Bread isn’t one of my favorite foods. Growing up, I didn’t eat it regularly. There were no rolls at mealtime, no sandwiches for lunch. Sundays were bread days when we took a trip to the local deli counter for lox and bagels or bialys.
That all changed when I married a European. Unbeknownst to me in Miami Beach, Florida, I discovered that across the ocean, bread had a completely different meaning. Europeans have a love affair with their bread. To them, a meal is incomplete without it. And often, a piece of bread is a meal, all by itself. Fresh homemade bread with honey was an after-school treat, compared to my vanilla coke and French fries at the corner drugstore. Who knew?
A few years later, bread became spiritually elevated, as did my life when I threw away my mini skirts, gave up stone crabs, and took on an observant lifestyle.
Bread became holy. That didn’t change my love for it; I just started to respect it more. I only ate it once a week- on Shabbos. I appreciate the holiness of bread. I bake my own challah, say a blessing, and burn the challah. I still don’t eat it during the week.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but when a waitress places a warm, sweet-smelling breadbasket on the table, my first thought is always, “Is it worth the carbs? Is it good enough?” Then I give myself an imaginary slap across my cheek. Really? How long does it take to say the blessing after bread? One day I timed it. Birchas HaMazon takes two minutes to recite if I go slowly.
Last week I started eating bread again. The Torah told me to, but that wasn’t the only reason. After learning more about the blessing of bread, I was ready to stop worrying about carbs and make the two-minute sacrifice.
8 reasons why I’m eating bread again:
1. The Talmud says so.
The Talmud says: One who eats bread in the morning receives a blessing for vitality, health, and protection from disease. That was enough to convince me. I know there are holy righteous people who eat bread everyday and still get sick, but a little insurance policy never hurts, so why not?
2. I have to be grateful. It’s in my soul.
Jews are big on gratitude. Optimism is in our souls. When someone asks us how we are, we answer with a blessing of gratitude, then we bless Hashem; “Baruch Hashem”- we answer with a smile- even though our minds are filled with worries, complaints, and anxiety. We thank God when times are tough. We thank God when we realize that whatever happens could be worse. And we thank God knowing that when things don’t look so good, He will take care of us and good will come from it.
3. Gratitude is a spiritual experience.
Grateful after recovering from illness, after waking up in the morning, or while feeling the warmth of the sun on your face; a spiritual person sees these as customized gifts from Hashem.
The essence of a spiritual person is to recognize, understand and see Hashem even though He is hidden. Just because we cannot see Him, doesn’t mean that He is not present. It’s our job to bring Him out of hiding. Gratitude does that.
That’s what Birkas HaMazon is all about, blessings that say: Through this bread I open up my eyes to see His goodness, kindness, mercy, and compassion. Hashem is present in my life.
4. The Great Ones made it for me.
If the great Tzadikim composed these blessings for me, how could I disrespect them by not saying it?
Moshe composed the first blessing when the manna descended. Yehoshua composed the second blessing when he conquered Jericho and entered Eretz Yisrael. King David composed the third when he established his kingdom in Jerusalem. King Solomon composed the fourth when he built the temple. The Rabbis wrote the fifth blessing.
The first letter of each tzadik, starting from Solomon to Moshe are Shin- Dalet-Yod-Mem, which spells shadayim which is a Hebrew word alluding to the source of sustenance = Hashem. It was clear to me, Hashem has given me this bread to eat.
5. Bread is a wake-up call.
Since gratitude is the direct path to seeing Hashem through the gifts He gives, bread is one of His most precious gifts. From the manna that fell from the sky to the stainless steel ovens that cook rustic, crusty loaves– bread remains the staple of life.
Reciting the blessing is the wake-up call that stops me as I speed through my busy day. It’s the Torah telling me to slow down, chill-out, take a breathe and pause. I had to listen. I had to stop the busy-ness and take a few quiet minutes to see Hashem and His Presence in my life.
Unlike any other food, eating bread is a spiritual ceremony: Wash your hands, do not speak, do not interrupt the mitzvah, bless the bread before you eat it (even if it’s just the size of an olive) and then bless the bread after you eat it. Then I got it… Bread is the ultimate soul food.
6. Bread has mystical roots.
There is a mystical promise from the Sages that says when we recite the blessing of Birkas HaMazon with sincerity; Hashem guarantees our protection and a good livelihood.
I know the blessing is beautiful. I try hard to concentrate on the words but I can’t control my wandering mind. Instead of thinking of how compassionate Hashem is, I am thinking of; what I should make for dinner, that I forgot to make a dentist appointment, and when my daughter will find a job.
Then I read the words in English again, and realize, if not now, when?
7. Whole-grain carbs are good for you.
Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, all types of grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, key vitamins and minerals and naturally low in fat. They have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems. Fresh, homemade, whole-grain bread with a schmear of almond butter and strawberry jelly is a delicious, healthy way to start the day.
8. Praying for Israel
Birkas HaMazon consists of prayers for Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem. It is a prayer that tells me to recognize God’s goodness. I cringe when I think that I was too busy to devote two minutes to this blessing.
I knew that this was the perfect time to start eating more bread. I have to do it for Israel. Israel needs my prayers.
“Hashem will give might to His people; Hashem will bless His people with peace.”
I think that’s worth a few healthy carbs, don’t you?