising God for all of the good which He has given us is the foundation of everything.
Adam’s Sin Began with Ungratefulness
This was Adam’s sin: he failed to thank God for all of the good in the world. As a result, he directed his thoughts toward figuring out how he could use creation for his own advantage rather than concentrating on elevating the world and being elevated with it. Were he to thank God as he should have, he would have rejoiced at all of the fruit on the trees of the Garden of Eden, and he would not have set his eyes on the Tree of Knowledge.
Yet, at this point, Adam still had the opportunity to admit his sin and repent for what he had done. If he had followed such a path he would have been able to remain in the Garden of Eden. Yet, he chose to deny God’s goodness, saying (Genesis 3:12), “The woman which You gave me, she is the one who gave me of the tree to eat.” Instead of thanking God for the woman he had been given, the most wonderful gift he could possibly have received, Adam denied this goodness and refused to give thanks.
As said, had Adam expressed regret at this point, he apparently would have been forgiven and would have been permitted to remain in the Garden of Eden. However, as is to be expected of the ungrateful, instead of admitting his guilt and taking upon himself to repent, he accused God and the woman for his own sin, and was therefore exiled from the Garden of Eden. And so, everything began with the fact that he did not know how to thank God for all the good which He had given him.
A number of years later, when Adam finally wished to repent and return to the Garden of Eden he was not able to do so, for his repentance at this time resulted from the hardships which befell him after he was expelled.
Meticulous About Blessings
In light of this we can understand why the Sages were so exacting when it came to the laws of blessings. They instituted special blessings for each type of pleasure and delineated precise amounts of food which would call for blessings. They did this so that thanks be given to God for every kind of pleasure in the most praiseworthy and becoming manner. And when a person recites blessings with proper intention he rectifies, in a way, the sin of Adam.
The Sages also teach that it is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world without reciting a blessings, and whoever derives pleasure from this world without reciting a blessings is seen as having made unlawful use of consecrated property.
Furthermore, blessings must be recited in a respectable manner, and it is forbidden to perform labor while reciting them (Shulchan Aruch 191:3).
Blessings are the key to joy
By reciting blessings over those things which bring pleasure a person learns to be happy with his lot. The Sages teach that “jealousy, greed, and honor remove a person from the world” (Avot 4:21). Here is not the place to give a detailed explanation of this teaching, however, in general, we can say that these negative traits stem from the fact that a person is not satisfied with his own life, believing instead that his happiness depends upon exterior factors.
Even if a jealous person attains riches and honor, he is unable to be happy with his portion, for, in his eyes, so long as his fellow has more than he, all of his attainments are worthless. A greedy person always wants that which he has not, and therefore he is not happy with what he has. And a person who seeks honor always wants to hear praises and compliments from others, and he is unable to be satisfied with his own portion, with the good deeds he performs.
Now it is easier to understand why “jealousy, greed, and honor remove a person from the world.” People who have these traits are unable to live their true lives, and so they forfeit their lives in both this world and the World to Come. Such people are advised to bless with intention. By doing this they will learn to see the good which God has given them and to be happy with it, and as a result they will begin to live their lives for real.
A Good Recipe for Dieting
Blessing with added intention is also good advice for one who wishes to lose weight. The blessing makes a person aware of the inner value of the food. It reminds us that God created it and gave it its own unique taste and its nutritional characteristics. By recognizing the value of the food it is possible to be satiated with less. However, if a person is not aware of the inner value of the food, he needs to eat much more in order to satisfy his appetite and tame his hunger, and only when he has filled his stomach completely is he able to stop eating.
It would appear that reciting Grace After Meals with proper intention can even benefit a person who has eaten too much, for it is bound to cause him to be satisfied in the future with no more than what he needs in order to remain healthy and happy (this idea is hinted at by Rabbi A.I. Kook in “Middot HaRaaya,” Haalat HaNitzotzot 6).
By acknowledging all the kindness which God has showered upon creation, one becomes capable of understanding how great is our responsibility not to destroy it. Just look at Adam. He was given the Garden of Eden, yet he brought hardship upon himself and upon all of creation; he was rendered mortal and sentenced to hard labor, and because of him the earth’s soil began to produce to thorns and thistles.
Great kindness was also bestowed upon Cain – he received half of the earth. Yet, he was not satisfied; he rose up and struck down his bother, and in so doing brought destruction upon both of them.
And just consider how fortunate the generation of the Flood was, yet they too sinned and brought destruction upon themselves and all of creation.
Furthermore, consider the good fortune revealed through the settlements of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron. The Jewish people merited reclaiming and repopulating these areas after a two-thousand year absence, and the land began yielding its fruit bountifully for its children who returned from afar. In an act which demonstrated total lack of appreciation for this great blessing, wicked people rose up and destroyed these settlements causing misfortune to the entire Jewish people. The result will no doubt be a rise in terrorism, and those responsible for this tragedy will bear the guilt.
If they had recognized the enormity of the blessing of each new house, each new seedling, and each new-born child in Gush Katif and Northern Shomron, leaders would have understood that their responsibility was to strengthen and encourage these settlers. However, they did not recognize this goodness and instead “they despised the pleasant land” (Psalms 106:24). They attempted to achieve what at present is impossible to achieve, and in doing so brought about a situation wherein even that which we once possessed is no longer ours.
Some of the translated biblical or talmudic sources in the above article may have taken from, or based upon, Davka’s Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is the Dean of Yeshiva Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law. Rabbi Melamed is one of the most active leaders amongst the religious-Zionist public. Parts of this article were translated from his popular series “Pininei Halacha.” Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il