Last Shabbat, the great Jewish comedian, Jackie Mason, who I remember always did his hilarious routines in the Catskills, New York, passed away at age 93. Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, my wife and I sat watching many of his old acts on YouTube. In one particular scene, he jokes about what to do when your wife asks you if she is getting a little fat, and he says to never say yes! And if you do say (to paraphrase), “well maybe a little” then the wife goes crazy and says, “oh, you think I’m fat!”
Related to this, a few weeks ago, a famous Rabbi from Israel was visiting the Washington, D.C. area, and he told me:
Do you know how you have Shabbat (שבת) all week long?
He paused and waited for this question to sink in and then he wisely answered with:
Shalom Bayit Tamid (שלום בית תמיד)
The first letters of the three words spell out Shabbat (שבת) in Hebrew, and it means “Peace in the Home, always!” In other words, if we want to have peace, rest, and the mindfulness of Shabbat all week long then we must ensure peace in the home between husband and wife. Ultimately, if the husband and wife—with Hashem’s help as the third partner—create a peaceful, loving, caring, and harmonious home then they can have the likes of Shabbat all week long.
Similarly, on this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, Rabbi Baruch Frankel of Aish of Greater Washington spoke about the commandment to say the blessing after meals as it says (Deuteronomy 8:10):
You will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land that He gave you.
From here, Rabbi Frankel went on that the Talmud teaches that if we are commanded to bless G-d after we eat then surely, we should bless G-d before we eat when we are hungry and craving the food. Moreover, as we know with most things in life, looking forward to the enjoyment of something and the perception of how good it will be is often even better than what it turns out to be, so when we say Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal, the Torah tells us to bless G-d, not for the food you just ate, but rather “for the good land that He gave you” (i.e. the source from G-d of the food to satiate our hunger—the food chain).
My wife responded to this with something interesting and said firstly, maybe we don’t thank G-d after the meal for the food, but rather for the land, because maybe the food wasn’t all that good, and people would incorrectly think they don’t have to say a blessing or thank G-d then. Further, she said another reason that the blessings are different is that we can’t make the same blessing twice for the food before and after we eat, so therefore we say the blessing for the food first and after we thank G-d for the source of the food. I added that it makes sense that we bless G-d for the good land (referring to land of Israel that G-d gave to the Jewish people), because as we are repeatedly told in the Torah, the Jewish people are intimately connected to the land of Israel, as we are reminded later in same Torah portion in the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 11:13-18):
It shall be if you will heed my commandments…you will eat and be satisfied. Beware, lest you be seduced, and you stray, and serve other gods…you will be quickly eradicated from upon the good land that the L-rd is giving you.
When the Jews follow G-d’s commandments then G-d grants them to enter, settle, and enjoy the fruits of the land of Israel, but G-d forbid the Jews don’t follow G-d’s commandment then the land literally spits them out (e.g., like the long exile the Jews have known until recently for almost 2,000 years).
Coming back to theme of Shalom Bayit, I realized why we say the blessing for the food before we eat and bless G-d for the land after we eat: before we eat, we don’t know how it will taste or whether it will sit well with us in our stomachs, but we imagine when we are hungry that all the good-looking food and drink will be great and so we bless G-d based on the perception of the coming food. However, after we eat, we make the blessing for the source of the food (the land, the food chain, and our wives for preparing it) for the sake of Shalom Bayit, because whether the meal was so good or not so good, we say thanks to Hashem and to our wives, because that contributes to Shabbat and peace in the home, always!