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  • Yehuda Pevzner

Identity & Theft

The Gemara explains why we must recite a brachah before eating or drinking:

“Rav Yehudah said in Shmuel’s name: If anyone has pleasure from this world without first blessing G-d for it, it is as if he has had pleasure from the holies of heaven, as it says, ‘To G-d is the earth and all that is in it.’

“Rebbi Levi posed a contradiction. It says, ‘To G-d is the earth and all that is in it,’ but it also says, ‘The heavens are the heavens of G-d but He gave the earth to the sons of man.’

“There is no question. The first verse refers to before a brachah is made (then it is G-d’s) the second verse refers to after a brachah is made (then He gives it to the sons of man).”

But even after we say a brachah, doesn’t the food still belong to Hashem? Is the Gemara suggesting that Hashem releases His hold on the food and it now loses its holy status so that we can eat it?

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Kedoshim, we learn that terumah may be eaten only by kohanim and their families. There is an exception, though: a gentile slave. He is considered the property of the kohen and is therefore allowed to partake of the holy terumah. He is also allowed to eat from the parts of korbanos given to the kohanim and their families.

Unlike a worker, the slave is allowed to partake in these sacred foods because he’s considered the absolute property of the kohen, as if he has no identity of his own.

What’s the message of a brachah? It proclaims Hashem’s sovereignty. When we say a brachah we are reaffirming our acceptance of His rule over the world and over ourselves.

By reciting a brachah we’re not asking Hashem to release His hold on the food, drink, or fragrance. Quite the contrary! We’re telling Hashem that we want to belong to Him. And when we belong to him, when our entire identity is that we’re a servant of Hashem, we’re entitled to partake of His food.

In a society where feelings of entitlement and ownership reign supreme, the Torah teaches us that true happiness and serenity come not from what we possess but from the sense of being possessed, by Hashem. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Light Shabbat candles this week at 7:51 PM (in NYC)


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